Colin Quinn’s new one-man show is an attempt to tell the history of the world in 75 minutes. Like other such abbreviated efforts – Gombrich’s A Little History of the World, Mel Brooks’s History of the World: Part 1 – Quinn cannot resist including The American and French revolutions. Unlike the other planetary chroniclers, he makes a nod or two to countries outside the control of Pale Males.

Take, for example, the case of Afghanistan, which Quinn impersonates – as he does all the great states in this ersatz survey, directed by Jerry Seinfeld, of the rise and fall of nations. Afghanistan for Quinn is the reticent girlfriend of America, an adolescent male getting wised up fast. Am coaxes Af to bare her breasts, as if recent history is a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade. Af demurs, stating that she’s only recently been allowed to expose her eyes.

Quinn has long been associated with such cheeky approaches to international news: he is best known for his late-1990s stint on Saturday Night Live, where he anchored “Weekend Update” and did a segment called “Colin Quinn Explains the New York Times”. But it is his regular SNL characters, a troupe of blue-collar reactionaries, that I remember most vividly; so it comes as something of a shock, in Long Story Short, to encounter a point of view more working-class left than working-class right.

All the same, the foul-mouthed tenor of Quinn’s characters hasn’t much altered; no Noël Coward for him. And yet it wouldn’t be fair to reduce him to a single, blaring note. Quinn’s a much sharper mimic than I recall from his TV appearances.

The national stereotypes are oceanically broad. His Britain is a Shakespeare-spouting toff who subdues nations through contempt; France is a nicotine-hooked seductress. But their communal interaction – a panoply of countries get together outside a pub to see America frisk Iraq for a gun – is impressive.

It is difficult to see quite what Seinfeld brought to the party. He told an interviewer that he was trying to help Quinn decide how the show “should flow”. But it is precisely the pace of the production, which is kitted out with nifty ancient maps, that is occasionally problematic. The sweaty nervousness of Quinn’s stand-up comedy is what occasionally undoes him here. Nerves can fuel performance, but they can also impede jokes. ()

3 star rating
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