Prior to becoming a comedian, Quinn worked as a bartender. After leaving bartending, Quinn got his start in stand-up comedy in 1984. Although some people believe Jon Stewart wrote the jokes for Quinn’s stand-up act, this is false; Stewart only wrote jokes for a television show Quinn hosted in 1989 called Caroline’s Comedy Hour, which aired on the A&E network.
He first achieved fame in 1987 as co-host of the MTV game show Remote Control, which also featured performances by Adam Sandler and Denis Leary. He remained co-host of the show for three years, and in 1989 wrote and performed in the popular comedic short Going Back to Brooklyn along with Ben Stiller.
Much of his early comedic career focused on writing in addition to stand-up, including a stint as a writer for the popular show In Living Color. He also co-wrote the storyline and was an associate producer for the movie Celtic Pride, starring Damon Wayans and Dan Aykroyd.
In 1995, Quinn was hired by Saturday Night Live, working as a writer and featured player until the beginning of the 1998 season, when he became a full cast member. He established himself on the show with characters such as ‘Lenny the Lion’ and ‘Joe Blow’, and as well as the recurring segment ‘Colin Quinn Explains the New York Times’. Quinn took over as host of the ‘Weekend Update’ segment in January, 1998 after the firing of Norm MacDonald; he remained host until his departure from SNL in 2000.
In 2004, Comedy Central named Quinn to its list of the ‘100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time’, placing him at #56. He was also named to the Irish America Magazine list of the ‘Top 100 Irish Americans of the Year’.