Colin Quinn at UCB: Unconstitutional (A Work In Progress)
Last night, the very funny (and Brooklyn born) Colin Quinn performed for a small crowd at the tiny Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, delighting us with his intelligent brand of humor while he worked out the kinks on a one hour set about the history of the United States. No opening act, a few misfires along the way … this was comedy in the raw, but at $5 per ticket and with a performance that seems about 90% of the way to what will be the final set (Quinn was preparing what will soon be an off-Broadway performance called “Unconstitutional”) this was a rare treat for the audience.
Personally, I really enjoy seeing a comedian at the stage where he’s still working out his material, testing the waters on jokes, reacting as some fall completely flat. This is an opportunity that New Yorkers are exclusively lucky enough to experience on a fairly regular basis. In this case, Quinn is doing only two preparatory sets, aka “Unconstitutional (A Work In Progress)”, both at UCB, one last night and one this coming Monday night. I’ve heard about situations where Chris Rock will jump onstage and perform at an open mic night, just to see what works, and I know that Louis CK has done very small Brooklyn shows at the Bell House a night or two before tours, just as a warm-up. We are a uniquely lucky group of people to be a part of the full comic’s experience.
That’s all well and good, but probably nothing you haven’t heard before. What’s at least equally fascinating is what happened in the immediate aftermath of the Quinn set. Setting the stage (so to speak), it’s important to describe the intimacy of the UCB theatre. This is a space created and dedicated for improv shows; accordingly, the stage is not elevated, and the seating area is a mere step or two away from the performer and completely surrounds him. In this intimate environment, Quinn says thank you and begins to back off the stage, approaching an exit immediately behind him. A woman steps onto the stage, facing Quinn, and heads in the direction of the microphone. Without giving it much (if any) thought, any reasonable person would assume that this woman worked for UCB and was going to bid farewell to Colin and direct the audience to exit. Within seconds though it was apparent that something was amiss. She was no “reasonable person.” Quinn paused with an odd look in his eyes and backed off more quickly, without waiting for his farewell.
Finally, we now glanced at the woman, her back still to the audience, but much of us on an angle where we can see a bit of her profile … is that a bare breast? Indeed it is. In fact, it’s two. This woman was completely topless, had a cartoonish mustache drawn on her face, and now was walking the stage, facing the audience, with a camera in her hands. No one asked her to leave; no one even paid her much mind. Here was a topless lunatic walking around and – jaded New Yorkers that we are – the audience collectively shrugged its shoulders, put on our coats, gathered our backpacks and purses and exited the theatre. An unseen voice asked us to leave so that the area could be cleared for the next show, and so we did, while the woman continued her naked walk. Anywhere else, this would all rate pretty highly on the out-of-ordinariness scale. On this night in the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre – and, in all honesty, on any night in the vast majority of NYC locations – it barely registered. Even Colin’s reaction to the strange occurrence would be best described as nonplussed, as seen from his response to a twitter follower / audience member asking “What the hell happened in the end?”
Only in NY.
 This is true only in the case of a good and experienced comedian. Seeing a novice perform material that hasn’t yet been tested can be one of the worst forms of torture.
 And people in certain other comedy hotbeds like LA and Chicago, I suppose.