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Colin Quinn on Girls, Lena Dunham, and Croissant-Shaped Purses

Colin Quinn. Photo: Corbis

Colin Quinn popped up in the Girls finale as Hermie, the owner of Grumpy’s, for all of two minutes — but it was a memorable two minutes. Mostly because he wore funny round glasses and told us about Shoshanna’s croissant-shaped purses. But also, plot-wise, because he talked Ray out of finishing his Ph.D. in Latin studies and instead offered his mentee a job as “Ray the Manager” at the new Grumpy’s opening in Brooklyn Heights. Hermie was our glimpse at Ray the fortysomething. Vulture spoke to Quinn about the part, what Lena Dunham was like as a director, and why he needed her to explain croissant-shaped purses.

You were the first celebrity I ever talked to, outside of the Comedy Cellar. I was a freshman at NYU.

I know. I would say that it’s all coming full circle, but I’d hate to think that my circle has been completed.
How do you think I feel? At least you were a freshman — I was probably 90 at the time.

No, but it was a long time ago. So, Girls. Did your part come about through Judd?
I guess so. I never really found out for sure. They just called me, the casting people. I haven’t spoken to Judd or anybody since then.

What did you know about the part when you got the casting call? 
There was a coffee shop guy.

What if you got the script and you were being offered a Patrick Wilson–type appearance? Would you have been up for that?
Yeah! Why not?

You say that so enthusiastically. I’m guessing you’ve been following the show.
Oh, yeah, I follow the show. I’ve seen every episode. I saw it last year, even before I knew I was gonna be the Next Big Star. Even before I knew I was gonna be the Next Young Hipster on the show.

What was your initial reaction to it?
Shows are about tone, you know? It’s got its own tone. It’s not trying to be anything other than what it’s trying to be. [Lena]’s trying to write her life, is how I look at it. And that’s what I like: I like people being honest. So sometimes the show’s really funny and sometimes it’s serious, but she’s not responding to fucking criticism where people are like, “Oh, it’s not funny” or “Oh, it’s too hipster” — oh, shut up. It’s one of those shows where everybody’s gotta put their two cents in all the time, you know what I mean? With the Patrick Wilson episode, what about that moment where she walks down the block at the end — how amazing is that?

Season two was darker than season one. But would you still consider season two funny, as a comedian?
Yeah. If I’m laughing, then I think it’s funny. The first season was dark, too: her talking about AIDS with the doctor, her talking about rape with a counselor. Those are dark things, but we thought they were funny, you know? And this season, I would say, when she’s arguing with Donald Glover about race, that was really funny. I’ll tell you what’s a funny moment: When she called her mother and father and goes, “I just want to thank you for being good parents,” because the other girl — what’s her name, Jessa — her parents are so screwed up. And her parents go, “What do you want? What are you doing? I’m sick of this shit.” It was so funny.

What was Lena like as a director?
It’s got a good vibe, that place, you know what I mean?

No, tell me about it. You just tweeted something about how you behave with directors
I don’t know about that. [Laughs.]

You tweet your own tweets, right?
Oh yeah, yes. Yes, I mean, that’s sick. I was saying directors don’t like me because I get in moods and whatever.

Were you in a mood with Lena?
I said, “Listen, kid.” I said, “Look, I’m not a sexist, doll, but I’m trying to tell you something … I’m gonna tell you how to direct this show.” I don’t really do much of this kind of stuff. I don’t like it. But when I got there, it was actually really fun. She’s got a real vibe to her, that one. If I was her age and I was in charge and shit like that, I would be either really harried, like really overwhelmed and feel tired and rushed and miserable — or just be a general dick. But she’s got a good vibe to her.

What direction did she give you and Alex Karpovsky?
They had a written scene and then she had us improv a little bit, just to keep playing around with it. And then they cut it together. But the only time I asked for help was with the “croissant-shaped purse” — she was explaining to me about the croissant-shaped purse. She was like, “You know, it’s just a croissant … ” And I was like, “Sorry, no, I don’t know, ‘cause I’m a man.” [Shouts.] “Why would I know what a goddamn croissant-shaped purse is fucking like?” I mean, I don’t look at a purse and go, “Oh, croissant.” I don’t know what this purse is.

Okay, so she had to explain it to you.
I mean, I understand what a croissant is. By the way, people are critiquing me on Twitter for how I pronounced croissant. I fucking pronounced it correctly: kwah-sant! I pronounced it like a Frenchman. These people are like, Oh, ha-ha, fucking pronounce it kru-sant. You fucking idiots. But yeah, I understood what it meant, I guess, but I couldn’t picture a croissant-shaped purse for some reason.

What about your glasses? Did they help you get into character?
Yeah, people have been bringing those up. I have to say, I really liked wearing them. It was fun. I feel like they did help me get into character.

Did this whole experience make you itch for your own scripted show?
Oh yeah, of course you always itch for your own stuff, but I do that all the time anyway. I don’t need to be on Girls to be furious that I don’t have my own show.

That’s not what I meant!
No, that’s what I meant.

So do you think you’ll be back next season?
I don’t know. Maybe. Let’s put it this way: It’s definitely fun, but if the show hinges on fucking Grumpy’s, we’re in deep trouble. But now that Ray’s broken up [with Shoshanna], yeah, maybe I’ll be his mentor every week.

I just saw Amy Schumer do stand-up.
Oh, hilarious.

She’s so funny.
We just had a Twitter war going on today over our Girls performances. She was the one at the party [with Adam and Natalia]. She was like, “Oh, you blew my cousin. You gave my cousin a blow job.” So she tweeted something about, “I don’t want to compete with you about who was better on Girls” — and then she hashtagged me or something. So then I wrote back and it turned into a little Twitter war.

She did get the dirtier lines.
Yeah, exactly, and I’m playing a fucking straight-arrow goddamn coffee shop owner instead of making blow job jokes — who’s gonna get bigger laughs?

You got pretty big laughs anyway. Were you surprised by the response?
Yes! I swear to God, I expected nothing other than me promoting it. I figured they’d cut it down to one line.

What was the craziest thing you heard since you’ve done it?
That people liked me, that I was a good actor. [Laughs.] That was crazy enough.

Are you working on a show of your own?
That I’ve written? Yeah. It’s called The Cop Show. It’s basically a show about a cop show, a comedy about a cop show. I’d play the cop. Like, the typical grizzled cop on a cop show. It could be funny, you know?

Yeah, but are you pulling my leg or are you serious?
No, I swear to God! I swear to God.

All right, sounds good. This has been awesome. Thank you so much for everything and for saying hi to me when I was a freshman.
[Groans.] And your name is Tammy?

How do you spell it?

Oh, Patti! Okay! Where are you from? I always want to know where everybody’s from.

Originally from Suffolk County, Long Island.
Oh! Anybody says Islip or fucking Brentwood, I just laugh, you know? I go up to McGuire’s up there, you know the comedy club? And I swear to God, there’s something about those people — it’s like we just connect. I just come out there and go, “Jesus Christ, what happened?” And they just start laughing. Fucking American dream. Just everybody out there, it’s hilarious. Love it. Suffolk County.

Colin Quinn on Girls and Croissant-Shaped Purses