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Movie Review: 'Manito'

Film critic David Edelstein reviews Manito, a small budget film by first-time director Eric Eason. Manito won prizes at Sundance. It's being distributed in a novel way. It is getting a limited run in big cities and is also a part of a new DVD subscription service.


Other segments from the episode on June 16, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 16, 2003: Interview with Colin Quinn; Review of the film "Manito."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Colin Quinn discusses his new program on Comedy
Central, "Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest is the comic Colin Quinn. He first became known for anchoring
"Weekend Update" on "Saturday Night Live." Now he's commenting on the
headlines in his Comedy Central program, "Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn." On
each edition, Quinn leads a conversation with four other comics about the
issues of the day. It's broadcast Monday through Thursday at 11:30, right
after the satirical newscast "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

Quinn started his TV career in 1987 as co-host of the MTV game show "Remote
Control." He joined "Saturday Night Live" in 1995 as a writer and performer,
and stayed on the show for six seasons. Quinn anchored "Weekend Update" for
two and a half seasons. He was featured in the Jerry Seinfeld documentary
"Comedian," and was a judge last week on the new show "Last Comic Standing,"
which is the "American Idol" of the comedy world.

Here's a clip from "Tough Crowd." Quinn is talking with comics Dave
Chappelle, Judy Gold, Nick DiPaulo and Greg Fitzsimmons about mandatory school

(Soundbite of "Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn")

Mr. COLIN QUINN (Host, "Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn"): But even when you
wore regular clothes, kids will make fun of you in school. They step on your
sneakers the first day. Every morning, it was torture for me, you know,
coming out and it's, like, `Your hair looks stupid. Your clothes are dirty
and wrinkled.' I go, `Come on, Mom. I got to go to class.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. QUINN: And I'll tell you something else...

Ms. JUDY GOLD: I can't believe that happened in your house. This wasn't even
at school?

Mr. QUINN: It wasn't even there.

Ms. GOLD: Oh, my God!

Mr. QUINN: (Cackles)

Unidentified Man #1: That's hilarious.

Unidentified Man #2: You know, a lot of great people wore the same--Einstein
wore the same clothes every day, Charlie Brown. There's a lot of people...

Mr. QUINN: Charlie--yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #2: ...that wore the same gear every day, man. That's why
you wonder why everyone's got all these shallow-ass kids, 'cause they got to
go to school and compete with clothes.

Mr. QUINN: Yeah.

Unidentified Man #2: But now, granted, my kid is two and is rockin' some
(unintelligible) right now.

Mr. QUINN: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah.

Unidentified Man #2: But that's because I'm in show business. He got to look
good so I can look good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. QUINN: Yeah. You don't want your kid to drag you down.

Ms. GOLD: Well...

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah. Yeah. I don't want him to mess my image up.

Ms. GOLD: ...personally...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #2: I got to keep them thugged out, Nick.

Mr. QUINN: You know--go ahead. Personally, what?

Ms. GOLD: Yeah. Personally, I'm a Jew, and uniforms scare me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. QUINN: Well, I think the...

Ms. GOLD: But...

Unidentified Man #3: Well, she's a Jew. She can say that.

Mr. QUINN: They are...

GROSS: Well, your new show "Tough Crowd," features you and four comics,
different comics each day, talking about the news.

Mr. QUINN: Uh-huh. Right.

GROSS: Now what's the point of having comics sitting around talking about the
news? What can they say that you think no one else will?

Mr. QUINN: Well, first of all, I think that, you know, the comics can stay
things--first of all, they will say things. It's not that they have the
intelligence to say things no one else will, but they do have that instinct to
be more honest about--you know, without being politically correct about
everything racial and--You know what I mean? That's really the thing. I
mean, to me the big censorship thing has been race in the past 10 years, and
everything else is open game.

But I also think that when comedians are on a show, there's also that sense of
reality in that no one's going to change anyone's opinion. You know, no
matter how intelligent somebody is, everybody--I mean, look at the Middle
East. It's just all these brilliant minds trying to work this out and nobody
changes. So it's like at least at some point in the discussion, you realize
the comedians are sort of acknowledging that by just giving up and turning on
somebody just personally. So it kind of reminds me more of, like, the reality
of life, which is that you give your opinion, somebody else gives theirs, you
know, you try to get your point across, nobody really wants to change their
opinion--on some level, they already have it--and they just start attacking
each other and you leave on a kind of friendly note, you know, of like, you
know, the world just goes on kind of thing.

GROSS: Are there certain perils involved with bringing comics together and
having them talk? Because, I mean, they can start picking on each other, they
can start picking on you.

Mr. QUINN: Well, that's what they do.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. QUINN: You better believe it. They pick on me all the time and they pick

on each other, and I pick on them. I mean, but that's good. You know? It's
like--you know, I mean, that's part of the show, too. Instead of it just
being like people just respectfully listening to each other's dumb opinions,
kind of saying, `OK, idiot,' you know. Like, my favorite times is when
people, like, call each other and trying to get an applause break from the
audience by saying something that's so correct; not necessarily politically
correct, just one of those statements like, `Well, I think people should care
more about children,' or `I think war is bad.' You know? Or `I think all
human life is precious,' and we just start attacking them for trying to get
the audience to applaud on, you know--with some vague statement that nobody's
really going to disagree with.

GROSS: Well, the other thing is that so many other comics seem to be kind
of--well, very competitive with each other, maybe a little anti-social.

Mr. QUINN: Yeah.

GROSS: So here you're bringing them together in a little group to talk to
each other.

Mr. QUINN: Yeah. Well, they're the only people who can stand each other,

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. QUINN: I mean, I was at this roast last night for Patrice O'Neal, one of
the guys from the show.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. QUINN: It was the meanest thing I've ever seen. And I was involved in
it, too, but, I mean, it was brutal. They really are. There's something very
wrong with comedians, and I'm starting to realize it more and more. I never
believed it. I was just always, like, `Oh, people just want to talk about
projection.' I felt like everybody projected their anger that comedians, you
know, kind of bring out, you know, or their anger that comedians are the
catharsis for. So I used to think it was everybody's projections, but now I
realize comedians are very damaged. In fact, I don't think I'm going to go to
the show today, thanks to you bringing that up.

GROSS: Glad to be of help.

Let me play an excerpt of one of your opening monologues...


GROSS: ...and this was during the war in Iraq. Here we go. This is Colin
Quinn from "Tough Crowd."

(Soundbite of "Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn")

Mr. QUINN: Yesterday, if you saw the footage of--we blew up an Iraqi tank
under a bridge without damaging the bridge. You know, so people can say
whatever they want to about our Army, but thoughtful and considerate would
certainly be two of the words you'd have to use. OK?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. QUINN: Pretty soon, we're not going to drop leaflets; we're going to
start dropping comment cards. `How is the war? How did you hear about us?
Would you say you're a country that goes to war rarely, sometimes, frequently,

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. QUINN: `Would you recommend us to another unfriendly regime?'

GROSS: I thought that was very funny. So listening to that, you know, I'm

Mr. QUINN: I'm pleased.

GROSS: ...`How do you read the newspapers every day?' Like, what do you--do
you take notes when you read the newspapers?

Mr. QUINN: Sort of, yeah. I mean, I sort of do. It's like--well, like, for
instance--and that bit is a perfect example of you trying to find out what
else is--you know, as ghoulish as it is, what else is funny about the war,
which is that odd desire to please people by sending comment card-type stuff,
like our desire to, you know--our instinct to say, OK, you know, `Make
us'--you know, `Love us.' You know what I mean? And so it's, like--yeah,
you're always looking for that thing, you know, the other motivations behind
things besides what the original joke--whatever everybody is saying. You

GROSS: Did you support the war?

Mr. QUINN: Yeah.

GROSS: Do you have any second thoughts about the war now that it's over, now
that there are allegations that the weapons of mass destruction weren't, you
know, nearly as plentiful in Iraq as we were led to believe, and allegations
that the Bush administration might have tried to get intelligence agents to
give selective information that would support the war in Iraq?

Mr. QUINN: Well, of course. I mean, you know, of course as--you know--I
mean, just 'cause I supported it doesn't mean I'll be proven right or wrong in
the next few years. But it's like--you know, I talked to some people from
Afghanistan, some Afghanistanians--well, Afghanis, as they like to be called;
I like to call them Afghanistanians. I don't know why. Because I'm from the
fourth century when they were called Afghanistanians.

And I was talking to some Mongols--no. I was talking to a horde of friends
from Afghanistan, and they were saying--I said, `How is Afghanistan?' And
these people are very anti-Bush and anti--you know, very radical. And I said,
`How is Afghanistan, honestly, a year later?' And they said it's a hundred
times better. And then they attacked, you know, other parts of it. But I
mean, they had to admit it was better.

So I'm saying--you know, I just feel like we're the lesser of two evils in a
lot of these situations. And, yeah, you know, no one's going to deny all the
possible motives and the lack of purity, you know, in the motives, but
ultimately, it seems like everything comes down to the lesser of two evils to
me. And so I felt like in Iraq, we were probably, you know, the lesser of two
evils in the long run. But that remains to be seen, I know. But--I don't
know, it's a tough call. And, yes, the weapons of mass destruction definitely
is an interesting one to see where they are.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Colin Quinn, and he's now
hosting the Comedy Central show called "Tough Crowd," in which a small group
of comics get together each night and talk about the news.

Most of the comics on "Tough Crowd" are--you're kind of like young, hip
comics, you know, people like Dave Chappelle and Denis Leary and comics who
aren't as well known as they are.

Mr. QUINN: Right.

GROSS: But you also had on Pat Cooper, who's from a completely different era.

Mr. QUINN: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: And he's kind of like an insult comic who would be playing--I don't
know--Atlantic City or Vegas...

Mr. QUINN: Right.

GROSS: least he would have been years ago.

Mr. QUINN: Yeah.

GROSS: And that show struck me as so bizarre, putting these two kind of
generations, two completely different styles of comedy, together. Would you
talk about what that experience was like for you?

Mr. QUINN: Well, I mean, it's just like--you know, I mean, he's just--like,
I think, among comedians, like, everybody loves Pat Cooper-type people, like,
everybody loves the old comedians that are funny. You know, so it's like--so
it's sort of our kind of way of, like, saying, `Hey, listen. We know what
funny is,' you know. And, obviously, everyone's political opinions aside, it
doesn't matter to us--I mean, for our little quality control of business, a
lot of pretenders and a lot of people getting up trying to, you know, in that
generation and in this generation and in the middle generation that I'm sure
are coming out, people that are trying to, under the guise of comedy, you
know, they've got a million things like, you know--What do you call it?--like
bread and circuses or bright lights and loud noises, and they're not funny.
So a guy like him, as miserable and mean as he is, and he's mean offstage to
me, too...

GROSS: Really?

Mr. QUINN: ...he's really funny. Like, he came on the show the first day. I
can't even describe what's funny necessarily sometimes, but like, here's what
he does the first day. He comes on the show and we had to do a couple of
phone calls. You know, we're doing the show. It's a new show to us, so we're
like, `OK, make sure you call and get this.' He comes on, walks in the
dressing room with all these young comics and stuff and goes, `Hey! Hey, is
the "The Godfather"? You've got to fax me three times this nonsense? What?
What's my favorite political party? What color do I like?' He's just ripping
up his stuff and he's really mad, but it was so funny 'cause he was right.
It's like we're making a big production. He goes, `You think--you're a cable
show. You're acting like you're "The Godfather." You're acting like
you're'--I forget what other movie he said. He goes, `I worked with De Niro.
You think I want to sit all day thinking about what's my favorite
political'--and so he just starting ripping into me, and everybody was crying
because he meant it. You know, he was being funny, but he really did mean it.
He just cut and passed ...(unintwelligible) level of nonsense that we thought,
you know, `Hey, make sure he gets this,' you know, like a modern-day--he's
from the old school where you show up and you be funny, and here we are
sending him faxes asking his questions about, you know, who did he vote for,
what does he think about the war, what does he think about this, you know.

GROSS: And there's one point on the show where he's basically saying to you,
`Oh, you're gonna be washed up soon. There's younger comics. They'll be
taking your place.'

Mr. QUINN: Yeah.

GROSS: Oh, and then there's one...

Mr. QUINN: It's funny 'cause it's true.

GROSS: And then in the middle of the show he says, `Hurry up already. I have
to take a pill.'

Mr. QUINN: Yeah.

GROSS: That just really slayed me. I don't know.

Mr. QUINN: Yeah. It's so funny 'cause it's so true. He does have to take a
pill, and I think people identify with, like, `Hey, listen, whatever you're
talking about, at some point it just becomes, you know'--I don't think he can
curse on the show, but, I mean, you know what I mean. And he's like,
`Ultimately, if I don't take a pill, I'm going to die. So whatever nonsense
is going on in the world, I personally am about to die if I don't take my
pill, so let's get to it.' So it's like that humanistic thing, you know.

GROSS: There was one point where I thought you looked like you were really
trying hard not to laugh. It's everybody's job to be funny, and you should be
laughing, but there's one point where I thought that you thought your laughter
would be so inappropriate that you were trying not to.

Mr. QUINN: When was it? With Pat?

GROSS: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Mr. QUINN: Well, it's not that it's inappropriate. I'm afraid of Pat. I've
just seen him go off. We did this thing about a year ago with this short
film, this guy Ray Garvey did, and Pips, you know? So Ray Garvey goes to
me--you know, he runs Pips, does comedy, you know, and he goes, `Hey, listen,
you know, can you do this thing with me? Woody Allen's gonna be there.' So
I'm like, `Yeah, yeah, right. I'll be there, but Woody Allen's not gonna be

Cut to three months later, Woody Allen bringing me on stage at Pips. So Woody
Allen was there. It was like the first live appear--it was crazy. Pat
Cooper's on it, too. You know, it's a bunch of, like--you know, I don't know
how all these ragtag different sides of everything got together, but Pat
Cooper goes on. He walks in and they're filming, and Woody Allen and these
other people like Danny Aiello are there, so they're filming them laughing at
Pat Cooper. Pat comes in and ad-libs 10 minutes; it's brilliant.

Then they go, `All right, Pat. Now we've got to do it again, and we'll shoot
you this time.' `What?' `Well, we shot Woody and then they've gotta leave.'
`What? You want me to'--`Yeah. Could you do that again?' `Yeah. You want
me to ad-lib what I just did again? Yeah, sure. You want me to kind of
spontaneous--You know what? This thing stinks.'

He starts screaming, and he was dead serious. Next thing you know, we're out
on Emmons Avenue in Brooklyn. Everybody's watching. They're all, like, `Oh,
Pat Cooper.' And it seems like the whole country's in on the joke, then he
goes off and he starts screaming at me. He screams at Jackie Martling. He
goes, `Hey, come on, Pat. It's for friends.' `Friends? What friends?
Jackie, you know how long I've been in this business? Friends my ass'--he
starts, like, you know, giving all those Italian-like--and then I try to kiss
Pat's ass because now I'm scared. I'm like, `Hey, Pat, at least you were
funny, though. You were really great,' you know, I'm trying to go the other
way. Since I see Jackie's way is, you know, not working for him I figure I'll
grovel to Pat. `That's not the point, Colin. Yeah, I'm funny.' He starts
screaming at me. So, you know, part of that not laughing is not
professionalism; it's just, you know, fear of Pat. He's a wrecking ball.

GROSS: Well, here's Colin Quinn and Pat Cooper on "Tough Crowd," fielding
questions from college graduates about their futures.

(Soundbite of "Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn")

Unidentified Woman: So what's more important, happiness or money?

Mr. PAT COOPER (Comedian): Money! Forget happiness; happiness is when you
die. Money is when you're living. Spend, grab, run, do whatever you've got.
Forget school, quit, go to Europe, hide!

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. QUINN: Well, you know, Pat, it's kind of funny you bring that up because
I was gonna talk to you about, you know, you've been in the business about,
you know--I mean, I make good money at the job, but sometimes I don't feel
like it's as fulfilling as it...

Mr. COOPER: No, no. It's fulfilling. Listen to me, the name of the game is
surviving. You got a few dollars in your pocket, you're doing good. If
you're broke, nobody gives a damn. I tell these kids, I tell my grandkids,
`Don't go to school.' That's--just do what I'm going to do. Do what
everybody does: loaf.

Mr. QUINN: But I'm talking about the existential crisis kind of thing, you

Mr. COOPER: What is that word? Never heard of that word. See, I'm not
educated. What does existential mean? What the hell does that mean? I don't
understand. Where are you from? I'm from Hell's Kitchen, and you're throwing
me those big words. I got trouble with `the.'

Mr. QUINN: I'm from Brooklyn.

Mr. COOPER: What the hell is the matter? Because right here he's telling

GROSS: Colin Quinn will be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is comic Colin Quinn. His show "Tough Crowd" is on Comedy

On your show, on "Tough Crowd," how do you know what you need to kind of bleep
or, you know--how do you use bleeping or, you know, editing?

Mr. QUINN: Well, I mean, I don't get involved in the editing or anything,
you know, with bleeping, because it's like--you know, there's not enough time
for you to be around everything, you know? But I mean...

GROSS: Do people walk onto the show knowing what words aren't going to get on
if they use them?

Mr. QUINN: Well, I mean, you know, obviously--Are you talking about curses
or other things? Because curses--you know, I don't even think--I think that's
my other big theory, if you'd like to hear, since I'm--you know, this is my
National Public Radio thing, Terry. It's my one shot to give my theory about
life, but people...

GROSS: Yes, and that's why we invited you on, because we were hoping you'd
have a theory.

Mr. QUINN: I do have a theory, thank you, and it's fallen on deaf ears many
times, but I think this is the one place people might actually be able to pick
this one up.

GROSS: Let's hear it.

Mr. QUINN: Fake shock. Fake shock. Here's my theory. You ready?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. QUINN: This is going to be boring. You're going to cut this out of the
show, probably, because it's too boring, but still, I'll make it very quick.


Mr. QUINN: I talk very fast. My theory is that in the last 10 years, people
need to feel like they're watch edgy comedy, and the audience and the
comedians and everybody is in collusion in this unconscious agreement, where
they'll say, `OK, look, we really don't want to laugh at any uncomfortable
truths about race or anything really, you know, important. So instead, we'll
agree that if you make, like, jokes about disabled people, that's shock, or if
you make jokes about midgets or whatever, that's cutting edge.'

GROSS: OK. So you think that's all a substitute for race. Now...

Mr. QUINN: And I think that cursing is the same thing. I think that every
time somebody talks about cursing on TV, I want to fall asleep. Where
they're, like, `Yeah, man, I want to say--they cut us out from saying this,'
or, `They cut us out from making an AIDS joke.' And it's all fine. I mean, I
could care either way about those kinds of things. I mean, maybe there is a
legitimate reason those jokes can be there, but I do feel like it's
substitutes for things that people really, really, really want to make the new
things you shouldn't talk about.

GROSS: OK. Well, let's talk about how you get to race on the show. Maybe
you could describe what you did with Dave Chappelle.

Mr. QUINN: I'm not going to talk about race. Please. Come on, Terry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. QUINN: Well, like, the Chappelle thing was--we just said five things that
the other race always wanted to say to their race, I think it was. Something
like that.

GROSS: Do you remember what any of them were?

Mr. QUINN: So like, I said--I made him say five things I always wanted to
hear a black guy say--admit, and he gave five things he always wanted to hear
a white guy admit.

GROSS: So what did you give him?

Mr. QUINN: You're right. I'm sitting here, like, `I guess she would like an
example of that to keep the humor going.' Good point, Terry.

All right. I gave him, like, the fact that the biggest--the epitome of
hypocrisy is that Trent Lott had to apologize for insinuating pro-segregation
remarks on station called Black Entertainment Television, which in its very
name is promoting segregation. Nothing for that one?

GROSS: Well, I think they're different, but...

Mr. QUINN: Oh, come on. But it's still funny.


Mr. QUINN: Don't you think--but it's called Black Entertainment Television.
I admit--yes, if you look in the--of course, you say, `Well, Trent Lott has a
lot more power'--blah, blah, blah. But still, you have to admit there's
something kind of ironic about that.

No? All right, fine. What were my other ones? Oh, I can't remember.

GROSS: Oh, I think you gave him one thing...

Mr. QUINN: That was my big one. I just gave you my blockbuster...

GROSS: I think you gave one saying, `Not every white person I've ever met is

Mr. QUINN: No, no. What I gave him one saying was, `Every white person I've
met is not racist. No one has ever called me the N-word,' and something like
that. Now that's what I gave him, was one saying that every white person he's
met is not racist and that every white person has treated him with kid gloves
and has tried to welcome him. And, you know, just the delusion that it's 1960
in Selma all over this country kind of annoys me.

GROSS: What did he give you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. QUINN: Oh, thank God I got a laugh out of you. The first one bombed.

GROSS: What did he give you?

Mr. QUINN: But even the Trent--I was about to try to sell you on my Trent
Lott joke, but I'm just going to give up.

GROSS: It's not--give up. Give up.

Mr. QUINN: Like we said on the show, you know, nobody ever changes their

What he gave me? He gave me--I apologized for slavery, I apologized for the
Jim Crow laws and, finally at the end, it was, like, I apologized for the
whole Kenny G thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So have race relations moved forward as a result of this?

Mr. QUINN: I think that--you know, when I grew up--I grew up in Brooklyn, and

it was a very mixed neighborhood, and people really did--that's one of the
reasons that I wanted "Tough," that I'm so happy doing "Tough Crowd" is
because when I grew up, everybody was mixed all the time, and everybody would
slam each other's races, but based on true things. Like, I was on the other
night, and they were talking about black people shoplifting, whatever, you
know, and being outraged about it. And I was, like, `Don't pretend that 70 of
your kids from, like, you know, Antwone Fisher High don't bum rush a Korean
deli once in awhile.' I mean, these are facts that I've seen. So it's
like--and they laugh because they know I'm not saying that they're genetically
criminal. You know what I mean? I'm just saying these are things that exist.
Just like they say white corporate things--I admit that, too. You know what I

Like last night, we were talking about the Bush's awful tax cut idea, you
know? And it's like when I grew up, everybody used to just say whatever they
wanted about Puerto Rican, black, white, you know, Asian. And, you know, some
people would say things that was dumb cliche stereotype, and some people would
say things that really are accurate based on accurate things. So I think it's
more the--I think if you're specific and it's true, I think that's fine. I
think if people just make these--you know, it's like anything else. It's a
judgment call. It's really a matter of, you know, the fine line, you know.
And I feel confident about this kind of stuff because, you know, for the last
18 years, anytime I perform in front of clubs, it's always mixed; it's always
black, white, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Chinese and Indian, you know, everybody
who lives in the country now. And I would know, especially with black
people--I'm sure they'd let me know--if they thought I was being, you know--I
mean, the things I'm saying are true things. And some of them are
unflattering to each different group of people, but you know, if it's the
truth, they laugh.

GROSS: Colin Quinn. He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: Coming up, more with comedian Colin Quinn. And film critic David
Edelstein reviews the new movie "Manito."

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with comic Colin Quinn.
He's a former anchor of Weekend Update on "Saturday Night Live." Now he has
his own show on Comedy Central called "Tough Crowd" in which he leads a
conversation with four comics on the issues of the day. It's on Monday
through Thursday at 11:30 PM, after the satirical newscast "The Daily Show"
with Jon Stewart.

When we left off, Quinn was talking about his politically incorrect ethnic
humor. Here's a good example from one of his Weekend Update newscasts on
"Saturday Night Live."

(Soundbite from "Saturday Night Live")

Mr. QUINN: The House passed a bill this week that paves the way for Puerto
Rico to become the 51st state. The flag will be displayed on a clothesline
outside City Hall. Come on. Now that was low. Ah, but when I made the Irish
jokes, everybody was fine. All right. That was wrong. That was--let me just
finish. The--that part was actually just a joke. But seriously the inaugural
barbecue will be held on the shoulder of the West Side Highway this Sunday

GROSS: So, Colin Quinn, what reaction did you get to that?

Mr. QUINN: First of all, I did not say that. I don't know who that is. I
think that's no--no. I said that. The reaction I got was a lot of Puerto
Ricans came up to me in the street and go, `That was hilarious.' You know,
like, because like I said, when I grew up, you know, in the '20s--no, in the
'70s, people would laugh if it was realistic stuff. So the truth of the
matter is Puerto Ricans, a lot of Latin people, pull over to the shoulder of
major thruways and barbecue there. And you know, it's nothing against them.
You know, why is that a bad thing? But it's a fact. You know, so if I drive
by and go, `You know what? That's degrading to people'--no, it's not, 'cause
I don't mean it to be degrading. And I think it shows how you mean it. If I
thought, `Oh, you know, they're disgusting, they pa'--You know what I
mean?--that would be different.

But I mean, you know, people point out flaws--it's kind of an unwritten rule
for the past 15 years, and I understand where it's based from and where it
comes from, you know. But I mean, in the last 15 years, the only
people--again, my substitute shock theory, which really did not send shock
waves around the studio; I know it put everybody to sleep. But look, my
substitute shock theory is that in the last 15 years, everybody wants to just
try to be like, `Hey, man, we're going to go after the Christian right and
white guys and white'--that's fine. I agree with that. But don't pretend
that other people are flawless. If you really believe people are really
equal, you know, internally and you really believe in that, you know, common
humanity, then you have to figure there's going to be flaw, the same amount of
hypocrisy and, you know, in each group, depending on their circumstances.

GROSS: Well, you know, even in that clip that we just heard, like...

Mr. QUINN: Right.

GROSS: make that joke about the flag and then you say, `Oh, that was

Mr. QUINN: Well, exactly.

GROSS: Like you're playing with that.

Mr. QUINN: I'm playing with the idea. And I also said in that clip, `Oh,
but I make the Irish joke and that's fine,' because I had made an Irish joke
three jokes before where Irish were drunks, and everybody just went crazy,
like, you know, like, `Oh,' so it was almost like, `Ethnic humor, yes, thank
God you can make a joke that we'll laugh at that's kind of ethnic and kind of
based on truth.' Irish--you know, it's not like Irish people don't drink a
lot. You know, it's part of the culture, you know. And it's not the most
flattering or unflattering thing. But to be able to sit there and go, you
know, some Irish people drink a lot and some Jewish people drink a lot. Well,
guess what, more Irish people drink a lot. And you know, when you can't speak
about what you see in front of you, you can't be a comedian, you know.

GROSS: Well, you know, I think a lot of Jewish people and a lot of
African-American people feel like it's one thing for a Jewish person to make a
Jewish joke or an African-American person to make an African-American joke.

Mr. QUINN: Right.

GROSS: But for a white person to make a black joke, or an Irish person...

Mr. QUINN: Right.

GROSS: make a Jewish--that's no good. So...

Mr. QUINN: Right. And...

GROSS: Yeah, where do you stand on that?

Mr. QUINN: It goes so much deeper than race, but, yeah, I mean, the bottom
line is if I see anything happening and I can't say it because it's wrong,
then how can I call myself a comedian if it's a thing that I see as a truth,
you know? How can I call myself a comedian? Then I'm just going to say,
`Well, you know, that really is--now is not the time for that kind of thing.
Let me make up something about a group, or let me substitute a group.' I
mean, for years I'm watching comedians on stage going, `You know who we gotta
go after? The French.' And part of it--this is before the war--because the
French are rude, the French are this. Well, guess what? There's plenty of
groups--and if you ever want to come see my act live, I'll talk to you about
that they're rude in their own different ways, everybody, and I talk about
their specific rudeness. And they all live here; I don't have to go into the
French, 'cause I don't--you know, you see five French tourists.

But it's my famous substitute shock theory, which even now I'm starting to get
into, to be honest with you. I'm getting more confidence in the substitute
shock theory. It needs a new name, but other than that, the--so it's like I
do feel like, you know, that the day that comes when I feel like, oh, well,
I'm not going to talk about that, even though I've seen this 50 times, because
that might be construed as racist or sexist or, you know--it's never going to
come. I'd rather be killed, you know. I mean, that's what comedians are
supposed to do, say what they think is the truth, only make it funny.

GROSS: Colin Quinn is my guest, and he is now hosting "Tough Crowd," which is
a show on Comedy Central, weeknights at 11:30, in which a group of about four
comics sit around and talk with Colin Quinn about the political issues of the

Now, Colin Quinn, getting back to your theory of substitution--what's it

Mr. QUINN: Substitute shock?

GROSS: Substitute shock, yeah.

Mr. QUINN: This is a dream come true. Did you just say that, my theory?

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. QUINN: All right. Go ahead.

GROSS: Yes. I think it's an interesting theory.

Mr. QUINN: Oh, this is exciting.

GROSS: Your theory's working here.

Mr. QUINN: You're the first person that, yeah, it's ever worked for. Thank

GROSS: OK. So since you have this whole theory, you know, that comics use a
lot of other things to make jokes about--they can't get to the central issue,
which is race.

Mr. QUINN: Right.

GROSS: What was the issue of race when you were growing up? What was the
ethnic makeup of your neighborhood, your school?

Mr. QUINN: Well, I grew up in Park Slope, which was a very ethnically
mixed--which, as you know now, is a Swiss village. (Laughs)

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. QUINN: If you go back there today, it's just a lot of blond children
running around. But at the time it was very mixed. It was very, like, you
know, black, white, Puerto Rican and Asian and stuff. And so it was really a
mixed area, you know. And everybody had their problems, but you know, it
just felt more like natural that, you know--and I do think it helps, you
know, as far as in the long run to live in mixed neighborhoods if you can
legitimately say, `Hey, you know, these guys do this.' It doesn't help to
live in an integrated environment if you can't point out people's--You know
what I mean?--'cause here's my favorite awful tag line that I always use. I
feel like we live in a society where you can celebrate diversity as long as
you don't point out that people are different.

GROSS: Yeah, right.

Mr. QUINN: And so that's the contradiction I feel sometimes, like, `Hey,
hey, hey, only celebrate it with, like, you know, some stupid parade where
everybody goes up and shows a side of their culture that nobody does except
once that year, you know.' So I feel like--so to really celebrate diversity,
you can point out that, you know--well, like I used to do this joke in my act
about black dudes. I'd say, `In the summer'--and say to the audience; you
know, there's always a lot of black guys in the crowd--I go, `You guys gotta
realize something this summer. If you see a pretty girl, don't be shy; just
say something to her. Even if it seems like it's absurd or inappropriate, you
gotta take a chance if you want to meet girls.'

And so, you know, they--everybody laughs because, you know, it's obviously not
their--you know, and it's not a character flaw; it's just a fact what I've
seen in my whole life. So it's like, hey, you know, I mean, there's something
good about it, too, but they'll come out and just say that they--but either
way, you know, it's like I can't pretend that that's not a distinction between
whites and blacks, and why would I, you know? And blacks certainly have no
problem pointing that out, and they shouldn't. They have their distinctions,
you know. Like Chris Rock or anybody, they'll say whatever they want, you
know, and it's fine. They should. But, you know, it's also--you know, it's
got to be a two-way street, or it's really going to be phony and it's just
going to--it's not good, you know.

GROSS: So were you...

Mr. QUINN: And it also feeds--yeah.

GROSS: Were your friends as ethnically mixed as the neighborhood itself?

Mr. QUINN: No. I would never go near any--my mother told me, `Don't'--no,
I'm kidding. Yeah, they were. They were very--yeah. I mean, my whole--you
know, I had friends that were--some of the greatest names of all time, by the
way. D'Artagnan Cortez(ph)--how about that for a name? Spanish kid.
D'Artagnan Cortez. What a beautiful name, right? He was about 6'4". He
called himself the world's largest Puerto Rican, you know. And Cleveland
Carr(ph), black dude, you know. But they had some great names back in those

My block was very mixed. I had, like--you know, it was almost like a
feudal--it reminded me of Afghanistan, with the Italians in the middle of the
block, and they ran, you know, their little turf. Then you had the black
family on one corner that ran their whole turf. They had, like, you know,
their whole crew was down there. Then the Puerto Rican building on the
corner across the street from them. And it was just like this whole mixed
thing, and I was, you know, this blond-haired kid who luckily had a good sense
of humor, because--but, yeah, it was very mixed, my neighborhood.

And everybody--it's not to say that there weren't constant clashes; of course
there are. But it was a different--it was just reality. Like people would
laugh if you said something that was true, and it's still that way. When I go
to clubs, if I say something about Puerto Rican or black--I was talking about
the parade the other day. There was a bunch of Puerto Ricans in the club, you
know. And I go, `Oh, the Puerto Rican Day Parade,' and they're like,
`Whoa,' but they're kind of excited to hear what you have to say. They don't
want you to say, `Yes, what a beaut'--this is not funny--`what a beautiful
celebration of the culture of Puerto Rican people. If only white people could
get past their uptightness'--you know what I mean? That's not funny. What I
said was, `It's the only place you could see a grandmother in a tube top,'
because--and that's not a negative thing. Hey, if you're proud of your body
at that age, that's--you know, but it's not negative or positive. It's just a
fact, you know, made funny.

So that kind of stuff's not--if that stuff is offensive, you might as well,
you know, take me off the Earth because that stuff is just having fun and
saying something that could be taken as a positive, a negative or just, you
know, an observation. So it's like--you know, walking on eggshells is never
funny. And celebrating anybody's culture, white or anybody else, is not
funny. It's not supposed to be a tribute. You know what I mean?

GROSS: So did you and your friends talk to each other this way when you were
growing up?

Mr. QUINN: Yes, except I don't think we used this language,
`celebrating'--but, yeah, of course. You kidding me? I remember one--there
used to be some funny guys, too. Like one time, this was not a racial joke,
but there was this kid in my class, Godfrey, Godfrey Baptiste(ph), but he was
not West Indian; he was black American. And this kid, Mark Williams(ph),
another black dude, were just getting yelled at by the teacher. We're, like,
in sixth grade and it's like, you know, real quiet. We were all like, you
know--they were fed up with us. It was like a serious thing; everybody's dead
quiet. At the end of school, he just runs in our door--opens the door to our
class and goes, `Hey, Godfrey, your father said leave the sneakers on the back
steps of the school; he's gotta go to work after this,' and shut the door. I
mean, that is just funny. And ran out. And I mean, the whole place cried
because we were so--you know, we were in trouble for something else; I forget
what. But can you imagine how funny that was?

GROSS: My guest is comic Colin Quinn. He's now hosting the show "Tough
Crowd" on Comedy Central. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Colin Quinn. His show on Comedy Central, "Tough Crowd,"
features him leading discussions with four comics on the issues of the day.
It's shown Monday through Thursday at 11:30 PM.

So who were you when you first started to do stand-up? Like, what was your
on-stage persona?

Mr. QUINN: My on-stage persona was kind of like--it's hard for me to say
exactly what it was, but it was not--I'll tell you one thing it wasn't:
funny. I used to bomb so much. The comedians are the only reason I stayed in
the business. Here's what I used to do. Here was my persona. This'll give
you an idea of how commercially, you know, savvy I was at the time. I tried
to base my cadence in comedy, I swear to God, on a combination of "The Ginger
Man" by J.P. Donleavy and "Ulysses" by James Joyce. And I'm not kidding. So
I would be talking in this run-on sentence on stage, monosyllabic run-on

GROSS: Not good.

Mr. QUINN: Ah, the crowds hated my guts, 'cause...

GROSS: What would you talk about?

Mr. QUINN: Nothing that deep. But just the way I was doing it would not let
them know, `OK, here's a place for you to laugh. Here's a place for you to
laugh.' So it's not that the material was funny or not. The comedians
thought I was hilarious, you know. But I left no room for the audience to get
involved and to be like, say, `OK, here's a place where you could laugh if you
choose to at this thing.' So it's just me and this rambling run-on sentence,
you know. And, you know, it just wasn't--I didn't show them where they could
laugh at my material; they just had to go along, and once in a while they'd
laugh and get into that horrible rhythm that I had. But usually it would just
be like, you know, baffled people drinking and, you know, Ground Round in, you
know, Demarest, New Jersey, like, `Oh, what is this,' you know.

GROSS: How did you diagnose the problem?

Mr. QUINN: The sad thing is I've been doing comedy 18 years; I think I
diagnosed the problem three years ago. I'm not even kidding. Isn't that

GROSS: How did you get started working on "Saturday Night Live"?

Mr. QUINN: Yeah. Well, I mean, I had written on "Living Color," you know.
After MTV, I went into LA; I wrote on "Living Color." I went into LA to get
my own show, so I wrote on "Living Color." And so then I was just sitting
there and I was just doing stand-up. And my friend Fred Wolf, who was one of
the head writers at "SNL," he goes, `Colin, you should audition for "SNL," you
know, to be on.' I was like, `Ah, Fred, you know, I'm getting old already,
you know.'

So I went there to audition for "SNL," and they could tell my writing was
good, even though I bombed, because it was like--here's the crowd. They
shipped in a bunch of 15-year-old kids to The Improv in LA from a camp for
a comedy night. It's not good for my act, you know what I mean?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. QUINN: And they're interested in, like, you know, basic stuff, you know,
sex or whatever. And so, you know, I'm there trying to be like Mr. Subtle. I
was still in my Joycean phase, I believe, or at least the--I was in the
remnants of it. I think it was more of a--you know, I don't know, a Yeatsian
phase, maybe, where I was trying to break them apart. OK, I'm overselling it.
But anyway, so I bombed, but they knew my material was good, so they hired me
as a writer. And then when I was there, this guy Fred Wolf and Lorne would
just be like, `Oh, look how funny he's being. Hey, why don't you put
something in, put in a'--so I started doing that lion thing on Update where
I'd go on as this lion, you know, this, like, lion that's got a lot of
problems with the Department of Health. And so I'd just be doing all this
stuff like, `I'm sorry to bother you people,' but I was in a lion costume, you
know. I'd be like, `I'm sorry to bother you people. I'm waiting for a check
from, you know, National Geographic. My cousins'--you know, and just all
these problems that a lion would have if he moved over here right now. But
that was what started me doing stuff on the show.

GROSS: Now you know that "American Idol" comedy spin-off--what's it called?

Mr. QUINN: The one I just did, you mean?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. QUINN: "Last Comic Standing."

GROSS: "Last Comic Standing," yeah. So comics are competing to, like, you
know, win the prize and get the show and...

Mr. QUINN: Right.

GROSS: So it's funny, like, in the one that I saw, all the comics were
interviewed before their act.

Mr. QUINN: Right.

GROSS: They were talking about, `I know I'm going to succeed if I'm just
myself. If I'm just myself, I know I'm going to be great.' And then they get
on stage and their act is about what a schmo they are, about how neurotic they
are, about what a nerd they are, and it just doesn't add up, you know?

Mr. QUINN: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, well, it takes 10 year--well, in my opinion, it
takes 10 years before you really know who you are on stage. Like when you
said what was my persona when I started, exactly. You know what I mean? I
had a persona which was not just me; it was like, you know, me trying to be
like this kind of, you know, free-associative, you know, Irish kind of like,
you know, tortured but funny--I don't know what I was trying to do, but I was
definitely trying to do something along those lines, you know, like some kind
of, you know, intellectual. I was very influenced by, you know, reading the
James Joyce and reading, you know, J.P. Donleavy. And so it was like that's
what I wanted to be, that guy on stage.

So it was a persona, whereas now I'm just myself with all--and then when
you're yourself, everything you do, you're shocked to find, every little petty
resentment you have, everybody else has, you know? So it's like it doesn't
have to be--you're right. I mean, when people work--that's the problem; it
takes you 10 years to figure out you don't need an image; you just need to be
yourself, you know, because nothing else is really going to translate anyway,
ultimately. You know, it's all you've got, so it's like, hey, you know, you
either accept--it takes 10 years in comedy to go, `Look, this is all there is,
folks. Don't look around. You know, Robin Williams is not going to come
running out. You know, Christina Aguilera's not going to come out and start
singing. This is what it is, right here, me. This is what you got. It may
not be enough. You may have a point. This may not be enough, but it's all
that's here, and this is where I live. So there's nothing you can do unless
you want to kill me, you know, what I mean?'

So once you get there, I think you can really be funny, 'cause you're
realizing, I'm not Superman. I'm funny. I know I'm funny. I've worked hard
on my act so that people--You know what I mean?--so that the crowd can really
enjoy it, 'cause, you know, it's intelligent; it's not stupid stuff. It's
not, you know, just scurrilous or spurious or, you know, accusations. It's
all stuff that I've thought out and really worked on. But, you know, if they
want more than that, you know, they came to the wrong place. And when you
realize that that's it, then I really think you can be funny, 'cause you're
relaxed and you're saying, `This is it, folks. This is all there is.'

GROSS: Well, one last question: What are the plans for your show, "Tough

Mr. QUINN: My plans for the show "Tough Crowd" are just keep trying stuff,
you know, just keep trying to mix it up a little bit and see what's really
going on, you know. I mean, I looked at this Israeli and Palestinian thing
today and it's like it's just so amazing to me; it's baffling to me that
nobody really knows enough to at least get a good beat on it, 'cause you watch
the news, it's always been the same for 30--it's been the same my whole life,
you know. And it just amazes you, and it's scary for everybody in the world
because you say if they can't solve this one, what ever gets solved? What
ever gets forgiven, what ever gets solved? You know, even Northern Ireland's
not really solved, and that was a no-brainer, as they say, in world politics,
you know. I mean, that looked like an easy one. You know, it's so much
smaller, it's so much--everybody looks the same, you know; it's so confined.
Clinton went over there; I assume he gave them a lot of money in, like, 1997.
Remember when it was almost solved, like Clinton almost solved the Northern

GROSS: Right, with George Mitchell, yeah.

Mr. QUINN: And then--yeah. And then, you know, they've already got their
trouble. They thing's coming back a little bit, you know. So it's like it's
just depressing when you think of that. So "Tough Crowd" is going to have to
solve all these problems.

GROSS: Good luck.

Mr. QUINN: Or else we're just going to--we'll either solve these problems or
we'll insult each other's shirts until we die trying.

GROSS: Thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. QUINN: Thanks, Terry.

GROSS: Colin Quinn's program "Tough Crowd" is on Comedy Central Monday
through Thursday at 11:30 PM.

Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews "Manito." This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Eric Eason's film "Manito"

Eric Eason's low-budget Latino drama "Manito" won prizes and acclaim at some
of the world's most prestigious film festivals and has led to a Hollywood
career for its star, Franky G. But it's taken more than a year to find
theatrical distribution. It's now in theaters and on DVD as part of a new
subscription series. Film critic David Edelstein has a review.


The action in "Manito" is a little hard to see and the dialogue a little hard
to hear, which is not surprising, since it was shot on video by a first-time
director named Eric Eason for about $25,000. The handheld cameras bob and
weave and come in tight on the characters, and if you sit too near the screen,
you might get seasick. It's hard to get a fix on the plot. The protagonist,
who's called Junior, wakes up, interacts with his wife and kids in a groggy
manner, drives around Manhattan's Washington Heights, then goes to his job as
a painting contractor, while people in his family get ready to celebrate his
kid brother's high school graduation. For a long time, you can't tell who's
related to whom, and the actors look like they're making up the dialogue,
which jumps back and forth between English and Spanish.

And then, before you know it, "Manito" pulls you in. The movie is a mere 76
minutes, but it has an overflowing quality. The details are fresh and
surprising, and people who are seen only casually stay with you. Around the
two-thirds mark, the film takes a swerve into melodrama, or maybe it's grand
opera, and it ends on a note of mythic horror that is sudden but that feels
fully earned. This is the rare little movie that gets bigger as it goes
along. It can hardly contain its own emotion.

A lot of the power comes from the actor who plays Junior and calls himself
Franky G, short for Gonzalez. He's a guy with big muscles and a rough
complexion, and since he made "Manito" three years ago, he's turned up in the
Hollywood movies "Confidence" and "The Italian Job," where he seemed like the
Kmart Vin Diesel. You have to see "Manito" to know why directors were so hot
to cast him. Franky G isn't trained, and his diction is mush, but he's got
presence here that better actors would kill for. He throws himself into his
big emotional scenes, and his amateurishness works for him. It makes him seem
more helpless.

Halfway through the movie, we learn that Junior's dad was a cocaine dealer and
that he used his son as a lookout. When Junior was caught and convicted, his
dad barely flinched. He never even visited his son in prison. Since getting
out, Junior has made an honest living, or semihonest, since he's a hustler who
lies like mad on the job and who'll jump into bed with any boca chica who
swishes by. But one thing has kept him grounded: his love for his kid
brother Manny, his Manito, a slender little guy who's just been accepted at
Syracuse University. Junior hasn't let their father anywhere near the boy,
but when Manny gets in trouble with the cops, Junior discovers that in this
kind of hothouse, working-class environment, the sins of the father have a way
of sticking to you like a sweaty T-shirt.

(Soundbite of "Manito")

Unidentified Man #1: How long's your brother been a drug dealer?

Mr. FRANKY G: (As Junior) I don't know what you're talking about, you know?

Unidentified Man #1: How long has he owned a gun?

Mr. G: He don't own no gun.

Unidentified Man #2: Whose gun was it, your father's?

Mr. G: My father's?

Unidentified Man #2: Your father's a drug dealer, isn't he?

Mr. G: He was a drug dealer.

Unidentified Man #1: What about you?

Mr. G: What about me?

Unidentified Man #1: You still deal?

Mr. G: I'm a painting contractor.

EDELSTEIN: I've heard complaints that "Manito's" loose dialogue and
documentary style don't mesh with its florid and tragic finale, but I think
it's all of a piece. Part of the brilliance of the early scenes is that they
capture the push and pull of life in a community where everyone's on top of
everyone else, comfortably close yet, as it turns out, dangerously close for

The movie won prizes at the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals, but it's a
tough sell to multiplex crowds accustomed to more spit and polish. The
company that's distributing it, Film Movement, is trying something new.
They're giving "Manito" a limited run in big cities while, at the same time,
marketing it as part of a subscription series on DVD. Film Movement is the
brainchild of Larry Meistrich, who ran an outfit called The Shooting
Gallery(ph) that went belly-up a few years back. For a while, Meistrich did
well distributing movies like "Croupier" and "Judy Berlin." What did
him in, he has said, was the prohibitive cost of marketing small movies.

I don't know if the subscription model will work for DVD the way it does for
repertory theaters and symphony orchestras. And watching films at home is
obviously a poor substitute for the communal moviegoing experience. But there
are film lovers all over the country with no access to movies like "Manito" or
who can't afford to pay for big-city parking and baby sitters. I'm for
anything that makes small and challenging films accessible to everyone,
everywhere, at the same time, that puts them where movies belong: in the
present tense.

GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

We'll close with a recording featuring the trombonist Jimmy Knepper. He died
Saturday of complications from Parkinson's disease. He was 75. Knepper was
best known for his work with Charles Mingus. Here he is on the 1961 Mingus
recording "Eat That Chicken."

(Soundbite of "Eat That Chicken")

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) Come on there, boy. Come
on there, play now. Ha. Whoo, oh, yeah. Hot diggity dog.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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R.M.N. is based on an actual 2020 event in Ditrău, Romania, where 1,800 villagers voted to expel three Sri Lankans who worked at their local bakery.

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