If fierce logic is something you demand in a stand up, then put Brian Regan’s name at the top of the list. It’s not enough for Regan to make an audience laugh. He dares the crowd to question their own behavior. How many times while listening to his routines do you stop and silently nod, “He’s right!” Case in point: Why would anyone in their right mind want to work for an airline’s lost luggage department?
Regan will be at the Balboa Theatre this Valentine's Day Friday night for two shows. I confess to the comic that prior to our interview, the name Brian Regan had yet to cross my radar. Perhaps it was the “clean” stigma that kept me at arm's length. (Regan refuses to work blue.) Fifteen minutes into the three hours of Regan's concert videos that I watched and I didn't give a fuck about the absence of profanity. I was too busy wiping away tears of laughter to notice the difference.
Scott Marks: I ran your name through the Internet Movie Database and came up empty. Why no movies?
Brian Regan: My focus is standup. I like standup. I like doing it. I like the comedy. There are different people that get into entertainment for different reasons. Some people want to become an actor, some people want to become a star. I like doing standup comedy. To me this is the end result. [Movies are] not something that I go out of my way to pursue.
SM: You are known for keeping it clean on stage. Out of respect, I was going to refrain from working blue until I found out how old you are. WTF are you doing to stay so young looking? We’re practically the same age!
BR: Thanks, man. I don't know what the deal is. My parents are both still alive at 87 years old. I got a bunch of brothers and sisters, some older, still kicking. I just consider myself lucky. I've got some good genes that keep me going.
SM: You seem like a really nice guy, so I’m going to get my standard mean question for comics out of the way right off the bat. There’s no chance a guy like you is going to answer this, but here goes: name a comedian who has never once made you laugh.
BR (laughing): Yeah…well. I'll answer it diplomatically. Comedy is very subjective, and there are comedians out there that other comedians think are great that for whatever reason reason just don't seem to work for me. It's a very bizarre thing, this comedy. What makes some people laugh and what fails to make other people laugh is like a lifelong quest trying to figure out. I couldn't throw anybody else under the bus, man. I'd like to think that they would keep from doing it to me, so I'll keep from doing it to them.
SM: Jay Leno is someone who has never made me laugh. And the only reason I bring up his name is you’ve made numerous appearances on Late Night With David Letterman, but unless Wikipedia is wrong — and that never happens — I can’t find any mention of you appearing opposite Jay on The Tonight Show.
BR: I did The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson was the host. (I'm dating myself.) Johnny Carson had one year left before he was done. You've heard of the expression a dream come true? I don't throw around the term that much, but in this case it was definitely one of those deals. And then I was lucky enough to get on the Letterman track. I just kind of became a Letterman comedian and stayed in that camp.
SM: This isn’t an example of Dave getting custody of you in the divorce?
BR (laughing): Yeah. I was won in the custody battle.
Suck it in, then tuck it in!
SM: Your comedy falls into the category of observational humor, so here’s a question about something I observed: What is it with stand up comics and your inability to tuck in a shirt-tail?
BR (laughing): I’m fat!
SM: You think an untucked shirt cover up a gut? Take it from one who knows — it doesn't!
BR: It’s my New Year’s resolution this year to get down to 185 pounds. I haven’t seen that in over 20 years. I think it’s a self-conscious thing to have my shirt-tail out. It’s weird when I do Letterman and they want me to tuck my shirt in when I'm wearing a sport jacket. (Laughing.) People aren't going to be paying any attention to my jokes, there going to be looking right at my big fat belly.
SM: Button the coat.
BR: No, because I'm too physical and then I move around and the thing buttons up…there are reasons behind all these important maneuvers.
SM: As a comedian, what have you done to change the world?
BR: There is something I’d like to pat myself on the back about. And I apologize if it feels creepy to hear me say this. I have this routine about emergency rooms and how I marvel at the fact that they don't have valet parking. They spend millions and millions of dollars on what happens on the other side of the front door, but not one ounce of thought goes into how you're actually going to get into the hospital. So I worked up this routine asking why they don't have valet parking at emergency rooms.
I was performing somewhere in the Midwest, and after the show this group of people came up to me and said they just wanted me to know that this guy here is in charge of eight or ten hospitals in the area, and they have put valet parking in at all of their hospitals because of your joke. That just blew my mind. I just wanted to get a laugh out of it. It's the only thing in life that I've ever done that's made a difference, but I'll take it.
SM (laughing) It was your college football coach who pointed you in the direction of the theater department. Isn’t it rare for an athletics coach to move a student in the direction of something as fey as dramatics, or was he secure enough in his masculinity to pull it off?
BR (laughing): It was a very unusual experience. Here I was a kid from Miami, Florida going to college in Tiffin, Ohio, thinking I was going to be an accountant. I had a heart-to-heart with my football coach because I didn’t have any other adult figure to talk to. To his credit, he said, “You seem like a funny guy. You make the guys on the team laugh. Maybe you’re in the wrong environment. Maybe you should be in the Communications, Theater Arts Department.”
It was a world I had never come close to considering. I went and saw an on-campus play called Deadwood Dick that featured a defensive back who was already in the theater department. I’m watching this guy who is dressed like a cowboy on stage and having a blast. I switched majors and it changed my life. It was cool.
A rare tucked-in moment on The Late Show.
SM: Do you remember the first joke you wrote?
BR: I like to think that I have a quirky sense of humor now, but back when I first started I tried even quirkier things on stage. One of my first jokes...I got on stage and said, “My name is Brian Regan and they told me they named me after Thomas Jefferson.” I was confused by that so I asked, “What do you mean you named me after Thomas Jefferson. My name is Brian Regan.” And they said, 'No. We named you after Thomas Jefferson.” (Pause for mutual laughter.) I used to love that kind of joke and very few people would get it. It was then that I learned the importance of writing jokes that people actually get.
SM: You’re not afraid to get dark as evidenced by references to a JFK assassination theme park ride and the kidnapping of Russell Crowe’s kid. That was a really funny bit. What I like about your work is you never allow it to get chokingly corny or worse, wholesome. You hear the label a “clean' comic' and automatically one thinks of sanitized stand-up for children. Why don’t you work blue? Is it because it’s too easy?
BR: I appreciate the thought that went into the question because that’s kinda how I feel about it. The label “clean” completely misses the mark. Somebody who doesn’t know what I do and just hears “clean” will shrug and say, “I don’t want to see some candyass comedian.” That’s not the point of it. The reason I work clean is for the fun of it. It’s a challenge to get on stage and see how hard I can get people laughing without hitting certain buzz words. I find that audiences sometimes laugh disproportionately at words or topics. They love hearing someone say a four-letter-word through a sound system. I don’t want to be on stage just hand-delivering to people what they want. I want to be on stage telling them what I want to say.
There is a piece of me that refuses to feel like I’m catering. And I always have to be careful because there are comedians out there who work blue or dirty that I think are great. I don’t frown of profanity on stage; Richard Pryor was one of the best damn comedians that ever lived, but he worked blue. It was organic to him, and it’s not organic to me. I’d be cheating if I did it, so I don’t like to do it.
Brian Regan The Epitome of Hyperbole Full Show
SM: Before performing them before an audience, who are your joke guinea pigs?
BR: People around me. My parents are both very funny people and they laugh great. They have eight kids, so we grew up in a family where everybody was funny. It was fun to just sit around and watch TV and make wisecracks. I used to love making my dad laugh. My dad has just a terrific sense of humor, and to make him laugh was to me momentous. It got into my system and eventually became a thing I needed from the world. My father was one of the first people that I'd love to make laugh.
SM: Conversely, I’m an only child whose father was the funny guy on the block. He was the king of the neighborhood who loved to make everybody laugh. He didn't like it when I grew up and began telling jokes in a funner way than he did. It was the exact opposite with me. There was this competitive rivalry, but he was a very, very funny man.
BR: It’s interesting you say that because I've always been intrigued by people who don't want other people to be funny. Some people feel like there are only so many laughs in a room. I’ve never felt that way. I feel that way socially, too. I know to get out of the way when somebody else's being funny. I don't just want to make people laugh. I want to laugh too. I want to be on both sides of the equation. Some people get territorial with it. That's not something I agree with.
SM: There are certain comedians that don't like having other comedians open for them. I've seen Don Rickles perform live several times with singers [Vic Damone, Robert Goulet, Sinatra, Debbie Reynolds] and only once with a fellow comedian [Bob Newhart]. There's a bit in Annie Hall about Woody Allen not wanting another comedian to go on ahead of him. Sure enough, when I saw Woody perform standup, Jim Croce opened the show.
BR: I saw Don Rickles here in Las Vegas, and I think he had a singer open for him who did Sinatra types of songs.
SM: You come to San Diego something like, what, once a year?
BR: The usual rotation on the theater level is every year-and-a-half. When you do comedy clubs, you can play twice a year. When you're in a theater, it's a year-and-a-half because they don't want people seeing your name or face in a newspaper and asking, “Wasn't that guy just here?” If they ask that question, you didn't time it right. You want people to say, “Oh! This guy is back? I want to go see him!” For whatever reason, somebody came up with the magical formula of a year-and-a-half.
SM: Any glowing memories of San Diego, or is it pretty much hit-and-run when you come here?
BR: I went to San Diego on vacation when I was a kid. My dad worked for Eastern Airlines, and we can fly over the place for free. We flew out to Los Angeles — I was something like 12 — and took an excursion down to San Diego. I remember looking out the window; we were in that area called La Jolla. I just dreamed about La Jolla. It must be where everyone in the world wants the live. It was my dream to grow up and live in La Jolla. I haven't fulfilled my dream yet, but that was my quest.