Talking funny with Brian Regan
A Q&A with the comedian.
Brian Regan is a comedian’s comedian. You may not have heard of him, but every comedian you do know, knows Brian. He has appeared on Marc Maron’s podcast “WTF with Marc Maron” and Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” where both legends praise Regan for his stand-up skill. Chris Rock gave Regan a cameo in his 2014 film “Top Five” where he steals the scene as a zany radio engineer.
Regan’s observational humor calls to mind classic Seinfeld, but without the smarm. He works clean, avoiding four-letter words, yet continues to sell-out theatres with his act.
Regan performed at the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino on March 18 and took the time to talk with us over the phone to promote his show and answer a few questions about the world of stand-up comedy.
Question: When did you know you wanted to be a comedian?
At the end of 8th grade, my fellow students made a list of all the students and what they thought they would do when they grow up. For me it said “comedian and showman.” My classmates knew what I should do before I did. I didn’t know until my freshman year in college.
I took economics with the idea of becoming an accountant. After a semester or so I wasn’t feeling too jazzed about it so I switched majors to communication and theatre arts and it was in that world that I decided to become a comedian.
It helps in life if you hit on something that gives you passion. And accounting wasn’t giving me any passion. It was something I was decent at and thought maybe I’ll do this. But when I hit on the comedy thing it gave me some passion. Like I really want to do this. I will do whatever it takes to make this work. And it’s fun to land on a quest like that.
Was it hard telling people you’re a comedian when you were starting out?
It depends who you’re talking to. Everybody that knows me knows what I do now, but when I first got started I would tell friends and family. I was proud of my quest, when I started, so I would share it with people that I knew.
Even to this day I’m reluctant to tell strangers what I do because it always ends up in some weird conversation.
What do you mean?
When you tell people you’re a comedian, different things happen. They want you to be funny, they want to tell you who they think is funny. It just gets kind of weird.
They’ll either say “tell me something funny” or they will tell you a joke. Usually it’s filthy. And then they will tell you that you can use it in your act. It’s kind of bizarre, because don’t you think I have things of my own that I can use in my act? Like they’re giving me some gift of a joke that they didn’t think of, but somehow they have the authority so say I can use it in my act.
Where do you get your material?
For me, I just discover it as I go through my normal life. I don’t really seek comedy out. You know, I read what I would read, watch what I would watch, I experience what I experience and every once in a while you see something in a way that’s peculiar.
I don’t know how that works. I don’t know how the brain sometimes notices a joke and sometimes it doesn’t. The when you see something and notice it as a joke, then you can apply a writing craft to it. How can I pick the words to give it a beginning, middle, and an end and I’ll try it on stage.
You have a pretty clean act, which is different from a lot of comedians. How did that come about?
I was always pretty clean anyway, just in my everyday life. But I wasn’t 100 percent clean when I first started. I had some jokes with four letter words in there. But they were always a small part of my act and not the most organic part of it. It felt like you got a Christmas tree with a bunch of ornaments on it and someone gives you an ornament that doesn’t fit with the rest but you feel pressure to put it on. It didn’t fit in with the rest of the tree, so I just took those ornaments off.
Is it harder to make it as a clean comedian? When people think of stand-up, they probably expect something a bit edgier.
I’m not on stage to push the buttons of what people expect me to push. I’m up there to do what I want to do. And I hope my audience likes it too.
What is your typical audience?
I probably have a wider age range of an audience than most comedians because I work clean. It’s not a kiddie show, but you can bring a 12-year old. You never have to cover up your kid’s ears, and older folks come out as well.
Is there any pressure to get political in your act, considering the current climate?
I touch on politics a little bit, but I want people in my audience to feel like they’re having a good time. I never want something to think, “man I didn’t know I was coming to a political rally, I thought it was a comedy show.”
I like that there are comedians who talk exclusively about politics. I like there are some who talk about it some of the time. I like that there are some who don’t talk about it at all. It’s like music. We should have different types of music in the world. We shouldn’t just have rock and roll. It’s good that jazz is out there and reggae is out there.
You’ve done a bit of acting recently. How does that differ from doing stand-up?
I’ve been doing comedy my whole adult life, so I’m wired for that. I know what reaction you’re looking for and you can work on it, massage it from night to night. But when you’re just doing something on a set with a bunch of lighting and sound people, someone says “cut” and you hear nothing but stone cold silence you go, “Ouch. So should we just all go home and throw this in the trash can? Was it good?” I have no idea, and I won’t know until the fall.
Do you enjoy it?
It’s not my normal thing I do, but I do enjoy it. I’m in a 10 episode series coming out in the fall on the Audience Network that Peter Farrelly directed called “Loudermilk.” It was interesting for me to be on a shoot. To do something and have it not be out there is very bizarre. You think of a joke, you can try it that night and see if it works. To do something and basically have it parked in the garage for a while is very strange to me.
Are hecklers ever an issue?
It’s not as big of a thing as people think. It depends on the kind of venues you’re in, the act you have. I don’t really have the kind of act where people want to yell out negatively about. I do have people shout things out, but it’ll be bits they want to hear.
What about people on their phones during your act?
I’d rather be heckled. At least a heckler is listening to what you’re saying. It’s very troubling to look out and see people talking or looking at their phones. I’m on stage doing a show for you, and you don’t have the courtesy to look at me. It’s insulting, is what it is.
Bonus question: What’s your favorite movie?
I liked Amadeus. Just because the theme was so bizarre. The theme of this movie was jealousy of talent. You don’t see that a lot. The obsession this guy had with how much better Mozart was without really trying was fascinating to watch.
David Tunis-Garcia is the arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org