“Loners In Unity,” Colin Quinn’s Keynote Address at Montreal’s Just For Laughs 2013

If you were expecting Colin Quinn to deliver a speech for his keynote address to Montreal’s Just For Laughs ComedyPro conference this year, then you needed to adjust your expectations.

Quinn said Andy Kindler had approached him the day beforehand, advising him to memorize his speech. To which Quinn retorted: “Go fuck yourself, Andy!” Jokes!

That Quinn’s speech even had a title — “Loners In Unity” — was something. Quinn said JFL asked him a few weeks ago for a title and a copy of the speech. “They wanted me to write out my speech and hand it to them beforehand,” he said. “Do you not know comedians yet? I’m not writing out the fucking speech! That’s not how it goes!” There would be no copy forthcoming. Nor would there even be a speech, per se. No. This was a stand-up comedian delivering a stand-up comedy performance. That just so happened to be full of talking points and lessons for comedians and the industry alike to take note.

So. Take note!

Lessons from Colin Quinn’s “Loners In Unity” speech at JFL 2013:

  • “It’s such a comedian personality to tell you to demand what you want from the other person, whether you do it or not.”
  • “Do you know how old you have to be where people ask you to be the serious person at a comedy convention? And when you tell everyone they say, ‘Yeah, that sounds about right.'”
  • “You can look at my story, for example, and say, ‘Oh, here’s a guy that knocked around, was up and down, and then eventually, he found his niche of doing his one-man historical, fucking, I don’t even know what you’d call’ — that would be the fucking Disney version, yes, I’m really fulfilled!”

To TV bookers:

  • “Bookers, here’s the thing. If you’re booking like a comedy show, stop trying to craft the fucking TV set. Your shows are uneven to begin with…by the time we come on, it’s a god-damned breath of fresh air.” “Why are we responsible for crafting our sets to where there’s no fat left? Which means no flavor. It’s like having a meatball that’s been cooking in a sauce for like four hours, and then you take the meatball out, and go, ‘This meatball’s great, you didn’t need that sauce.’ No, that’s part of what makes  it. Part of what makes every comedian here funny is not always the streamlined fat-free version of them.”
  • “Nobody believes you when you say standards and practices. What a coincidence that they have the same note you had three weeks ago, OK?”

To TV networks:

  • “A quick thing for networks: Following the thing that failed 90 percent of the time for the last 70 years …I guess it’s something to do…There’s nothing worse than sitting in a meeting after doing what we do all these years and they’re just sitting there, saying ‘Our audience…’ We play your audience every night, you stupid motherfuckers. That’s what we do. We play audiences all over the country. We’re test-marketing every god-damned night…You’re going one for 10 at the bat, and then you hit a double, and you go, ‘We got this pitcher’s number. Don’t worry.'”
  • For stand-ups: “My whole career was like, ‘I’m not going to try to get money from outside. I’m going to work from within the system. I am the fucking system. I’m like, ‘Hey, everybody knows me. I’ve been around forever…’ It just never worked for me, that way. Maybe it’ll work for you. Once in a while you get lucky. Once in a while, you get a Louis C.K. But most people, it’s not going to be that way. Just think: Patrice (O’Neal), (Greg) Giraldo, they never found fucking shows for those two. With those large personalities. And they couldn’t make a show for them. Know what I mean?”
  • “Norm Macdonald. And this isn’t a slam on Comedy Central. Sure it’s not…They had Norm Macdonald, who’s like the most eclectic, fucking Renaissance mad mind, hosting a god-damned sports show. That was their idea. That’s called putting somebody in a fucking harness. He’s hosting a god-damned sports show. Of course, that wasn’t — sports is one of the many — he doesn’t even like sports! He just likes gambling, so he knows a lot about sports. You’re taking one of the most brilliant minds…I hope your next sports show is hosted by Aaron Hernandez.”
  • “There’s a lot of great shows on Comedy Central. I’m not going to trash it. But you’re also — stop test-marketing to fucking 14-year-olds, OK? Here’s the way it’s supposed to work. You’re doing it backwards. Adults influence kids. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Not the fucking other way around.”
  • “Anybody who’s at this festival, who’s in the business, in the industry part, who judges by one set you saw somebody do at this festival, you’re not in the industry. You’re just another person who was at a show, and goes, ‘hey, I thought that guy bombed.’ Stop judging by audience response. I know that sounds stupid. But, if somebody bombs like five times in a row, yes, there’s a problem, I get it. But one weird set, you can’t be judging the guy for the rest of his career.”
  • “Comedy Central Roasts: Stop having celebrities on, and stop writing jokes for people. Everybody writes their own shit from now on! It takes away from the organic thing.”
  • “Here’s the thing about Tough Crowd…I created that show. And I brought that show from NBC…here’s what bothered me. You tried to replace the show without me, after the show left…You can’t just replace shit…I’m not the best fucking host. I wasn’t even the best host of Tough Crowd. It doesn’t matter. There’s something organic that you get. It’s alchemy. That you have to just trust.”

To comedy club owners:

  • “You can’t keep hiring crowd-pleasing hacks. Don’t get panicked looks on your faces when someone is doing a new bit for three minutes that doesn’t kill every night, and go, ‘I think there’s a problem.’ It’s not a problem! It’s part of the fucking process! You’re architects of your own destruction. You hire hacks. You make sure the five people that are heckling get taken care of, those drunks — not the 150 people that are horrified by these five people ruining these shows, so they can’t hear the comedian. That’s a good way to run a business. That’s going to fucking last.”

To managers and agents:

  • “Telling people they need more Twitter followers is not management advice. That’s not guiding a career right there.”
  • “We know we need you. We can’t function without you. We couldn’t all have gotten up here without you.”
  • “We have a sick relationship with you. I acknowledge, there’s two sides to this shit. We’re not the easiest people. With managers and agents, we’re like the jealous, possessive psycho. You know, you bring us bad news, we explode and blame you. It’s like that boyfriend, the psychotic, if you say you’re thinking about working with someone else, we get violent. We could be a little jealous. And you seduce us when you meet us. Flatter us. Make us feel like we’re the only one. And then push aside when somebody else shows up.”
  • “Quit using the seasons as excuses.”
  • “We’re the fun-loving asshole at the party, and you’re the designated driver who takes us home. You get to be with the fun person, and then you’ve got to deal with the horseshit on the way home.”

To stand-up comedians:

  • “Open mikers, you think you’re great, but you stink, but that’s OK! That’s how you’re supposed to be. I stunk and thought I was great for many years. That’s the only thing that keeps you in the business. It’s part of the make-up of being a stand-up person, right. It takes five years to really know. People doing it five years? It takes 10 years. I was lying when I said five years.”
  • “Everyone is standing there, ironically, not moving. Move around! You’re going for your life right now. The only who can pull that off for more than 10 minutes without boring people is Todd Barry. Everybody else needs to fucking move around and sell it a bit. It’s not hack to sell the shit you’ve been writing and slaving over. It’s not a hack fucking move!” “One out of every 300 drunken audience members is thinking, ‘Hey, he’s a good writer.’ Just move. Walk. Fucking open up your body. Yell once in a while. Get out there. Look them in the fucking eye. I’m trying to save your god-damned career. You know, I did it for years. I stood there in fucking monotone for 10 years. Oh. All the comedians thought I was amusing, but I was fucking dying every night.”
  • “Don’t be a dick to the new people. They’re annoying. They want to drain you of your knowledge and use you for what they can. But that’s what you did to people. And that’s what people do to people. That’s just human nature…Just play along. Don’t be a cranky bastard.”
  • “We’re the only people around that I see who are actually saying something. So say something. Say something! Everybody just gets locked into one thing, and this is what my guy would say. No! Your person would say whatever is interesting to you. Whatever your outside interests are, you should be bringing them on.”
  • “How many people, you kill every night, but it’s arbitrary, and people just fucking forget? There’s nothing for them, they’ve got to sink their teeth into shit.”

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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