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Slightly Shocking

Quinn and his panel of politically incorrect comedians waver between humor and offense.

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Quinn's stand-up brand of comedy is more pointed, more provocative, than Bunker's was. Quinn tackles the diversity issue head-on each week in a segment in which a panel of comedians, each representing a racial or ethnic stereotype, walk as close as possible to the precipice that divides humor and offense. Watching the show — which is broadcast live — is like watching a drunk zip up his pants: You hope he does it right but you know the outcome could be problematic.

Last week, one of Quinn's diversity ensemble confronted the similarities between what Quinn is doing and what Bunker did. He reminded us that Archie Bunker used to call Meathead a Polack. "If you did that now, you'd have 10,000 Polack protesting — out in front of the wrong network." It was a funny line. But 30 years ago, liberals were hard on Bunker and "All in the Family" producer Norman Lear when they had fun with stereotypes. Today, the words may still have the power to shock, but not like they once did.



In his first show, Quinn said it's OK nowadays to celebrate diversity "as long as you don't point out that people are different." And what makes his show interesting and, yes, fun, is exactly that. He takes on the differences and surprises his audience into laughing along with him — even if they may feel a twinge of guilt in the process. He correctly pegs us as tolerant, but not blind.



No sacred cows escape from the slapstick abattoir on "The Colin Quinn Show": "We should turn the Holy Land into a theme park. Nobody ever gets killed at Disneyland," he advises.



Not even blue-collars are safe from his jabs. Launching into a review of George Bush's recent speeches to Congress, he imagines the president pointing to a guest in the gallery and saying, "She's a widow with six kids. Her husband caught his mullet in a lathe .…"



Whole countries come under attack. Speaking of which, Quinn still has some leftover World War II prejudices. Regarding today's campaign against terrorism, he notes that "Germany is behind us," but complains that they keep asking, "Let us push the button just once for old times' sake."



Even threatening topics — things we really don't make fun of — are not off-limits. "Pedophiles don't want to be called pedophiles any more. (pause) They want to be called Father Henry," says one of Quinn's diversity ensemble. Another, a large white woman, tells us "Big girls are having lots of sex. (pause) As long as there are Mexican men."



It's easy to image Archie Bunker saying the same things 30 years ago. Everything old is new again. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't revisit the past, update it and laugh at it all over again. Boundaries were meant to be tested, and it's good to see mainstream network television rubbing our noses in our dirty little foibles again. S



The last scheduled episode of "The Colin Quinn Show" was to air March 25. As of our deadline, NBC-TV had not announced whether the program would be extended or rescheduled.



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