Since his start during the ‘80s, Brian Regan has been one of the funniest stand-up comedians on the circuit. His approach to material is less crass or vulgar than observational, sarcastic and self-deprecating humor. You’ve probably seen him on Comedy Central, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfield.
On June 23 and 24, you will have two chances to see Regan perform live — the first night at the Garde Arts Center in New London, and the following night he will take the stage at the Warner Theatre in Torrington. Both shows start at 8 p.m.
We had a chance to talk about his stand-up specials, some recent acting, the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson during the early ‘90s, his clean approach to comedy, and the chance of another special in the future.
RD: You’ve done eight stand-up specials, including your latest On The Rocks which is currently available for streaming on Netflix. When it comes to doing a special and knowing that you’re going to be filmed for an hour or two while on stage, does it affect your preparation at all? Do you usually tweak your material while doing a special or do you just perform the material you’ve been doing on that specific tour?
BR: I always prep for a special and I put a lot of work into working on the words, the beats and the moments. It is usually the material that I’ve been doing for the last couple of years, but you start fine tuning it more and more the closer you get to a special. You want it to be word-to-word, beat-to-beat and moment-to-moment. The goal is perfection and the result rarely hits it but you really do want to try to nail it down as tightly as possible.
RD: I get what you’re saying. You’ve also recently done some acting over the years with Chris Rock’s film Top Five and Peter Farrelly’s TV series Loudermilk. Coming from doing stand-up comedy to doing acting, what was it like for you being part of the film and TV show?
BR: It was weird, different, exciting and scary and all of that altogether. I guess that sounds like somebody who just got off a roller coaster, but it was kind of like that. Metaphorically, as a stand-up I have complete autonomy. I write the words, I choose what I want to say, I choose how I want to say it, but as an actor it’s a different animal. Somebody else wrote the words and I have to do my best to interpret them to make it seem like me, but I was nervous for both of those things.
Those are the only two acting things I’ve done and the Top Five thing with Chris Rock was an amazing experience. It was just an afternoon shoot, but because he’s a stand-up and knows who I am, he’s the one who asked if I could be included in this small little role, it was thrilling to be able to do that. For the Loudermilk experience, I was even more nervous because I knew it was going to be more than one episode and I didn’t know if I had the acting chops. It took me a while to start to feel comfortable enough to realize that I could do this and it was fun, it’s definitely different from doing stand-up.
RD: I can definitely see why. Back in 1991, you got a big break for your career when you got to perform on the Tonight Show when it was hosted by Johnny Carson. How was that experience for you? Did you get to meet Johnny after your set?
BR: It was one of the biggest nights of my career, especially up until that point because every stand-up comedian’s goal at that time was to do the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Now there are all different kinds of goals and people have different kinds of quests and that sort of thing, but it was interesting that at the time I don’t think there was a stand-up comedian out there who didn’t want to do that show. To be able to finally have that happen was truly a dream come true, it’s an expression that I try not to overuse but in that case it was accurate. I remember when I got the call that I basically was going to be on it. I was driving at the time and after I hung up I was pounding the steering wheel with joy, it was just a tremendous thing to learn that I was going to be on that thing.
I did not get to meet him before the taping, but I knew that was the case. I knew that wasn’t how he did it, he wanted to see people for the first time when they came out. I was very fortunate that there was a fluke, I did my stand-up and Bob Hope was supposed to be on the same episode but he wasn’t able to get there because he was filming a special for the return of the troops. This was after the first war in Iraq, the first Gulf War, so he didn’t get there in time and when I got off stage the producer came up to me and said that Bob Hope hadn’t arrived yet, we might be running short on time and if that was the case they wanted me to come back out there with Johnny and sit on the panel. My brain and my heart were doing flip flops and the guy said they didn’t have time to do a pre-interview so Johnny Carson was going to ask me about being from Miami and I’d be ready to do another five minutes of clean material.
They asked me if I was cool with that and I said “Sure, of course” and while saying that on the inside I’m thinking that I had 10 years to prepare my first five minutes and now I have one minute to prepare my next five minutes. I was able to go back out, sit with them on the panel, do a little bit more time and it was absolutely exhilarating.
RD: I can imagine that, especially with having to come up with another five minutes on the fly. You’re known for both your clean comedy and how your material covers everyday events. For me, two of my favorite jokes of yours are the ones about serving sizes and the directions on a box of Pop-Tarts. Do you keep a notepad on you whenever an idea for a joke comes to you? How do you go about generating your comedic material?
BR: I used to walk around with a piece of paper and a pen. I wasn’t confident enough to think that I needed a whole notebook, it was just a sheet of looseleaf paper. Now with the IPhones, they have the writing app in there so that’s what I use if I think of something and you never know when something is going to hit you. Here’s one I wrote down, I’ve never tried it on stage and it’s not a joke yet, it’s just a thought. If someone has lost a lot of weight, you don’t know if they’ve gotten healthy or they’ve gotten sick, so you don’t know what to say to the person, so that’s the idea.
Maybe you’ll hear that on stage sometime. I haven’t tried it yet, it’s just an idea of something and I jotted it down.
RD: When it comes to your approach to comedy, do you feel that vulgar language can cheapen a punchline to a joke? Do you enjoy doing clean stand-up more because there’s more of a challenge to it by not relying on swear words to get something across?
BR: It’s an interesting question and there are comedians out there that work dirty who I think are great. If it’s organic for someone to speak a certain way and talk about certain things then that’s what they should do, but I believe in freedom of speech and part of that is choosing not to use certain words. I like the personal challenge of seeing how hard I can get people laughing without hitting certain buzzwords and certain buzz topics. I enjoy it, I enjoy trying to get as much mileage as possible out of more everyday kinds of stuff than what other people choose to talk about, but I don’t ride around on a white horse denouncing what other people do. I like what other people do, but for myself I prefer to do it a certain way.
RD: That’s understandable, you want to have your own style and approach. After these two shows you have coming up in Connecticut, what are your plans for the coming months? Do you plan on recording a new special anytime soon or a new album?
BR: I don’t have anything set in stone. I would love to do another special, but I don’t have a specific deal with Netflix. That deal was for two specials and both of those are completed, so we’re just trying to shop around and see who would be interested. I think it’s getting close to that time where I’d like to pull the trigger on another one.