Comedian Brian Regan
Just a regular guy ridin’ high on tectonic plates
Vanity Fair called him “the funniest stand-up alive,” a sentiment echoed by Entertainment Weekly, which fondly referred to Brian Regan as “your favorite comedian’s favorite comedian.” He’s dropped into Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show” more times than
fingers can count and served up his bootleg homebrew — a bubbly cocktail of anecdotes and observations about navigating life– on Letterman.
His 2017 hour-long Netflix special, “Brian Regan: Nunchucks and Flamethrowers,” was so hot that he’s gearing up for round two slated for release in 2019. And his portrayal of a recovering addict estranged from his family in the first season of the series “Loudermilk” on The Audience Network earned appreciative nods from critics.
After the boom drops and the stage lights dim, Brian Regan is just an ordinary guy with an extraordinary knack for making people laugh. His “everyman” approach to comedy may be the big bread crumb that has audiences eating out of his hand, but it’s also who he is.
“I try to be a real person on stage,” he says about his stand-up act. “I want people to go, ‘Oh, he’s like my brother,’ or ‘ He reminds me of a someone I work with; he’s a guy I can relate to.’ You have to start with reality as the base. If all you offer is buffoonery from the beginning, people don’t have anything to hang their hat on.”
Regan’s logical approach to working in a topsy-turvy industry seems fitting for a man who once planned on being an accountant.
He enjoyed being funny as a kid, Regan remembers, but never thought about it as a career. Even when classmates pegged him as a future “comedian and showman” in an eighth-grade booklet predicting each other’s adult careers, Regan didn’t bite. It wasn’t until he was in college studying accounting that he changed course, choosing the glittering path littered with rocks over a safe, boring highway.
“I realized that accounting wasn’t exciting, so I switched majors and took communication theater arts,” Regan recalls. “I started taking speech classes and trying to make them humorous and funny. Little by little, I realized that this is what interests me.”
With a 30-plus year career built on the strength of his material alone and a touring schedule close to 100 stops per year, Regan prefers substance over flash and fresh untested bits over stale certainties. His repeat visits on late-night TV and hour-long solo specials deny Regan the luxury of comfortable complacency.
“You can’t repeat material on these, so I have this fire under me to ‘repeal and replace’ — not to get political,” he says with a chuckle. “So I keep adding to my act, and when I add stuff, other stuff falls by the wayside.
“This may be a weird analogy, but my act is like tectonic plates that are slowly moving around,” Regan proffers. “Night after night, it gradually changes. Just like the earth has changed geographically over millions of years, my act changes over one year.”
He pauses a moment and says with a laugh, “I’m probably the only comedian who has equated his act with tectonic plates.”
Regan’s casual demeanor and easy laugh run counter to the keen, incisive observations of the human condition required as he plumbs the fabric of everyday life for threads to spin into comedic gold.
“I’m not good at sitting down at a blank piece of paper and creating comedy,” Regan admits. “A blank piece remains a blank piece of paper as far as I’m concerned. The only way I know to come up with material is to go through my day the way I would normally go through my day.
“Then one day, you see things differently than you did the day before. When you happen upon something that you think is kind of funny, you jot that down and see if other folks think it’s funny as well.”
Compared to more provocative comedians such as Bill Maher, Margaret Cho and the late George Carlin, Regan’s wheelhouse is closer to baseball and apple pie. While he believes every subject is fair game, he quickly points out that “it all depends on what you want to do with it.”
“I don’t really get into stuff that’s too controversial, but I’ll touch on a few things here and there,” he explains. “I do some bits about guns. Even though I try to keep the subject as light-hearted as possible, there are some serious consequences to guns, of course.
“Here’s what’s interesting to me,” Regan continues. “Whenever I bring up guns, I get people shouting and yelling. I don’t get that with other subject matter. When I bring up food, nobody yells; we all like food.”
At the end of the day, Regan says he wants to make people laugh but isn’t willing to sacrifice being relatable and real.
“If folks are laughing and there’s no substance, it’s not grounded in reality,” he says. “I want some moments where people go, ‘I never really looked at it like that. Maybe I’ll change my perspective based on this joke.’ “
Regan recalls a bit he did on how parents react when their child loses a balloon.
“The kid starts crying and the parent says, ‘What are you crying about? It’s just a balloon. I’ll get you another one.’ If you want to know what that kid’s going through, imagine if you pulled your wallet out and it floated away. That’s what this kid’s going through. All he wants in this world is his balloon back, and all you want is your wallet back. So chill. Be a little more empathetic.”
The result, Regan says, was that people told him it impacted the way they parent.
“Not in a huge way,” he explains, “but maybe the next time the kid spills his milk or loses something, you might look at him and think, ‘He’s a kid; he sees things differently.’ And that feels good. Not only did I make someone laugh, I made them think for half a second.”
When the audience filters out after Regan’s March 3 performance at Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului, Regan says his take-away hope is that they leave feeling good.
“The thing I like about comedy is that it’s hard to feel bad while you’re laughing,” he says. “There might be some stuff going on in your life or in the world, but in that moment, it’s sort of like a painkiller. If I can provide that for an hour, it’s a tremendous feeling.”
* Mona de Crinis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dropping bombs and living to tell about it
“I’ve bombed on stage,” Regan admits. “I don’t think there’s a comedian out there who hasn’t. But the goal is to get more and more consistent so those nights are fewer and farther between.”
And that’s not easy, he says. In fact, it’s a horrible experience — for everyone.
“The only ones it’s not horrible for are other comedians in the room who get sadistic enjoyment out of watching someone else bomb,” he says with a laugh.
To recover from bombing during a set, blame the joke, Regan suggests.
“One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if the joke’s not working, you make fun of the joke; you don’t make fun of the person telling the joke. You say, ‘ Wow, that joke was not good.’ That way you’re not undercutting yourself as a performer.
“You don’t want the audience losing faith in you,” he continues. “You want the audience to go, ‘Oh, maybe that joke was no good.’
“But if you do a joke that doesn’t work and then say, ‘Man, I must be the lousiest comedian on earth!’ — that audience is going to believe you.”