Q&A: Comedian Brian Regan and 20 years of stand-up comedy

Erik Petrovich

Veteran comedian Brian Regan is no stranger to the stage and no stranger to stand-up comedy. After his first CD was released in 1997, Regan went on to create another four specials, the most recent being “Brian Regan: Live from Radio City Music Hall,” and has been on the road performing for nearly 20 years.

As part of his non-stop tour across the country, Regan recently performed in Fort Collins to at the Lincoln Center.

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The Collegian talked with Regan about the tour, his unintentional brand of clean-but-quality stand-up and his experience switching majors in college. The following interview has been edited for clarity.

Veteran stand-up comedian Brian Regan  rubs his chin during a live stand-up act. Regan will perform at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins, CO Saturday June 12.
Veteran stand-up comedian Brian Regan rubs his chin during a live stand-up act. Regan will perform at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins, CO Saturday June 12. (Photo by Friedman Bergman)

Collegian: Let’s start off with the tour. It seems like you’ve been sticking to the East Coast, but you are due to come out west June 12. What’s been going on behind stage?

Regan: A non-stop party. I have five or six bar tenders back stage. There’s clowns. There’s people on stilts.

I wish it was that exciting backstage. My needs are pretty simple. In fact, a comedian I was working with took a picture of everything I had on my writer, and it was all thrown on one table. It was like a sharpie, a pack of gum, a bottle of water and I don’t even know if there was anything else. It was almost as if someone had thrown it all on the table and said, “There! There’s your garbage, buddy.”

Collegian: So your comedy kind of comes from within, then.

Regan: Well, comedy is like a prism. A light source goes through a prism, and it gets reflected into different colours. A comedian sees the same things other people see, but in a funny way. How that works, I don’t know. It’s kind of elusive, but every once in a while you’ll experience something and go, “Hey, that’s kind of funny.”

I wish I could bottle whatever that is that causes that, but I don’t know what causes that.

Collegian: What got you into comedy, then? You first wanted to be an accountant in college, right?

Regan: Yeah, just because I didn’t know what else to go into. It’s hard when you’re just out of high school going into college. There’s a lot of pressure they put on young people to decide what to do with their life. I couldn’t think of anything other than accounting. I had taken it in high school, and I thought, “I could do this,” but it didn’t excite me. It didn’t give me passion. Then I hit on the idea of becoming a comedian – I thought “Hey, wow! Now passion is part of my life!” 

Collegian: But you switched majors to theater and film, first.

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Regan: Yeah, it was one major, but it was called communication and theatre arts. It was kind of a broad major.

Collegian: What was that experience like? A lot of college students go through the experience of switching majors half way through school. Do you remember what that was like for you?

Regan: It happened, I think, my sophomore year. I was taking mostly the required courses up until that point anyway, so it wasn’t like I had to take a bunch of new classes. It wasn’t that difficult to change majors, but it was fun for me. Now a third of my classes were all in this major, and I was having fun with them. All these classes that were interesting to me, I was like “Wow, I like this world.” The other two-thirds classes I didn’t feel like going to. Biology, history, who wants to know that stuff?

Collegian: So you’ve been doing comedy for almost 20 years or so, actually having your name out there. All these years later, how has your routine changed? How has comedy changed for you?

Regan: Well, I mean, you have like six different hours of stuff out there recorded as specials or CDs or DVDs, and every hour is different. I like to think that we all grow as humans and hopefully as performers too, and I like to talk about things that interest me. The fact that I can still be out there and still have a following is pretty cool.

Collegian: Did you or do you ever get stage fright?

Regan: Not when I’m going out in front of fans, people who are there to see me. That’s not that scary. I still get nervous when people are there not to see me, like at a corporate show and I just have to be on the bill, or if it’s a charity event. The intro in some of these situations might as well be “Please welcome, someone you’ve never heard of!” It can be nerve-wracking.

Collegian: You have to almost re-introduce yourself, get them to understand your comedy.

Regan: Exactly, and that’s not an easy thing, and comedy is a very subjective means of communication. Everybody has their own sense of humor, and if you’re not jelling with a group of people, that’s an awkward, uncomfortable experience. If enough of that happens, I would consider going back to being an accountant.

Collegian: Well your brand of comedy sort of crosses that barrier though. You don’t use language. You try not to be offensive. Is that intentional?

Regan: It’s not the mission statement. I’m not walking on stage saying, “Get ready folks, for some lily-white clean comedy!”

To me, it’s just comedy and it happens to be clean. To me, it’s a small asterisk on there. For other people, it’s a big asterisk. For some people, it’s the thing they’re interested in. I’m not doing it trying to ride in on a big white horse saying, “I’m here to present lofty, clean comedy, because it’s better than everything else!” It’s just different. That’s all.

Collegian: What do you think will be coming after this tour?

Regan: I’d like to do a TV thing, if somebody would allow me to be creative that would reflect my comedy. It’s hard to get the powers that be to agree to such terms. The bigger the network the more they want to be involved in the creative process, and at least on the comedic side of the page, they don’t necessarily know what they’re doing. I would love it if a network said, “Hey, we trust you to do something. We’ll get out of your hair, go for it.” But it’s hard to find a situation like that.

Collegian: Well you’ve been working with Comedy Central for a while. They like to broadcast your stand-up a lot. Have you talked to them at all about developing other stuff?

Regan: I have, I’ve pitched a few ideas to them, and they’ve knocked the ideas internally and said they’re gonna go 180 degrees in the opposite direction. That’s what I like about stand-up comedy, I have complete autonomy. You don’t have to ask people before you do go do it, but on TV you have to go ask people, “Hey, can I do this?” and they can rub their chin and um and ah and say, “Hmm, no.” What are you going to do, pull out a gun? “No, we’re doing this!”

Collegian: Hopefully that day won’t come.

Regan: Let’s hope I don’t so drastically need a TV show that I’m willing to get it at gunpoint.

Collegian: Yeah, robbing Comedy Central at gunpoint wouldn’t go very nicely.

Regan: That would be a surefire pitch, though! You go into a pitch meeting, and you pitch your creative idea, but the whole time you’re holding a rifle.

I bet you’d get a “yes!” I bet they’d say, “You know what, that is a good idea!”

Collegian Executive Editor Erik Petrovich can be reached at editor@collegian.com or on Twitter @EAPetrovich.