Brian Regan | Everyman’s Funny Man

prof_brian-regan_evans-ward.jpg 

Some people use stand-up as a stepping stone to move on to bigger and better things, but I think what I’m doing is the bigger, better thing. This is what I like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the mid-’90s, my friends and I used to make frequent visits to the Funny Bone at West Port Plaza in St. Louis. A night at the comedy club was often a nice diversion from the monotony of the "regular" bar scene, providing a few hours of nonstop entertainment at a two-drink minimum. One of the first comedians I remember seeing there was a young guy named Brian Regan—an unassuming, typical white guy who looked like he had just stepped out of the frat house—who had us literally crying from laughing so hard at his keenly observant, "everyday" humor and his incredible physical comedy skills (his facial expressions are priceless).

Now, more than 10 years later, Regan has risen to the top of the comedy game as one of the premiere stand-up comedians in the nation. His 1997 CD, Brian Regan Live, has sold over 100,000 copies and consistently charts in iTunes Top Ten Comedy Albums. He’s a regular guest on The Late Show With David Letterman and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. His first one-hour special, Brian Regan: Standing Up, premiered on Comedy Central in June 2007 and a second special for the network is currently in the works.

The Miami, Fla. native is currently touring and makes a stop in St. Louis on Thursday, February 21, with a sold-out performance at The Pageant. I caught up with Regan by phone and chatted with him about his stellar stand-up career and comedy techniques.

 

How old were you when you first started doing stand up? How’d you get started?

I was in college. I went to college thinking I was going to be an accountant; I was ready for a real exciting life. After a few weeks of those classes, I was so far behind and could never catch up. I realized it was just not something I was interested in. So, when I was a sophomore, I switched majors to communication and theater arts and one of my first classes was a speech class. I tried to make my speeches humorous just so I wouldn’t drive myself crazy, and that’s when I started thinking, "Wow, this is fun." The first speech teacher (I thanked her on my web page recently) was really cool and howled with laughter at my goofiness, which was very encouraging. To make that little class laugh was just great—I remember feeling how cool that was, like here’s something I can do; I can communicate this way. It was a very interesting, fun time in my life to realize how cool that was.

You were one of eight kids. How did your upbringing foster your comedy skills? Did you seek attention just to stand out in the crowd?

Everyone in my family is funny. My mom and dad are funny, all my brothers and sisters are funny in their own way — so there was a lot of laughter in our house. Even growing up like that, though, it never dawned on me that I could possibly do that as a career. I grew up in Miami, a million miles away from "show business," so it wasn’t even on my radar screen at the time.

One thing about your act that stands out among many of today’s biggest comedy stars is that you are generally very "clean" in both your language and subject matter. Is that important to you? Is it a conscious decision?

I was always fairly clean. I had a handful of jokes here and there that were a little risqué, but I figured I was so close anyway, why be 90 percent clean so I just made it all that way. For me it was a challenge comedically. It had nothing to do with being more wholesome than anyone else. Offstage with my friends I can be pretty rough and foul. In fact, people who know me say, "If your fans only knew how dark you can be." So I have that capability, but I just don’t use it in my stand-up. It’s more fun to me to be able to choose a lot of interesting words. I see how many comedians get sucked into that cadence, dropping f-bombs over and over, because people do respond to it, so it’s easy to see why people use it a lot. And I use it occasionally here and there, but when you don’t use it, you realize, there are a lot of great, peculiar words to work into an act, so it is ultimately more rewarding to play around in the thesaurus and try to say things in an interesting way that is off the beaten path.

So many comedians today seem to jump on the first mediocre TV show or movie they’re offered just to break into those mediums; but you have deliberately remained true to your stand-up. Why?

I have no interest in being a "star"; I just like my comedy. I want my comedy to be famous. It’s never been my goal to be going to Hollywood parties and hanging out on red carpets or anything. I just like doing stand up. I like people laughing at these goofy things I’m doing and I like them to respond to that, so this is just what I want to do. Some people use stand-up as a stepping stone to move on to bigger and better things, but I think what I’m doing is the bigger, better thing. This is what I like.

Have you had offers?

There has been interest here and there, but never to the degree that I imagined there would be. I was always careful never to do anything that wasn’t right for me comedically. I only want to do something that is interesting to me, so I’ve said no to things that were just not right for me. I would still be interested in doing a show, but only if I was involved creatively or it was something I really thought was unique.

How has becoming a parent affected your comedy?

I was never overly autobiographical onstage; I have always felt like I was kind of a representative for everyone. And now that I have kids, I try to do it the same way. I might do two jokes in an hour about being married or two jokes about being a dad, because I don’t want it to be an autobiographical show. I want it to be a show that everyone can relate to, and once you start getting too specific, you start factioning your audience off. I don’t want people going, "I don’t have kids; I don’t relate to this." I try to be careful to always go back to the common-man material

Do you ever get heckled on stage and how do you handle that?

Heckling can be divided into two categories. Mean-spirited heckling, which is what most people think of when they hear the word "heckler," and then you have non-mean-spirited heckling, non sequiturs, drunk people. The mean spirited heckles are so rare, like maybe five times in my entire career. But the non-mean-spirited ones happen all the time, and you have to learn how to handle that. If someone is obviously mean-spirited, the audience is totally on your side if you slam them. But if someone just yells a non sequitur, you have to be careful how you handle it, because if you’re too mean or too negative, the crowd can turn on you. You have to be more lighthearted about it. That’s just part of being a comedian.

Tell me about your writing process. Do things just come to you as they occur, or do you sit down and focus on writing new material?

I am not good at sitting down and trying to write. If I sit down at a blank piece of paper and go, "Try to come up with something funny," nothing comes out. It just doesn’t work like that for me; and I’ve learned not to feel guilty about that. I think of plenty of things just going through my day. I watch TV, I read a lot, I try to observe a lot. It’s funny, comedy doesn’t come from my head first; something just happens, like the current runs the other way. Something will just jump out and go "I’m funny!" Then I’ll write it down. Once you have that, then you can work on the words, the timing, all of that. But the original inspiration has to come from outside.

Who makes you laugh? Which other comedians are your favorites?

I’ve always been a Seinfeld fan; I think he set a standard of how well jokes can be crafted about every day topics and I think he’s definitely someone I’ve always admired. [The late] Mitch Hedberg was also brilliant. It’s encouraging to think that brilliant comedy can come out of some really interesting minds. | Amy Burger

Photo by Evans Ward

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply