That’s My Story & I’m Sticking To It

For this weekend’s entry, we’re going to take a closer look at one of the Many Cast Members that may have gotten the short end of the stick while he or she was on the show. This actually comes in light of the infamous “Rolling Stone” list from 2015 where they try (very hard) to rank every cast member (and Lorne [?]…and the Muppets[?!]…and Don Pardo[?!?!]) in a fair and balanced manner. Some positions were fair, some were expected, but others were just downright baffling (cough…NORM…cough) & you wonder why I would call this list “Infamous” in the first place. That being said, onto the subject…Was Colin Quinn REALLY that bad on the show? He ranked right near the bottom of the list at #136 out of 141 (One Step behind—shockingly–Norm MacDonald, BTW) with the accompanying blurb:


“All the Remote Control alum needs for his comedy style is to hang out and be himself, yet SNL required him to wear a tie and read cue cards. “Weekend Update” was so spectacularly wrong for his skillset, especially his hoarser-by-the-minute croak, you barely noticed how hackity-hackity-hack the jokes were. Maybe that was the point.”


In an effort to prove that “Every Cloud has a Silver Lining”, let’s take a look at why this quote isn’t 100% wrong, but not 100% right either…


Well before he entered the fold of SNL, Colin Quinn was already kinda well known among Gen-Xers, not just for his budding stand-up career, but for also being Ken Ober’s Sidekick on the aforementioned (and BEGGING for a comeback) “Remote Control”. For the record, IMO he was he was just “Good”, not great…then again, so were a primordial Denis Leary AND Adam Sandler (but that’s ANOTHER story). Flash forward to 1995, and the already well-established Quinn is now a bit player on SNL (though not quite officially “featured”, yet. That wouldn’t happen ‘til ’96.); making his mark playing various average joes such as the aptly named “Joe Blow” with “The Local News” (Later turned into a sketch…NO CLIP AVAILABLE) & “Lenny: The Lion from the Bronx Zoo”; both at the Update Desk. For the most part, this was probably Quinn in his most natural element; being himself despite being in costume, but still telling it like it is. By the time he became a full-fledged cast member in 1997, his profile increased accordingly; he started delivering commentaries as “Himself” more often, and he started appearing in more sketches—“The Joe Pesci Show” as one of many Robert DeNiros, that odd, homosexual “Impression” of Chandler on “Friends”, and he even attempted a recurring character in the form of “Rolf”—a seemingly reluctant member of various hate groups who always questioned their motivations in a roundabout way (Lasted only 2 tries). Quinn also had a semi-recurring segment on the show called “Colin Quinn Explains the New York Times”, which was more of Colin in his natural element, and helped lay down the groundwork for what was to come in 1998.

I’m not gonna bore you with the “Norm MacDonald gets fired from Update” story, largely because so many have gone into better detail about it than I ever could, but I’ll cut to the chase. Quinn replaced Norm at the desk in 1998, and he introduced himself in his new position while addressing the Norm situation in probably one of the Classiest commentaries the show has ever had; and I quote…

“You know how you go to your favorite bar, and your local bartender isn’t there? You ask, “Where’s Jeff?” “Jeff no longer works here, I’m Steve.” And you’re thinking, “Hey, who’s this idiot? I like Jeff.” But you still want your drink? And even though Steve doesn’t mix your drink the same way you’re used to, like Jeff, you still like the same bar, you don’t want to have to go to a different bar. And even Steve might feel kinda bad because Jeff trained him. Jeff showed him how to work the cash register, where the tonic was on the soda gun, who tips, who doesn’t….Well…I’m Steve. What can I get you?”


Just like that, he acknowledges right off the bat just how strange the whole situation is, but if you’re willing to put up with it for a little while, maybe it’ll grow on you…or at least that was the intention. THEN, Quinn started reading the news. This is probably where all the “Hate” geared at Quinn comes from; the fact that despite being an above average comedian, Quinn isn’t really “Acting” like he’s reading the news. A majority of the people who took the reins of the “Update” desk over the years weren’t exactly “being themselves” (with the exception of Norm, Tina, Jimmy & Dennis Miller), they were acting like News Anchors WHILE being themselves—call it an 80/20 split respectively. In other words, They (for the most part) had Gravitas in their delivery…Quinn most certainly did not. Let’s face it, Quinn wasn’t exactly Walter Cronkite; his delivery was stilted, hackneyed, sometimes flubbing, mostly mumbling whenever a joke gets botched—to that degree, yeah, Quinn as a News Reader was pretty bad (Whether he wants to blame Wally the Cue Card guy or not)…But thankfully, he had one Ace up his sleeve…


Where Quinn lacked in his news reading abilities, he MORE than made up for it in his Commentaries. So much so, that in the 1998-99 season, the commentaries acted as sort of a Cold Open for Update; the First–and to this day ONLY–time it has been done in the segment on a regular basis. These commentaries acted as sort of an extension of Quinn’s “New York Times” pieces, they helped explain the most complicated of world events in terms the average viewer would be able to understand. This—I feel—should be the most representative of Quinn’s legacy (if any) on the show. Above everything else, Quinn is first an Observational comedian, then an actor where applicable. And as such, observational comedians point out everything that’s wrong with the world today—in Quinn’s case, it just happened to involve Current Events as opposed to stand-bys like “What’s the Deal with (INSERT QUIRK HERE)”. Unfortunately, though the bits were strong, they ultimately distracted from the momentum of the Tried & True “Update” formula of “Just Tell the Jokes, Introduce the Commentaries by others, Get a laugh while you’re at it, Fade out, The End.” Despite it being an otherwise noble experiment, Update went back to “Normal” the next year; and by that point, Quinn was starting to realize the writing was on the wall for his time on the show–so depending on which version you heard, he left in 2000, and we ALL know what happened next.


So, was Colin Quinn REALLY as bad as Rolling Stone made him out to be? In hindsight…Not really. Yeah, he was a so-so sketch player and a Spotty News Reader, but he made up for it by being himself in his commentaries. Not everybody’s gonna fit in on the show, and I’d like to think even Quinn himself realized this–unlike certain others who are forced down our throats until we cry uncle and say “OK, You Fit In! We Give Up!”. For the most part, he was a workhorse transitional figure (or as Norm would’ve drunkenly put it, a “Utility Infielder”) in a key part of the show and the show’s history—Bridging the gap between Norm’s tenure & Tina and Jimmy’s. He served his purpose, and he did it in a way only Colin Quinn could….as The New Yorkiest New Yorker we know.


5 thoughts on “That’s My Story & I’m Sticking To It

  1. Ben says:

    I haven’t watched the late 90s shows in at least 5 years, but the last time I went through them (transferring old tapes to disc), I remember Quinn didn’t seem as bad as he did when I watched them live.


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