Brian Regan, who performs Thursday, Jan. 20 at the Honeywell Center in Wabash, is often described as “the comedian’s comedian,” which means he is the sort of comedian who is regularly praised by other comedians.
Jerry Seinfeld once said of him, “He’s really the most beloved guy out there by other comedians because of the quality of his stuff.”
In a phone interview with Whatzup, Regan said he is honored that other comedians like what he does.
But performing comedy that appeals to other comedians is different from performing for non-comedians.
“Comedians can perform two ways,” Regan said. “You can perform for the back of the room. The back of the room means other comedians. Some comedians are much more interested in performing for the back of the room.”
Asked which group he performs for, Regan described himself as a pig.
“I want the people in the chairs and the people in the back to laugh,” he said, guffawing. “I want it all.”
Challenging Self with Clean Set
Regan has been doing this a long time. His first national televised appearances were on Pat Sajak’s short-lived talk show between 1989 and 1990.
He appeared on The Tonight Show when it was still hosted by Johnny Carson.
And he says the best advice he received as a young comic was from the late John Fox.
Regan used to bring a bottle of beer on stage, and he would take sips during lulls. Some of the lulls were created by jokes that didn’t work.
“John said, ‘Hey, man. It’s torture watching you take sips when nobody’s laughing. If you want to be a good comedian, you have to earn your sips.’ ”
Fox was a guy who “worked blue,” meaning he used curse words and offended sensibilities. Regan keeps it clean, but he said there is a lot of misunderstanding about why he does that.
“I like to work clean because I like the personal challenge of it,” he said. “I want to see how hard I can get people laughing without hitting certain buzzwords. But people attach meanings to it that I don’t attach to it.”
There are plenty of comedians Regan admires who work “blue.”
“What I think is weird is when somebody comes up to me after a show and they try to feel like we’re all in a club,” he said. “They say things like, ‘I’m glad you’re not like those people.’ I feel like saying, ‘I like those people. I like what they do as much as I like what I do.’ ”
Another common misconception about Regan, and many other comedians, is that he’s the same person off-stage.
Off-stage, he can be as shy and awkward as anyone.
“I never tell people what I do unless I am point-blank asked,” he said. “Like, if I go to a social gathering, I never tell people I am a stand-up comedian. Because I feel like there’s this expectation. Like, ‘OK, this guy is going to be a funny guy around us.’
“I have even heard people say to me or to friends, ‘He doesn’t seem very funny,’” he added. “It’s almost like they’re saying, ‘He is fooling the whole world with this comedy thing that he does.’ ”
Performing During Lockdown
When the world was on lockdown during the worst of the pandemic, Regan tried a couple of drive-in theater shows, but they were not for him.
“I literally could not hear a single person,” he said. “And I just remember kind of laughing to myself and thinking, ‘This is like doing comedy in a vacuum.’
“So, I just turned it into an exercise to see how close I could come to pretending I was getting a reaction.”
Many stand-up comics and other live performers found ingenious ways to connect with their audiences during the lockdown.But Regan said he ultimately decided to take a break from performing and writing for a few months.
Finding New Material
Jokes come to him in the manner of over-eager students.
“I don’t sit down in front of a blank computer screen or a blank legal pad and try to create something,” he said. “I’ve learned that my brain just isn’t wired that way. I just need to go do my normal things that I would be doing in life. And every once in a while, something jumps up and down. I use this analogy: You know, when you’re in gym class at high school and it’s your job to pick the basketball team and there’s the kid in the back that’s jumping up and down, saying, ‘Pick me, pick me’? That’s how ideas come to me. I use those as starting points. I have an initial observation and then I build on it.”
Regan said about three-quarters of his Wabash show will consist of new material.
The way it works is that Regan builds up an hour of new jokes then records it for Netflix or Comedy Central.
“And that’s kind of the end of the line for the material,” he said. “But I can’t just throw it out and have a new hour the next night. I have to start the process of ‘Out with the old and in with the new.’ ”
Regan said he still has the same three career goals he has always had.
“One is the individual jokes,” he said. “And then there are the five-minute goals. A five-minute TV appearance. And then there are the hour goals: Your next special or DVD or CD. That shows you how old I am. I am using words like CD.”