Colin Quinn: The curious life of a comic genius

The only person Louis CK follows in Twitter

Louis CK has 2,479,161 followers on Twitter, but follows just one person: Colin Quinn. Who the hell is Colin Quinn? He's a comedian whose Tweets have been lauded by Vanity Fair and The New York Times (whose comedy critic, Jason Zinoman, described Quinn as “always slightly ahead of the curve” but “perpetually underrated”).

Obviously I wanted to interview this lunatic. So I contacted him and his friends. This is what they told me: he was born in 1959 and grew up in Brooklyn. As a child he heckled people from his window, especially men leaving bars alone (“Ha ha, didn't get laid”). His parents divorced when he was a teenager and he became a loudmouth (one teacher choked him).

At college he was kicked off campus for vandalism and fighting, so he started bartending in Manhattan and spent a several nights in jail for drunkenness. On his way to his first ever open-mic he was arrested for buying speed and did the set in jail (he bombed). At 24, he got sober and started stand-up properly (“Me and Chris Rock would drive to the city in our mothers' cars”). When he got a one-line part in Crocodile Dundee II he rewrote the script with himself as co-star (the director ignored his rewrite). “That's the kind of delusional arrogance I'm capable of,” he says. In 1986 he became a regular at the Comedy Cellar (“He hung out at the bar with Jon Hayman, who became a writer on Seinfeld,” says its owner Noam Dworman. In 1987 he was hired by MTV then quit after three years. In 1995 he joined Saturday Night Live, but quit after five years because producers hesitated over his contract. Mike Myers asked him to play Dr Evil's son in Austin Powers. He said no. He was offered sit-coms but refused them.

“To have these people write a show for me?” he says. “And I'm going to stand there and read these horrible lines? It would be death. It would end in death for me.”

He cultivated a gang of comedians at the Cellar and when he got his own TV show, Tough Crowd, he hired them as regulars (it was a discussion show) and they were as brutal and funny as they were at the Cellar. That was in 2002. Two years later it was cancelled.

In 2010 he wrote a one-man show about empires, Long Story Short, which his friend, Jerry Seinfeld produced and directed. It became a Broadway hit and an HBO DVD. Now his new theatre show, Unconstitutional, is playing in Manhattan. And he's the keynote speaker at the Montreal comedy festival.

“People who know him really think he's kind of a genius,” says Dworman.