One of the biggest names in stand-up comedy in the country, Brian Regan is a “comic’s comic” known both for his goofy, sarcastic style and being what Patton Oswalt referred to as the “never-fail ideal of what a stand-up performer can be.” Fresh off his one-hour Comedy Central special at Radio City Music Hall, Regan will be performing Thursday, November 19 at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center. We reached out to Charleston standup comedian Jeremy McLellan to interview him in preparation for the show.
Hey Brian, where are you calling from?
I'm calling from my estate. My sprawling estate in Las Vegas.
My manor. [Laughter] I have three manors on my estate. I'm calling from one of the three manors on my estate.
See I thought a manor and an estate overlapped perfectly. I didn't know an estate could have more than one manor.
Yes a manor is a subset of an estate. An estate can have numerous manors. I only know that because I had to implement a shuttle service to get from manor to manor within my estate.
You're performing at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center in two weeks, which is your 9th performance at that venue. What do you like about performing in Charleston?
Well I like performing everywhere. You know, if people aren't mean to me, then I come back, and so far there hasn't been a collective meanness out of the people there. [Laughter] Actually it's a beautiful part of the country, and one of the great things about being a standup is being able to travel around, and South Carolina is a beautiful, historic state and it's fun to come to North Charleston.
You're fresh off your latest one-hour special Live from Radio City Music Hall, which was a live broadcast on Comedy Central, the first time that's ever been done on that network. How did you prepare for that versus preparing for other specials?
Well usually when you do a special, you do more than one show and then you edit between the two. The rule of thumb is you tape two shows and then if you flub a line here or there you can pull from the other show and hopefully it looks like one solid show. The trick with the live special is if you flub a line or something like that there's no fixing it with another show. So I really had to have my set laid out and I really needed to concentrate on stage, hit my moments, hit my lines, and the preparation was more intense than a regular special.
I was talking to some other comedians about you and your standup and one of the things we said was that it would be really hard for someone to steal a joke from you without doing a Brian Regan impression.
[Laughter] That's funny. Yes yes.
For example, I remember I had a joke about how soundtracks come out a week before the movie does, "just in case you wanted to buy it and imagine what's going on" and then I acted out a guy trying to get his family to sit around and watch it. "Sounds like they're doing something good! Probably running!" And as I'm doing the act-out I realize I'm slipping into a Brian Regan impression. Have you always had that very distinct voice or is that something you developed as you went along?
[Laughter] You know, I don't know where that came from. I've heard people describe it over the years as my "dumb guy voice." But I don't remember consciously trying to create that dumb character. Most of my bits are "act outs" or little vignettes and a lot of time I'll heighten the reality. So like if a guy is dumb or if I'm dumb, I exaggerate it, so it just came from acting out the bits. It was never a conscious thing where I said to myself "I gotta come up with a distinct dumb guy voice," it just kind of evolved. But I'm honored that you slipped into it...and I'm even more honored that you recognize it and are trying not to do it. [Laughter]
Sometimes when people go shopping for clothes they will see something they really like, but they won't buy it because it doesn't go with anything else in their wardrobe. Do you ever come up with jokes that aren't in your voice that would not go with your act, like something dirty or really political, so you don't use them?
Yeah I do come up with stuff that is different, that has a different tone than some of the stuff that I do, or that might even have different subject matter. Lately, since my special, I haven't done a lot of shows, I am trying to replace all that material now, and so I'm throwing in a lot of newer things for me, and a lot of it is a departure, if you will, from stuff that people might normally expect from me. I think comedy is a living thing and needs to grow, so lately for whatever reason I'm interested in jokes about politics and foreign policy and stuff like that, sprinkling them into my act.
Oh man. I can't wait.
I mean that's not my whole set, but I'm including stuff like that that's a little bit of a departure from my past kind of stuff, and I think people in the audience will hopefully embrace it, but I'm sure there will be people who go, "Hey wait a second, this isn't what we're used to." But that's not my job. My job is not to figure out what audiences want from me. My job is to tell them what I want to tell them, and hopefully they think my stuff is funny.
So you don't feel any pressure to give them what they want in terms of material?
Not in terms of subject. I do in the sense that because I now work in theaters where people can bring younger people, and because I have kids myself, I have to be respectful of the fact that people might (even though I cringe at the word "clean") expect it to at least be clean. If someone brings a 9-year-old I don't want to say words where the parents are going to go "Oh gosh, we had the wrong idea of what this was going to be like." But at the same time, I want to be careful not to make it a "kiddie show." I'm not on stage twisting balloon animals for little kids. I like to talk about things that kids might not relate to. Some jokes they'll be able to relate to while other jokes will be about me signing mortgage documents or having high cholesterol. It's not a Disney show. It's just a show that happens not to use 4-letter-words.
That's interesting because yours was the first standup comedy album I listened to. I was raised very Christian and when I went off to a Christian college everyone was sitting around listening to your album because it was hilarious and clean. I do imagine that would be an obnoxious thing to keep hearing from people, though, coming up to you and saying, "Everyone from my church loves your comedy because you don't curse."
No, that always feels nice! I like when anybody likes what I do! It's just that people focus on different things. Some people focus on the fact that it's clean and for them that might be the most important part of the comedy. but for me it's never the most important part. For me, being funny is the most important part. I describe it this way: an empty stage for an hour is clean, but people aren't buying tickets to that. People aren't filling up a theater going, "Look how mopped that floor is! That's the cleanest floor I've ever seen! Let's sit here for an hour and stare at it!" They do want something more than the clean.
A lot of comedians are using social media to try out their jokes and reach a wider audiences, but your material is much longer form, elaborate, and physical, and I imagine it would be hard to convey written down. Do you think that's a benefit to you, since people would have to say, "Oh well you just have to see him"?
That's true. The kinds of jokes I come up with usually don't translate well, at least to Twitter. You know it's weird that the world changes around me. I always have one foot in what I'm used to and one foot in the way things are becoming. I always tend to lag behind everybody else in terms of changes. I was one of the last people to get an answering machine. It got to a point where people would get angry with you when you didn't have certain things. It used to be, "Wow you have an answering machine. that's cool" and then it got to the point where it's like, "Would you PLEASE get an answering machine so I don't have to keep trying to call you back???" and it became that way with Twitter and Facebook and stuff like that and people get to where they are angry with you. "How come you don't have a Facebook page??? How come you don't have a Twitter account???" So I'm always behind the curve. I do participate because I know the world is changing but I certainly don't participate as much as a lot of other people do. And in terms of what I put out there, I guess I've never been comfortable putting a lot of humor out there. I like people to come see my show. That's where I want to be funny. I want to be funny on stage. I don't mind promo-ing it and saying, "I'm going to be in your town this Friday, come check it out." If I think of something funny I might tweet it out but it's not something I gravitate towards....wow...I gave you way too long an answer for such a succinct question.
Last question. I just got married a month ago. I'm also pursuing a career in standup comedy. Any advice on how to make that work?
Well, I think if you're passionate about something, you should go for it. It's challenging. But that's where passion is key. Because passion gives you the ability to find the solutions. It's easy to quit on stuff. It's easy to go, "Gosh you know, this is just too hard." That's why you need this fueling passion inside of you to say "I'm going to make this work. This is going to work." And then you start finding solutions to scheduling challenges and relationship challenges and you figure it out. Hopefully you have that burning drive in you and that'll pull you through.
Brian thank you so much for doing this, and I will see you at the PAC on the 19th.
Wonderful, Jeremy, I appreciate the interview, man, and good luck with the comedy and congratulations on your marriage.