Brian Regan: It's Just Him and a Microphone

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"Altruistic" is a word rarely -- if ever -- used to describe a standup comic, but it suits Brian Regan. In the 35 years he's been performing, wielding a microphone as his bullhorn, Regan does what only the most seasoned comics are capable of: making it look easy. He flourishes in the understanding and practice that the value of a joke is not simply a punch line, but in the shared experience of a comedic journey.

He's trekked back and forth across the United States and late-night talk shows more times than some comics could begin to imagine. His act stands up to the most acclaimed and praised in the business -- he is, after all, the poster boy for what the industry calls a "comic's comic." RFT Music spoke with Regan about what that means and dug into the depths of a joke.

(Brian Regan is performing a brand new 65-minute routine this Friday, October 24, at the Peabody Opera House. And he may even entertain with a few of the hits -- but only if he decides to.)

Kelsey McClure: Do you make a conscious decision to talk about what's current -- for example the World Series -- or not talk about it while you are onstage?

Brian Regan: Yes, talking about sports, especially that town's sports, is usually a dangerous move, because people love their sports, and they react in a loud way when their team is mentioned. In fact I do a thing about it sometimes, where it's like if you say "St. Louis Cardinals" onstage in St. Louis, then people are going to hoot and holler. It's like, "Hey, we like the St. Louis Cardinals!"

I say, "I like lunch," but when I hear the word "lunch" I don't just hoot and holler. Hey, I was thinking of having some lunch: "Whooooo. We're the cheese, We're the cheese on rye!" But that's how baseball fans or sports fans react when they hear sports or baseball -- they yell their favorite team at the top of their lungs. So I try to avoid it when I'm onstage if I can.

Why do you think that is? Do you think that standup comedy will ever have those die-hard fans that are just like, "Oh, he's going tell his joke about the crop dusting!"

Well, I do get where people will shout out a bit of mine, occasionally, but...

While you're onstage or just like in passing?

Both. Both. But usually onstage, and usually then people who come to my shows seem to kind of know that the first part of my show -- the first 65 minutes -- I just kind of do my most recent stuff. And then I usually come out and do a little five to ten minute encore and that's when people shout out older bits. I'm not going to do older bits in that context.

When you said "recent stuff," how often are you changing it up? You said a 65- minute set: Is that an entirely different 65 minutes from your last standup special, or is it something that evolves as you continue to tour?

It's ever-evolving. I mean, new stuff comes in and then old stuff, or older stuff, falls away. Over the course of a year or two, I don't know what the percentage is, but if people see me and the last time they saw me was a year and half or two years ago, I'd like to think that they're going to see.... At least, most of the stuff will probably be stuff they didn't see last time.

It usually takes about a year and half to two years to completely turn it over. I was doing a show one time, and I had my own little goal in my head that I was going to do nothing that I knew was recorded on anything. Nothing that was in a special or in a CD or anything like that. I did about a half an hour of virgin jokes, at least as far as anything that was recorded, and then I do one older joke as a transition to get into another new thing. I did the older bit and I hear a guy in the audience go, "Heard it."

Ouch.

Yeah. That's when you go, "Ah, OK. So it's 100 percent impossible to please everybody all the time."

Continue to page two for more.

Was it that guy at that moment that you figured it out?

Yeah. You know: Come on buddy, give me a break. You get up here and do an hour of stand up that no one else has ever heard.

I think one of the weird things about comedy is that it's just you and a microphone; you're just talking. So some people can be lulled into thinking that, "Well, it must be easy because you're just talking." If you're sitting in the audience, you go, "Well, I can talk. So, then I can do that." You don't realize that somebody's done it night after night after night, year after year, and you keep working towards trying to make it look natural and comfortable.

And in turn, makes it look easy.

You want to make it look easy, but that doesn't mean that it is easy. I think most people get it. Most people realize it's a craft and you put work into it, but you're going to have your goofballs out there who just don't want to think things through and just might want to think, "Oh, well if that guy can get a laugh, I can get a laugh."

I've thought of comedy as being an educational, teacher-and-pupil model.

Believe me, there's a lot of psychology involved. You're a standup comedian, sure, but you have to figure out how to do mob control. You've got a room full of individuals, and you have to make them one, and you have to be like a pied piper and get them going a certain direction.

I think that's something that a lot of people don't necessarily realize or are tuned into. There are different and very specific directions to go about getting a laugh.

What's weird with comedy is that other art forms have subdivision labels -- not that that's good -- but you look in the music world, you can hear a song or a band and go, "That's a country song" or "That's a rock song." Or "That's classical," or "That's reggae." And everybody likes music, but not everybody likes all kinds of music.

Absolutely. You walk into a record store and say, "Oh, I want to go look over at the blues section," or "I want to go the metal section or the hip-hop section." Whereas comedy is just one section.

That's right. And I always use the analogy of, we have these clubs that are called comedy clubs and it's like, well, that's a pretty broad thing.

You can go in there, and it could just be a marching band or it could be like one guy with a pan flute. You don't know what's going to be in there. So comedy, I guess, that's why they tend to put labels on it. Like I get that clean label, which I'm not thrilled with that label, but because there are so few labels in comedy that when people come up with one they likem they use it.

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