A Pair of Jokers: In 1987, Colin Quinn & John Mendoza appeared on Night Flight’s “Comedy Cuts”

By on June 30, 2017

Back in the 1980s, one of our most-popular Friday Night segments that we aired on “Night Flight” was a selection of “Comedy Cuts,” and since we can probably all use a laugh these days, we thought we’d tell you that you can watch these episodes again, whenever you want, over on Night Flight Plus.

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Today, we’ve chosen two New York-based stand-up comedians who both appeared on “Comedy Cuts”  — Colin Quinn and John Mendoza — who probably both require no introduction if you’ve been paying attention to the world of comedy for the past thirty years.

Colin Quinn can be seen doing excerpts from his stand-up routine in front of a crowd at Stand Up New York Comedy Club, located at 236 West 78th Street on NYC’s Upper West Side (this episode aired on March 20, 1987).

Meanwhile, John Mendoza is seen here performing (along with Chris Rock and others) at Rick Newman’s Catch A Rising Star comedy club, located on 1st Avenue, between East 78th Street and East 77th Street, in uptown NYC. This episode also aired sometime in ’87.

These two gruff, working-class “Joe Blow”-style comics have both managed to find mainstream success without compromising themselves along the way, and despite all the traits and mannerisms they may have in common, they probably couldn’t be any more different, comedy-wise.

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Quinn’s cynical delivery of jokes are actually more like observational, often acerbic tell-it-like-it-is political commentaries (he still gets into trouble today occasionally for some of the stuff he says about our contemporary political scene).

Some of his favorite topics for discussion or rants include hot-button racial issues, immigration, the heritage of his fellow Americans and how the U.S. government has failed everyone, which were the kinds of topics he explored in his second one-man show, 2009’s “My Two Cents,” which covered the economic crumbling of the American empire.

He’s definitely known as a “non-politically correct” comic who often whines about comedy fans (and some of his fellow comedians) as being “too sensitive.”

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Mendoza, meanwhile, typically goes for the frequently self-deprecating short sweet & sour-tasting punchlines, delivering them in deliciously slowburning deadpan, often musing about the odd little thoughts that pop into his own head on a daily basis.

Examples: “Ever wonder if illiterate people get the full effect of alphabet soup?” and “I hate kids; they’re like old people with energy,” and our personal favorite, “I saw a videotape at Blockbuster the other day on how to hook up your VCR.”

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Here’s what we originally posted a few years ago about this little clip from Catch a Rising Star here on the blog:

Comedian John Mendoza rips into flea markets and the second hand culture. For him, that garbage in the old idiom “One man’s garbage…” should never get the chance to become Another Man’s anything.

His deadpan delivery is perfect for this kind of bit, it makes a comment like this one catch you perfectly off guard: “You buy a suit at a flea market, you wouldn’t buy underwear. Now how do you know this guy
wore underwear?”

Well given how much the second hand trend has caught on, it’s likely someone out there is wearing Mendoza’s hip blue jeans. Let’s just hope he wore underwear.

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Of the two, Colin Quinn is probably the better known comedian/actor and comic writer, simply because his busy career has included a lot of TV appearances, including as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live” (1995-2000).

He’s also had a couple of his own TV shows, and several cable-TV comedy specials, including the faux-historical stand-up special “Unconstitutional,” which covered the United States Constitution, its creation, and its impact on the American psyche.

As an actor, Quinn has been seen in recurring roles on HBO’s “Girls,” and he had a key role in the hit Amy Schumer comedy feature Trainwreck as the free-speaking, MS-afflicted father of Schumer’s character.

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Quinn was born June 6, 1959 in Brooklyn, New York, NY, raised in Park Slope, although he’s often been called a “Boston comic,” due to his Irish roots and possibly because he’s had a long time connection to Dennis Leary and other Boston comics, but there’s no mistaking that gravelly Brooklyn accent and mannerisms if you’ve been paying attention.

In this short excerpt from his stand-up appearance at Stand Up New York, Quinn talks about coming from a “stereotypical Irish background… a couple of intellectuals, a smattering of stockbrokers, and forty percent of the New York police department in my immediate family.”

Quinn then goes on to describe how his family members in the NYPD all talk that “cop talk.” (Quinn also has a popular parody Web series “Cop Show.”)

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Quinn often talks about his own Irish heritage, joking that his ancestors being able to accept what they’d found in New York:

“You’ve got a city that’s sort of in disrepair…. It’s just a festering ground to breed resentment and misery. Who’s going to want to live there? The Irish.”

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More recently, Quinn — in his 2016 hour-long Jerry Seinfeld-directed Netflix special, “Colin Quinn: The New York Story,” — compared his Irish ancestors arriving in New York City with the arrival of other immigrants, the Jewish and Italians ones, saying:

“We were cynical to begin with… there was no Statue of Liberty yet. There was never that poetic moment the Italians and Jews had. Because the Italians came… they’re already crying and emotional, and they look up and welcoming them is a 100-foot mother.”

Seinfeld — who on at least one occasion called Quinn “the quintessential New York comedian” — had previously directed Quinn in his 2010 HBO special, a filming of his Broadway one-man show “Long Story Short,” which covered world history from prehistoric times to the present, offering satirical takes on the rise and fall of various world empires. It debuted on HBO on April 9, 2011.

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Quinn was later featured prominently in Comedian, a documentary about Jerry Seinfeld’s return to stand-up following his popular prime-time TV show “Seinfeld”‘s end, back in ’98.

“Colin Quinn: The New York Story” was actually based on Quinn’s 2015 The Coloring Book: A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America <https://www.amazon.com/Coloring-Book-Comedian-Relations-America/dp/1455507598>, which delved into his childhood, growing up in the ethnically diverse Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, and how it has changed over the years into its current state.

It was his fifth one-man show since his 1998 Broadway debut, “Colin Quinn: An Irish Wake,” which was co-written with Lou DiMaggio.

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Before he became a comedian in 1984 — just three years prior to this appearance in Night Flight’s “Comedy Cuts” — Quinn had worked as a bartender, and apparently he often found himself drinking along with his patrons, but it didn’t always end in laughs.

Sometime he had blackouts, waking up after spending the night in jail, not remembering what had happened the night before or knowing how he landed behind bars. He’s even used the term “blackout drunk” to describe the way he used to be, before he gave up drinking, sometime in the early 1980s.

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Here’s Quinn told Nathan Rabin who was interviewing the comedian for the Onion’s A.V. Club blog:

“I was bartending, and everyone said I should go into stand-up. So I went into it, because I had just quit drinking and had nothing left to do in the world. It was really that emptiness that made me say, ‘Fuck it.’ Because before that, I was scared to do it. I got a little bit of a late start. It was just that I realized that I had nothing to lose then. I couldn’t go drinking anymore, so that was it.”

At first, Quinn worked from about noon until 8 or 9 each night as a bartender, and then he’d go to the New York City clubs and sit around until one o’clock in the morning and get up and do ten minutes of comedy.

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Quinn, left, with Ken Ober and Kari Wuhrer

Quinn ultimately found fame in 1987 on the MTV game show “Remote Control,” which was hosted by Ken Ober (another comic who appeared on “Comedy Cuts”).

It aired for five seasons, from ’87 until 1990, despite the fact that Quinn and Ober both thought no one was going to watch the show (Quinn told Nathan Rabin that, unlucky for him, “it became one of those college fucking cult things.”).

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Quinn was the announcer/sidekick on the show for three years, and frequently found himself sharing the studio stage (sometimes on the beach and other locals) with lovely hostesses, including Marisol Massey (season one), Kari Wuhrer (two and three), Alicia Coppola (four) and Susan Ashley (Quinn had left the show and didn’t get to frolick with Ashley in season five).

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The show — which was supposedly set in Ober’s “basement” — frequently featured comedians, some of who were Quinn’s pals from the stand-up world, like Denis Leary. It also helped launch Adam Sandler’s career, if you’re looking for someone to blame for that.

In 1989, Quinn hosted A&E’s “Caroline’s Comedy Hour,” (Jon Stewart wrote jokes occasionally for Quinn’s hosting gig), and wrote and performed in the popular comedic short Going Back to Brooklyn along with Ben Stiller.

In fact, much of Quinn’s early comedic career involved writing as much as it did performing on camera; he also wrote for TV’s popular “In Living Color,” and he was an associate producer and co-written on the story for the 1996 movie Celtic Pride, starring Damon Wayans and Dan Aykroyd (it was probably yet another reason he’s been incorrectly referred to as a Boston comic).

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Quinn’s biggest break might have been joining the cast of “Saturday Night Live” in 1995, and working as a writer and a featured player from ’95 until the beginning of the 1998 season, when he became a full cast member.

One of his best-loved recurring segment was “Colin Quinn Explains the New York Times,” as well as skits in which he played “Lenny the Lion” and “Joe Blow.”

After the firing of fellow cast-member Norm MacDonald; Quinn took over as host of the “Weekend Update” segment in January of 1998, a job he kept until leaving “SNL” in 2000.

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During his off-time from the show, Quinn also made his Broadway debut in his acclaimed one-man show, “Colin Quinn: An Irish Wake.”

That show reflected Quinn’s upbringing within the Irish-American community of Brooklyn; it was set at a wake taking place in 1976, with Quinn portraying family members and acquaintances who show up for the event.

Quinn was also offered roles in movies every now and then (including the role of Scott Evil in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery by Mike Myers, which he turned down), he mostly focused on his writing projects, even though some of those projects — like his screenplay for Midnight Mass — were never produced.

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Quinn has pointed out that he’s often felt that comedians weren’t really allowed to develop their comedy, having to focus too much on bringing in their own audiences to their shows because the “cocksucker club owners” didn’t know who was any good, or who was actually funny, believing that the bigger the crowd, the more successful they were, when in reality they might not have been very funny at all.

Quinn was eventually given his own sketch comedy show on NBC, “The Colin Quinn Show,” which combined sketch comedy and stand-up in a live-to-tape format. It lasted for just three episodes in the spring of 2002.

The mediocre ratings were probably one reason, but another was that Quinn pushed the envelope on the show with highly-opinionated and provocative racial content (Quinn told Nathan Rabin that he thought the writing on the show “apparently wasn’t toothless.”).

Quinn later found success with another show of his own, “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn” airing on Comedy Central right after “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” which gave him solid television ratings, and allowed him to sit around and joke with his a panel of four comedian friends, usually cracking wise and insulting each other. Quinn usually gave them a “time out” on the show if they weren’t being funny.

The show was seen as a kind of rowdier version of Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect,” and, unlike that show, only occasionally did Quinn and his comedian pals ever get around to discussing the issues of the day.

“Tough Crowd” managing to find a loyal following, and the show’s ratings were where they should have been, based on its time slot and competition, but Quinn found himself constantly battling Comedy Central’s network executives over content issues.

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The show was eventually placed on an “indefinite hiatus” in October 2004, with what was presumably its final episode airing the Thursday following Election Day in 2004.

Years later, Colin Quinn would tell Nathan Rabin of A.V. Club that he thought the show really didn’t work because a lot of the comedians who appeared on it were really dumb, and he added that most hadn’t graduated from high school or even earned a G.E.D. degree, and that alone made it difficult to do the show the way he wanted.

(Quinn, by the way, was raised by two teachers, and attended the State University of New York at Stony Brook, in Stony Brook, Long Island, but did not graduate).

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In May of 2013, Quinn — promoting his then new stand-up show “Unconstitutional” by doing an interview with Josh Zepps on HuffPost Live — felt it was necessary to point out that, for the previous five years, none of his fellow comedians had been making jokes about President Obama, which he said was “subconsciously racist.”

“And It’s all political correctness. People don’t make jokes about Obama because they’re like ‘if you make a joke about President Obama, it’s subconsciously racist.’ I’ll prove I’m not racist by treating him different than I would treat any white president. It’s patronizing him.””

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One of the comedians who appeared on “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn” was fellow New Yorker John Mendoza, who, like Quinn, is also of Irish descent, born in New York City sometime in the 1950s.

He’s part Puerto Rican too — that’s where the Mendoza name comes from — and even though he doesn’t make a big deal of his heritage, he has occasionally been lumped in with other Latino comedians who do. (In 2006, Mendoza was featured on the Latino Kings of Comedy Vol. 2 with George Lopez, Pablo Francisco, Rick Aviles and Gene Pompa).

One of the more interesting bits of trivia associated with Mendoza was that he was the person who gave comedian and “Chico and the Man” star Freddie Prinze his signature line: “Eees not my job, man.

In this article published on the Vulture blog earlier this year, Mendoza recalled that he and Prinze — who didn’t know each other — were bangin’ the same bartender, Collette, who worked at a New York bar called the Fiddle Faddle. They were both sitting at the bar, and when Prinze asked Mendoza to pass the basket of pretzels to him, Mendoza deadpanned “Eees no my yob, man.” To his credit, Prinze asked if he could use the line, and Mendoza said sure.

The rest is 1970s TV comedy history.

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Mendoza was a former liquor company employee before Mendoza went to Catch a Rising Star, in 1976, and that’s when he realized, in his own words, that any “average Joe” could get up there and do comedy.

Mendoza: “I thought, what a great way to make a living, just making people laugh.”

Mendoza worked up his nerve for the next three years before he tried entering the world of stand-up comedy, and right from the start he focused on doing short jokes, little bursts of comedic whimsy, rather than telling long stories.

Mendoza: “All my jokes are like little cartoon strips. I try and make it so you can visually see what is happening. I do one like: I went sky-diving. One of the guys I went sky-diving with was blind. Did you ever hear a German Shepherd scream at 10,000 feet?”

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Mendoza has always written all of his own material, since he figured he was going to be delivering it himself in his patented deadpan style like nobody else could, or would. He has said he figures he uses about one hundred of the thousand joke he writes over the course of a year, always keeping the jokes sharp and succinct.

In 1984, just a few years before he was appearing on our “Comedy Cuts,” John Mendoza appeared on the TV show “Star Search.”

Mendoza, like Quinn, eventually expanded his comedy into acting, and in 1993, he executive-produced, co-created and starred in his own show, “The Second Half,” (Tuesday night’s at 9:30pm on NBC).

Mendoza played a newly-divorced sports columnist named John Palmaro who is ready to get goin’ on a fresh start on the second half of his life, at his own leisurely pace.

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Mendoza and the cast of “The Second Half”

His character never really seemed to do any writing on the show, however, which was built into show as a way for Mendoza to continue his laconic, deadpan delivery on his occasional punchlines.

His frantic newspaper editor Robert Piccolo was the great comedic actor Wayne Knight, who most people probably still recognize as Newman from TV’s “Seinfeld.”

“The Second Half” lasted from September 7, 1993 to April 15, 1994.

More recently he appeared on “Hidden Howie: The Private Life of a Public Nuisance” (NBC, 2004-05).

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Mendoza is likely also recognizable from his dozens of appearances on the late-night TV talk shows over the years, cracking them up on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” (to name just a few).

He’s also made lots of appearances on network sitcoms — such as “The Big Bang Theory,” “Two and a Half Men”, “Dharma & Greg,” “Men Behaving Badly,” “Yes Dear,” and many, many others, even appearing occasionally on hour-long dramas like “NYPD Blue.”

Of course, he’s appeared on just about every show featuring stand-up comedians of one stripe or another, like “Comics Unleashed.”

Over the years, Mendoza appeared in a number of television specials, including “The Young Comedians All-Star Reunion” (1986-87),  and “An Evening of Comedy With Jimmie Walker and Friends” (Showtime, 1987-88).

He also appeared in “John Mendoza: Over Easy” (Showtime, 1991-92), and contributed to a variety of television specials, including “Latin Nights: An All-Star Celebration” (ABC, 1994-95) and “The Real Deal” (Comedy Central, 1994-95).

He also once paired up with Pam Matteson for a Showtime comedy special, “A Pair of Jokers: John Mendoza & Pam Matteson,” which premiered on Saturday, October 6 at 11 PM (ET/PT). The half-hour special was taped at the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, California.

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Have a look at our selection of “Comedy Cuts” — including Colin Quinn‘s and John Mendoza‘s appearances on our popular Night Flight segment from 1987 — they’re all streaming for you, whenever you might need a laugh, over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.