It's safe to say Brian Regan has this stand-up comedy thing down pat -- the guy has been at it for more than 30 years. What makes his comedy stand out is the fact it's squeaky clean, with no curses or dirty jokes, and he still makes audiences laugh their as... er, butts off. His witty, observational style of humor will resonate with anybody, and he's been lauded with praise by Jerry Seinfeld, David Letterman, and other well-known voices of comedy.
The comic will perform at the Auditorium Theater on Saturday, May 9. Show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $36.50.
Regan chatted with City Newspaper about being a clean comedian, growing up in a hilarious household, keeping his passion for stand-up after many years of performing, and his hopes to have Steven Spielberg make a trilogy centered on him. An edited transcript follows.
City Newspaper: You're one of the cleaner comics around. When you started doing comedy, did you set out to be like that or is that just how you are as a person?
Brian Regan: It's interesting. When I first started I had no such agenda. I didn't start my comedy career thinking, "Wow, I want to be a clean comedian." In fact, I had some dirty jokes, I had a few jokes where I used the f-word or made a sexual reference here and there. But I was always mostly clean anyway. Even when I started, the dirty stuff was such a tiny percentage of my act that, you know, at one point, it had nothing to do with being clean; it's just that I'm incredibly anal. Why be 95 percent something when you can be 100 percent something. Then it ended up there was a nice byproduct to it, because there are people out there who like that kind of comedy. But I didn't do it for that reason, I didn't do it because I wanted to be Johnny Wholesome or attract a certain type of audience, I did it because it was fun for me.
Your joke about being behind a truck and seeing the sign "Caution: Transporting show horses" really stood out to me. Most people wouldn't really notice it, but you question it and make it funny. Have you always had that heightened curiosity?
I think so. You know, when I was a kid my parents would always joke about the questions I would ask them. My parents are still alive, they're in their late 80's and they still laugh. One of the first questions they remember me asking was: we were in the station wagon and I said [laughs], "Mom, Dad, how many ping pong balls can fit in this station wagon?" And my parents, how do you answer a kid like this, you know? My dad, he would just give me an answer. "4,906! Another question son?" He was just being playful, but I asked questions like that seriously. Then as I grew a little older I started taking that same curiosity but turning it into a humorous angle.
You've been performing for more than 30 years. How do you keep it so that it doesn't feel like you're just doing a job?
Well the onstage part is a blast. I don't know that it will ever get old to get laughs. It just feels fun. You feel like you're making a human connection and interacting with people. That's always enjoyable. When you do new stuff and get some laughs, you feel like you're communicating a new thing and it feels good. So that part of it, I don't know that I will ever get tired of that.
In fact I remember I watched a comedian in Las Vegas named Marty Allen. He's the "hello there" guy with the weird hair. He's been around for years. I think he was in his 70's when he performed. We were with some friends and we sat at the front table, and the guy came out in his tuxedo and he did his stand up, and he had this look of joy in his eyes that, while I was in the audience it almost made me cry just from happiness, thinking, "Look at this guy, he's doing what I do and he's still enjoying it at that age." It just gave me this incredible feeling like I could ride this wave for the rest of my life
A lot of other top comedians praise you and say you're one of their favorite comics. What does that mean to you?
It means a lot to me. As much as I like making audiences laugh, if people who do what you do tip their hat your way it makes you feel like you're doing the right thing. I never play to the back of the room and perform for the comedians instead of the audience, I never went that far. But I always like to make everybody laugh, man. I want that audience to laugh and I want the comedians in the back of the room to laugh. I'm a pig. I want it all! [laughs] So yeah, it feels great when comedians say, "Hey man, you're pretty decent."
Your brother, Dennis, is also a comedian. Was there tons of laughter in your house growing up?
Yeah. My mom and dad have eight kids, including Dennis and myself, and everybody's kind of funny. Everybody's funny in their own way. Both my mom and dad are funny. So there was a lot of laughing. My dad is a great laugher, and it's just so cool to make him laugh, because he's a very smart guy, and if you said something that was ironic or it made a little point, he would laugh from the gut. It's hard to explain how tremendous of a feeling that is, it's like wow, I'm making my dad laugh.
My mom was also very funny, but she was more on the silly side of things. Even though she has a master's degree in English she just loved silly comedy. My dad liked all kinds of comedy but he liked an interesting twist on things. And all my brothers and sisters are capable of being funny, so yeah, there was a lot of laughter around the house. In fact, I often wonder that our neighbors must have thought they lived next to a madhouse.
You appeared on the first season of "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," and in the episode Jerry Seinfeld said you are good friends. When you're hanging out with a comedian friend, are you guys ever not hilarious?
It really depends on who you're hanging out with. I can be tremendously unfunny. When I'm off stage, sometimes I feel like I'm funny, sometimes I don't. Sometimes it depends on who I'm around. But I'm most comfortable around comedians because I know it's OK not to be funny around them. I know it sounds weird, but comedians know that comedians are not always funny. Sometimes if you're hanging around with someone you just met, people will say, "Hey this is Brian, he's a comedian!" And you're like, "Aw jeez, why was that included in the intro?" Then you feel like people are looking at you like, "Funny boy's gonna start acting up." But if anything I go in the other direction. I like hanging around comedians so I can either not be funny or be funny.
You had a small part in the Chris Rock movie "Top Five" and did a great job with it. Why don't we see you in more movies? Do you just want to focus on stand-up?
Well I mean I do love doing stand-up, that's my primary focus, but I also just think that Hollywood has a blind eye toward me. They don't know anything about me. I thought maybe doing this movie, I thought someone somewhere out there would see me and say, "Hey, this guy's funny, let's put him in something else." But you know, no phone calls, nothing [laughs]. I want Steven Spielberg to watch my two-minute role and call me up and offer me a trilogy. Maybe I'm overreaching?
You're still fine with just doing stand-up though?
Yeah. Some people use comedy as a stepping-stone and the moment they get something else they leave comedy in the dust. But I like stand-up comedy as an end result. You know, if I did do something else I don't know that I would ever give up stand up, I just love being on stage thing and making people laugh in the moment. There's something thrilling about it.
You've sold out some pretty big venues in recent years, Red Rocks being among them. What's it like to know you sold out these storied places?
It was really cool. There are certain areas where I have enough of a following to try and go after experiences like that and Denver is one of them. I performed in Denver a number of times over the years. Then when I graduated out of the comedy clubs into theaters I did theatres in Denver for a few years and it finally got to the point where it was like, "Aw we are kind of jamming them in here, is it possible we could do Red Rocks?" So we gave it a go. I love my audiences, man. Just really cool people, and I feel like they are really supportive. Like when I went out on stage there, I felt like not only were they there to see comedy, they were there to congratulate me. I felt like I was at a graduation ceremony, they say your name and you get the applause. Hey, he completed four years of schooling, let's give him a big hand. I felt like I had gotten to a point in my career where it's like, "Hey, look where I am, this is pretty cool." And I feel like people were helping me enjoy that.
Are those big crowds more intimidating than doing a set in a smaller place, like a comedy club?
For me, no. I know that sounds weird but I often describe comedy as it's like playing an instrument, even though I don't know how to play an instrument. You make the audience into one thing, and you try to make that thing laugh. When I hit the stage I'm not thinking about the individual components of this thing, it's just a big mass blob that I'm trying to make laugh. Whether it's 200 people, or Red Rocks which was like 8,600, it's still just this thing and you try to get it going. For that one sure, I peaked out while the opener was on stage and was like, wow, check this out. I'm not naïve to the fact that there are a lot of people out there.