America, it was good whilst it lasted wasn't it? Increasingly it looks like a trial separation leading to something more permanent is in the offing.
North, south, east,
and west used to go along to get along but in this hyper-partisan new age that's all but over.
In funnyman Colin Quinn's new book 'Overstated: A Coast-to-Coast Roast of the 50 States' he contemplates where we came from and where we might be headed (alone).
Sometimes nations – like people - grow apart. Comedian Colin Quinn certainly thinks so. In his new book, he claims the United States needs a divorce. From sea to shining sea we're exhausted with each other and increasingly we're contemplating filing the separation papers, a decision that he fully supports.
In the beginning, as the Bible puts it, the trouble was baked in. The north began as a religious, spiritual haven of sorts and the south commenced as a bluntly financial colony. They have never quite found a way to quite reconcile their differences since.
“Trying to legally and culturally accommodate a country that has a Vermont and a Kansas living by the same rules. It’s pretty amazing that we pulled it off for as long as we did, really,” he writes.
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There's a little more to it than that of course, which is why 'Overstated' is 256 pages long. To his fans – and they include fellow banner name comedians – it is not a huge surprise that Quinn emerges in these pages as a droll and particularly thoughtful observer of American life. After all his off-Broadway show 'Red State, Blue State' played to packed houses nationwide.
But to those less familiar with his comedy work this is the story of America, and why it may be time to break up the family, told in a persuasive voice by a man who loves the country, but thinks it would better if we all spent some time apart now.
As with any separation, it's important to ask yourself what you really want, and if you think you'd fare better alone than together. But the tea leaves and the nightly newscasts say we're trending toward a breakup and if that's what it takes then that's fine, we've done it before Quinn writes.
Going state by state he considers the individual character of each and how that patchwork contributed to the character of the nation. But on what side of many divisions does he come down on himself? Well, that's not as clear cut as you might think.
He sees residual traces of the puritan inheritance in what he calls the Social Justice Warriors who now police comedy, deciding what can and cannot be said. These people are a huge drag, he feels. “Why is no one concerned about this movement to remove comedy unless its committee approved by six people who have never smiled or laughed but sure are woke?"
“Comedy,” he writes, doesn't work best when people are standing next to you asking you to justify your language, clarify your meaning, and articulate your intentions and beliefs. That's good to find out about someone if they're a Supreme Court nominee.”
Well, exactly. The list of what you cannot say used to belong to the right. Some are discomfited that it now seems to belong to the left too. The push and pull of the sacred and the profane used to be the hunting ground of comedy, but increasingly it seems to be territory ceded to humorless fanatics he says.
For an Irish America, Quinn is more sanguine about America's colonist history than you might expect. Sure he admits the phrase “the new world” hits differently if for you and your native ancestors this was “the present world.”
Sure, he writes, we can all sit here and curse ourselves and beg forgiveness or seek penance, but it happened the way it happened and nothing is going to change that now. So give up hope of writing a better past, he writes.
Well, that's easy for you to say, straight white well off man. But that helps some and not others, and Quinn knows that and says so and just shrugs. It's not a perfection union, it only really gets in trouble when it pretends it is, he says.
The impression given by this deceptively nimble book is of a man who cares deeply and yet pretends not to, who says approximately what he thinks but never exactly what he thinks, who wants peace but just isn't as concerned with reconciliation.
Quinn means it, by the way, 80 percent of both the Republicans and Democrats platforms makes him sick. He doesn't vote. He feels the two parties have been colonized by ideologues and fanatics and he can't relate to either side of the aisle.
What's at the root of this book is a simple question, how do people and nations become the way they become? It's more philosophical than he gets in his standup but Quinn has found a way to keep all parts of himself in play throughout his career.
If you know his Twitter feed you know that he likes to make inflated claims about his charm, looks, and charisma to bait and enrage the drive-by commentators. The fun is watching the humorless miss the joke.
'Overstated: A Coast-to-Coast Roast of the 50 States' is his way of engaging with the hardest questions of our time, where did we come from, do we have a future together, and again he smuggles in his true feelings under the guise of wisecracks.
Sometimes it's hard to know exactly who's house he's calling the plague down on. As the offspring of a “very Irish” family, he's a master of keeping his own counsel and so it proves in this book. But even so, his worries are pretty clear. Our national elections aren't solving our disagreements, they're rubbing them raw. No one is saying this isn't working, instead, we see extremists taking the national stage and exploiting our divisions.
From Proud Boys to Antifa to Trump, there is no room for compromise and no room for progression. “As a nation of free men, we will live forever or die by suicide,” he writes quoting Abraham Lincoln. It's clear in this book that he believes we are currently taking the suicidal route.
“Hopefully,” he writes, “we will be able to find a way to compromise and go forward. Maybe you have forty states that are pro-choice and ten states that aren't. Forty states that are pro-gun and ten states where you get life in prison for possession of a gun. Maybe we try that with a bunch of laws and see which ones turn out best. And if the country has to break up even after that, then we walk away with dignity. And whatever happens, we can always say, We used to be America.”
That's a somber note for a comedian, but Quinn is kidding around in 'Overstated.' He thinks Trump is a lunatic, he thinks the Republican party has surrendered to his personality cult, he thinks that Democrats are often self-defeating and he thinks that America if it can be saved, which is increasingly in doubt, will need to sit down at a modern constitutional convention soon and decide if it can be fixed. It's no laughing matter.
'Overstated: A Coast-to-Coast Roast of the 50 States,' St. Martens Press $27.00.