By Clark Collis
August 16, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT
Carol Rosseg

During his tenure behind the Weekend Update desk on Saturday Night Live, Colin Quinn seemed to have to work harder than most while wringing humor from the news headlines. True, it didn’t help that his spell as fake anchor followed that of Norm MacDonald, whose meta-disinterest in courting audience approval just made his jokes funnier. Regardless, there were certainly weeks when, of the 10 pounds the SNL cameras deposited on Quinn, at least a couple appeared to be made up of flop sweat.

Quinn strikes a similarly nervous and hard-grifting figure in the opening portions of his Jerry Seinfeld-directed one-man show, Colin Quinn Long Story Short, a comedic attempt to tell the ”History of the World in 75 minutes.” Indeed, the stand-up veteran rushes through the initial material with such haste there is barely time for the audience at New York’s Bleecker Street Theatre to comprehend what he is saying. Were Quinn to step on another comedian’s punchlines in the manner he steps on his own here, one suspects strong words would ensue. This is both counter-productive and a shame, because the material, for the most part, is strong, and seems stronger still when Quinn dials back his performance to linger on his gags and characterizations.

Long Story Short tracks the rise and fall of empires by presenting anthropomorphized versions of the nations involved. Britain is a Shakespeare-quoting aristocrat who conquers nations using the power of ”contempt,” and has a romantic affection for France; France is a chain-smoking femme fatale who leads Britain on, then gets into bed with America; America is an idiot heading for catastrophe, though not for a while (according to Quinn, a country whose magazines are dominated by ways its population can lose weight has to be streets ahead, empire-wise, of those whose populations are starving to death). The conceit allows Quinn to show off his previously underutilized, and decent, mimic chops and also to gradually crank up the comic heat as the assorted insane, drunk, and/or drugs-blasted nation-states start to interact with each other. In one of the show’s funniest moments, America tries to get his wallflower girlfriend Afghanistan to flash her breasts Girls Gone Wild-style, to which; in response, Afghanistan points out that she’s only just recently started flashing her eyes.

Quite what director Seinfeld is bringing to this apparently still-being-tinkered-with production is unclear. While Quinn is abetted by a series of musical cues and photo backdrops — mostly of ancient maps in the show’s early stages — Long Story Short is not long on intricate physical window-dressing. Earlier this summer, Seinfeld implied to Entertainment Weekly that he was helping out with regard to ”how it should flow, where we need a chapter, where we need punctuation,” and one suspects his main input is indeed structural. The show’s assorted story lines do ultimately come together in a rather Seinfeld-ian fashion as various countries gather outside a bar to watch America search Iraq for a nonexistent gun. That just leaves a coda in which Greece, the world’s oldest democracy, is given a ride home by America, the most powerful democracy in the world. The scene, which culminates with America making clear he has no intention of taking advice from his has-been passenger, is played by Quinn with a quiet confidence far removed from the jittery manner he exhibited at the start of the show. The sequence is a satisfying conclusion — albeit one whose message should itself induce a sense of nervousness in everyone who sees it. B

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