Born on June 6, 1959 in Brooklyn, NY, Quinn was raised in the Park Slope section of the borough the son of teachers. Before turning to stand-up, he worked as a bartender – a job that likely contributed to several bad incidents due to alcohol, including blackouts and spending nights in jail. Quinn quit bartending to pursue his stand-up career in 1984; three years later, he was co-hosting the MTV quiz show “Remote Control” (1987-1990), lending his guttural voice to ask mostly college-age contestants pop culture trivia questions. In addition to stand-up, Quinn spent most of his early career writing for shows like “In Living Color” (Fox, 1990-94), a groundbreaking Afro-centric sketch comedy series that launched the careers of Jamie Foxx, David Alan Grier, and Jim Carrey. Quinn also wrote the storyline for the feature film “Celtic Pride” (1996) starring “Living Color” alum Damon Wayans and “SNL” player Dan Aykroyd. In 1989, Quinn joined forces with Ben Stiller to produce and perform in the popular comedic short “Goin’ Back to Brooklyn,” where he parodied rapper LL Cool J’s old-school hip-hop classic “Goin’ Back to Cali” (1989).
With his comedic career in full swing, Quinn eased into his new role as a writer and featured player on the award-winning sketch comedy series “Saturday Night Live” from 1995 through 1998, the year he became a full cast member. He donned a lion suit to play the character “Lenny the Lion,” an animal rights activist who ranted about the problems at the Bronx Zoo. Quinn made popular the character “Joe Blow,” a blue-collar worker who came onto the “Weekend Update” segment to complain about his deteriorating neighborhood. In 1998, Quinn took the anchor’s chair on the segment after Norm Macdonald was abruptly fired that same year. As anchor, Quinn was sarcastic and a smart aleck, but he too often appeared flustered, uninspired and had a hard time reading off the cue cards, except for when he ended his segment with the catchphrase, “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” For the duration of his hosting gig, fans of the show gave Quinn the cold shoulder as it became painfully clear that he was not cut out for doing one-liners, for which his predecessor was known.
Quinn did not go down in “Saturday Night Live” history as a fan favorite, but he soon found more success on Broadway. In 1998, his one-man show “Colin Quinn: An Irish Wake” earned critical reviews for his portrayals of the colorful characters of his youth – a druggie, a woman who was a perpetual martyr and a toxic alcoholic. After leaving “SNL,” he hosted the sketch series “The Colin Quinn Show” (NBC, 2002), only to find it after three episodes for its controversial racial jokes and low ratings. Quinn was exceptionally forthcoming as a comic, which helped land him frequent guest spots on the “The Howard Stern Show” (E!, 1994-2005). Shock jock Stern gave Quinn ample opportunity to regale his listeners with his outrageous sexual escapades that included fellatio from a transvestite, and an incident involving peanut butter and a cat. Quinn hosted the irreverent comedy series “The Colin Quinn Show” (Comedy Central, 2003-04) where he and a group of fellow comics attempt to discuss current and political events. The conversations were often heated, but the arguing was always jovial. After going back into standup and performing for the USO, Quinn reunited with “SNL” colleagues Adam Sandler, Maya Rudolph, Chris Rock, and Norm Macdonald for “Grown Ups” (2010), a much-maligned ensemble comedy about high school friends who reconnect 30 years after graduation. He next starred in his own special, “Colin Quinn: Long Story Short” (HBO, 2011), a film adaptation of his one-man Broadway show in which he chronicles the breath of human history, from ancient times to modern-day reality TV stars. The critically acclaimed special earned Quinn his first-ever Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Special.