Comedian Brian Regan • A League of His Own

An Exclusive Interview with The King of Stand-up on the Eve of His December 3rd Appearance at The Dow Event Center

    icon Nov 26, 2015
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For those unfamiliar with the broadly popular appeal of stand-up comedian Brian Regan, he is undeniably one of the most respected and hardest working comedians in the country. During the course of the current leg of his 10-year ‘Non-Stop Theatre Tour’, which will be landing at The Dow Event Center in Saginaw on Thursday, December 3rd, he has played 39 cities and has performed at more than 80 cities each year since 2005.

Unlike his contemporaries, Regan hasn’t starred in the lead roles of any major motion pictures and he rarely deviates away from the stand-up routine that is the bread & butter of his existence. He’s released 3 comedy CD’s along with several DVD’s of his live performances; and on Sept. 26th made history when Comedy Central broadcast his critically acclaimed one-hour stand-up special, Brian Regan: Live from Radio City Music Hall, which was the first live broadcast of a stand-up special in Comedy Central’s history; and on May 8th of this year he made his 28th and final appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, appearing more than any comic since the show moved to CBS in 1993.  He was also just seen in the Chris Rock film ‘Top 5’ and was also recently featured in Jerry Seinfeld’s web series, ‘Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee’.

In an age when you have such a broad and specialized spectrum of comedic niches ranging from the gutter philosophy of Andrew Dice Clay to the convoluted and circular logic of Steven Wright, Brian is unique within the comedic world because his material is relatable to generations of fans and he is equally revered by fellow-comedians as being the best in the business. “He is one of my favorite stand-up comedians,” states Jerry Seinfeld about Regan; and as Chris Rock puts it: “No comedian in the world says, ‘Yeah, I want to follow Brian Regan”

He uses observational, sarcastic, and self-deprecating humor that typically covers everyday events, such as shipping a package with UPS or taking visit to the optometrist; and a large component of the respect Regan generates from fellow comedians is due to the fact he is that rare comic who regularly tours theatres solely on the strength of his stand-up.  Undoubtedly, he is refined technician and connoisseur of the double entendre combined with the nuance and cadence of certain word combinations, all tightly packaged within a precisely honed stage-presence.

Although he attended Heidelberg College in Ohio with plans of being an accountant, during his last semester in 1980, Regan dropped out of school to pursue stand-up comedy, eventually finishing his degree in 1997. During a recent phone interview with Regan, this is the point where we began our conversation – with a discussion on how he first became interested in comedy and the point at which he decided to pursue it professionally.

“I was in college and had taken a speech class,” reflects Brian. “I stood in front of the class to deliver one of my first speeches and apparently it was so funny that not only did the entire class laugh, but so did the teacher. The teacher was a woman that just sat back in the class and to this day had the best laugh I ever heard – it was this loud, cackling laugh – and at that point, something got into my bones. I walked back from that class and thought to myself: ‘Hmm…I never feel like this when I walk back from my biology class!  It was like I was walking on a cloud. So at that point I said whatever experience this was, I needed more of it in my life.  I didn’t know at that moment I wanted to be a stand-up comic; but I knew at that time I wanted to pursue comedy.”

Was he considered a class clown by his friends growing up in Miami?

“It’s weird because I was kind of shy,” he reflects. “I would say instead of the class clown I was the Small Circle of Friends Clown. My five or six close friends around me knew that I was funny, but everybody else didn’t know that I existed.”

While he was growing up did Brian have any comedic heroes like The Three Stooges or George Carlin that inspired and informed his own brand of humor?  “Well, I watched a lot of great comics on TV as a kid growing up and always enjoyed it, so I’ve liked a lot of different comedians over the years; but one of the first people I went out of my way to watch was Steve Martin. He was so vastly different from any other comedian at the time, especially the way he mixed smart and silly together, I felt his comedy was brilliant and an interesting mix.”

When asked how he would classify his particular brand of comedy on the spectrum of comedic humor, Regan deflects the question.

“I honestly don’t know how to classify my work,” he admits. “I’m not trying to be flippant but in all honesty, I think its hard to take one art form that uses words to define another art form like comedy that also uses words. I read this once and can’t remember who said this quote, but writing about comedy is like dancing about architecture, which I think sums it up perfectly. I always think of that when I read a Time Magazine article and you find a critic talking about an artist like a painter, and I’m thinking how hard it is to talk about these paintings. The critic may do a great job describing it, but its still quite a challenge. So in terms of my own comedy, different people can put different terms upon it to describe it, but I try to avoid labeling it myself.”

They say that timing is everything in comedy, as it is with life; so does Regan feel his talent comes intuitively, or does he have to practice it and hone it to perfection?  “Everything you can do to help the comedy is important,” he states. “If you are born a good athlete coming to practice and learning different skills can improve your athleticism, and the same is true with comedy.  You need it in your genes to begin with, because you can’t make somebody funny who’s simply not funny; but if they already are and you can apply a craft to it and get better with different skills, then yes – you’ve got to work at it.”

Is there any topical material that is off limits for Regan? “The only thing I will avoid, especially now that I’m playing places where people can bring younger folks, is anything that would be classified as profane or off-color. I don’t want to say anything where a parent might go, “Oh, I made a mistake bringing my kids here.’ But at the same time, I’m not putting on a Kiddie Show. I do like to talk about things and sometimes kids can relate to it, sometimes not – sometimes I’ll do jokes about high school and other times about signing mortgage documents. But then I’m also writing jokes about foreign policy and the gun debate because I want to talk about these things, but I will avoid things that you have to cover a child’s ears over.”

In terms of the biggest challenge that Regan finds involved with the particular brand of comedy he has deftly crafted over the years, he quickly points to the issue of predictability. “For me it’s trying to be careful not to be painted into a corner. This doubles back to your previous question about defining what I do, because I like to be a moving target. Over the years as soon as I feel I’m being known for something, instead of writing toward it, I tend to write away from it. I don’t want to be a one-trick pony but prefer to change and grow over the years, although I’m not sure my fans even notice it.”

As we wind down our conversation, I feel compelled to ask Regan what one thing about contemporary culture drives him most insane, or bothers him the most.    “I think politics has crept into a lot of our cultural stuff and I think increasingly people are being asked to take a side and to choose, so you have a lot of rams locking horns out there, and this I do not like. I think we have two sides of government for a reason and one isn’t evil and the other isn’t angelic; but that’s the way things are being framed. Instead of feeling like we’re all on the same team, we’re asked to be on different teams. I’m not a big fan of that.”

Final question: What is Brian’s favorite joke of all time?

“Well, I like a non-sequitor when it comes to jokes – when a joke makes no sense, because in my world jokes have to make sense, so its fun to say something that makes no sense. And this joke was from Johnny Carson, who said this was his favorite joke. Because I consider him the King of Comedy, I’ll make it my favorite joke. And I’m not good at jokes, but I’ll try.”

“It was a hot sweltering day in the jungle and this pond with steam is coming off the surface of the water and you can hear animal noises in the background; and then you see these two hippos in the pond, with their eyes just above the surface as they both slowly raise their heads, almost not moving at all – as slow as hippos can move. And the one hippo says to the other: ‘I still can’t get it into my head that today is Tuesday.’

“Its just silly, but I love that joke.”


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