Colin Quinn may be best known for his five years on Saturday Night Live and three as host of MTV’s Remote Control, but the accomplishment he’s most proud of is his two decades of sobriety. These days, the chemical-free comic is appearing on Broadway (and HBO) in a hit one-man show, Colin Quinn, Long Story Short, directed by his friend Jerry Seinfeld. Joe Schrank caught up with him in between acts.
Is addiction a disease?
Yes, it is a disease but I don’t think it is a disease like cancer. The difference is you can’t stop cancer once you get it by not doing certain things. I mean, you can with certain kinds of cancer but there’s a mental aspect to stopping drinking and drugs and cancer does not have that luxury. You can’t just say, “I’m not gonna have cancer if I do all these things.”
Why don’t we really talk about the drug problem in America?
Because there’s no solution. There’s nothing to discuss because people are going to be taking it if it’s available.
What if drugs were tarrifed or regulated?
Personally I think drugs should be legalized, tarrifed and all that stuff. Some people are going to use it socially and some people are going to abuse it: that’s just how it goes.
What was the worst thing that happened to you while drinking?
I used to get arrested all the time. I was always waking up down at 100 Center Street, sitting in the cell with 50 other guys being like, “Oh no, what did I do?” That was the worst feeling: waking up not knowing what you did, what happened, what you’re in there for. You don’t know if you killed somebody or ran somebody over with a truck. It was just always a matter of the luck of the draw that it was just fighting.
So you saw the writing on the wall back then?
Yeah, back in the 80s.
Why do some never see the writing on the wall and some do?
That’s a great question. I guess some people have made that decision in their heart--that little shift. But others, in the back of their minds, have a little part of them that only they know about that’s resisting it.
Why does the comedy world seem to have more than its share of drugs and drinking?
I think it’s a risk taker thing and an excitement thing. I think it’s partially that you know you are able to indulge more because you get up later, you set your own hours. The lifestyle appeals to certain types of people.
I’ve always thought that stand up would be the perfect job for an alcoholic.
I quit drinking and all that before I started doing comedy. I started doing comedy because I was so tortured by not being able to drink and be in my lifestyle that I started comedy so that I could be around the bar scene and around the excitement.
Do you think it’s harder for men to meet women without alcohol? America is steeped in alcohol and it’s harder to socialize without it.
America is less steeped in alcohol than other places. Europe is much more. We’re lucky: we have the mountain bike club, or you go to the stupid bookstore like in When Harry Met Sally. But I understand exactly what you are saying. I quit drinking when I was 24 and said, “I’ll quit but I’m never gonna have a good time again, I’m not gonna enjoy sex and all this stuff.” And you can’t just go to bars and hook up. But most of these guys who make an ass of themselves, they don’t just want to go and meet one girl and have a happy ever after lifetime. They just want to get laid every night. And alcoholics are greedy, too: they always say that alcoholics want more. It’s tough but at the same time you have to look at guys who end up in jail or paralyzed and I always say, “Don’t feel too bad for yourself that you can’t go out because that is what is going to happen.” When I was on MTV in the 80s, I was sober. And it was spring break and I remember this big wild coke party with all these strippers. I’m in the elevator with 10 strippers and I said, “I don’t do these things,” and they were like, “You don’t have to do the coke--just hang out.” And I got out on my floor and watched the door shut and everybody was looking at me like they felt sorry for me and I went to my room and I was just tortured the whole night and I was grabbing the bed being like “why” feeling so sorry for myself. But I woke up the next day and was like, “Wow, you felt sorry for yourself, but how would you like to wake up as a person in a wheelchair for life from what you did last night?” So it’s all perspective.
One of my favorite things as a teen was to sit around getting high and watching Remote Control. Did you know that we were all sitting around getting high and watching it?
Yes, people used to come up to us all the time and say that.
You were listed as #56 on Comedy Centrals List of 100 greatest comedians. Did not being number one make you want to drink?
No, I just…those lists are just, you know…
Did you think you should be higher?
Yes, of course. Everyone wants to be higher. Metaphorically speaking, of course!