About a week ago, Colin Quinn took to Twitter and said some surprising things: He claimed to be bitter about Will Ferrell’s success (particularly his Mark Twain Award for humor), that Ferrell was on drugs during their shared tenure at Saturday Night Live, and that Quinn had come up with the original idea for Anchorman, which Ferrell stole. The remarks were picked up by numerous media outlets, which prompted Quinn to respond with, “To all media etc. Will Ferrell was not on drugs at snl! I never even saw him smoke a joint! Is this what it's come to???” But he went on to take more cracks at Ferrell’s expense, and mentioned that he wasn’t happy with how his own career was shaping up. Last night, we sat down with Quinn at the Scleroderma Research Foundation's annual fund-raising gala, hosted by Bob Saget, to suss out what’s true and what’s Twitter-brand hyperbole.
Can you explain the nature of this Will Ferrell Twitter feud we all witnessed?
Will took it out of context and made an enemy for life! No, really it was all the media who picked it up — me saying Will was a drug addict, which obviously maybe I shouldn’t have said that. I said he was a drug addict, that he still does a lot of drugs, and that he stole the idea for Anchorman from me. And that when I was on the show, Lorne [Michaels] was a figurehead, and I was really the shot-caller from ’95 to about 2000. So I mean, you know, people ran with that. Suddenly Huffington Post and Gossip.com —
It’s hard to read into Twitter.
You know, I think the problem is that they’re like, “We gotta get something. Everyone is tweeting such boring stuff; we gotta pretend this is real just to create a thing.”
You think they knew you were joking and they said, “Fuck it”?
I think they weren’t that dumb. Like, I’d expect a 15-year-old kid on Twitter to go, “Hey, that fuckin’ asshole.” But media people can read my timeline.
I took it to mean that sarcasm and irony don’t translate well over Twitter.
Maybe that was it. Maybe it’s that I’m tweeting, so obviously I get the joke.
Why Will Ferrell, of all people?
Because I know him, and he’s just the straightest, cleanest guy. He’s the least egotistical of anybody in show business, the most normal guy. So I was trashing that. Then people were like, “You’re bitter about Will Ferrell’s success.” And I’m like, “Well, yeah, but ... ” Then I’d trash him some more. Even what I wrote, I put [ellipsis] like “Will Ferrell won this award … that’s great … I guess … ” Do people really write like that? Where they talk and they hesitate? But I mean, it was one of those things. Slow news day I guess!
You also retweeted everybody who was trashing you. Do you enjoy that?
That’s my favorite thing. It started when they killed that terrorist who was born in America, so I said, “Hey, the guy's an American, you should probably give him a trial.” And of course, half the tweets are, “You’re an asshole,” and the other half are, “You’re right, man!” It’s that combination I really love, seeing people take these crazy sides.
What about all the stuff you wrote about how your career isn’t where you want it to be? Is there truth to that?
There’s truth to all jokes. Not Will Ferrell being a drug addict, but when I say this is not where I want my career to be, I mean it sometimes. It’s always ironic, but it’s not always funny unless you have a little truth in certain things.
Twitter doesn’t seem like the best medium for subtlety.
Yeah, they say that, but why not just fuck around? What else is Twitter good for? Saying, “Hey guys, had a great, fuckin’ meal! Went to a benefit and saw this person, they were really fuckin’ great!” When people use it phony like that, it’s like that old show-business thing where everyone claims, “Fantastic, people! Sensational!” All that fifties bullshit back again. It’s a fine line, obviously. Will’s got 50 people calling him up, “Are you on drugs?” I’m sure he really appreciates that.
Have you guys talked?
No. I mean, we knew each other at SNL, but I haven’t seen him in years.
It’s just a funny, successful movie. What am I gonna say? I took credit for that fuckin’ soccer movie?
You were at the "Weekend Update" desk during a bunch of government scandals, including the famous Bill Clinton–Monica Lewinsky one. How do you feel about all this Herman Cain sex scandal business?
Oh my God, Herman Cain is a perfect example. People have such a hard time latching on to credit default, banks, saving and loan versus hedge funds — we should be talking about those things, but it gives people a headache. But when you say “sexual harassment,” it’s titillating. It’s something you can anchor into. And everyone loves sex. It doesn’t even seem like he did anything; he was just being creepy. Clinton was the same thing. They kept bringing out these girls. And the girls, can you blame them? It’s like, “Listen, you wanna make a hundred thousand dollars doing a few interviews?” They’re like, “Shit, I don’t have money.”
Now that the tour of Long Story Short is over, what’s next?
I’m working on this movie. It’s spring break with terrorists — it’s like a metaphor for the whole world, where you have spring break girls, Afghani terrorist, New Orleans gangsters, Mexican smugglers, and it’s all combined for spring break in this hotel.
When you joke about how your career isn’t where you want it to be, is this the next step? To make movies?
That’s what I’d like to do. I’d like to be Sidney Lumet for the rest of my life: write and direct movies in New York.