Comedy Q+A: Brian Regan Keeps It Clean
Photo courtesy of Brian Regan
Boston is fortunate to be getting four shows in two days from comedian Brian Regan at The Wilbur. The Las Vegas-based comic has returned to our city for his semi-annual residency to disperse the hilarious collection of stories, characterizations, and anecdotes that have made him one of the premiere comedians in the country. Among Regan’s fans are comedians disparate of style and content. This is because he is so adept at his craft that he can tell his jokes and get his point across without uttering a single curse word in a show. Regan is a favorite of David Letterman, on which he has made more than 27 appearances. And Regan’s comedy has been celebrated by publications as diverse as The Onion and The Wall Street Journal. It was a privilege to speak with Regan about his work, the comedy community, and “clean” comedy.
So I heard you got a mailing from the AARP.
Brian Regan: Well, I’m a few years in. I can see that they want to welcome you into the community, but it’s not a pleasant thing [to get in the mail]. In my mind, I’d like to think that I’ll make it to 100. So I went golfing the other day and got set up with this guy who said he was retired and told me that everything goes downhill when you hit 70. He retired at 60 so that he could “get 10 good years in before he got ready to die.” Damn, it was rough. I just wanted to go out and golf, and this guy cut my life-expectancy by 30 years!
Are you going to do anything special on your upcoming visit to Boston?
BR: If I bring my kids, I will take them down to Fenway Park and try to do that revolutionary tea party thing on the boat.
In your stand-up, you’ve talked about how men are negatively portrayed in commercials. Have you seen some recent examples of what you’re talking about?
BR: There was [a beer] ad campaign that had a guy going into a sports bar dressed up in a cat outfit because his team was “The Cats,” and he was an outcast. People looked at him like he’s an idiot. Of course, he was drinking the wrong beer too, but I like that a guy would have the guts to walk into a bar wearing a cat outfit. To me that makes life more interesting. People are ridiculed for not being in lockstep—I don’t really have a gag for it, but it’s just something that bugs me.
After listening to you on Marc Maron’s WTFpod, I wonder how many people out there are aware of how many comedians are fans of yours?
BR: It always makes me feel good when you find out that another comedian likes what you do. When people live and breathe what you do and like what you do, it’s the highest form of flattery.
There has been an ongoing debate about “clean comedy” to the point of some people assuming that “clean comics” live in some kind of bubble of purity. Isn’t it about taking up the challenge to communicate your comedy in a specific way?
BR: I was fortunate enough to open for [Jerry] Seinfeld a number of times. One of the first times I opened for him, I knew he worked clean. And he was backstage in his suit, and I was awestruck, and he says to me, “Well, let’s make these f—ers laugh!” And I was like, “Whoa!” It was so bizarre, but I should have known that, me being a comedian myself, clean onstage doesn’t translate to clean offstage, so I thought it was great to know that he could also have a foul mouth.
And then you have these people getting “offended” by jokes. This year in particular, we have so many comics getting called upon to “apologize” for jokes they make. What’s your feeling about this?
BR: Comedy has layers. You could play a racist or sexist character in a joke—I have jokes like that. But people who aren’t in the room and who don’t understand what I’m poking at with a stick—I don’t think it’s cool for them to demand an apology just because they don’t get it. I also think it’s OK to sometimes go over the line. That’s how we find out where the lines are, people have to be willing to go over them. When you’re in high school and hop the cemetery fence with a bunch of friends and drink a six pack and giggle, that doesn’t mean you’re sick and twisted—you’re just not supposed to be there. You are going to hop back over the fence. It’s the same with comedy, it’s OK for people to go into the cemetery, so to speak.
A number of comedians are self-releasing their albums and specials. You see them writing about “freedom” but is there a flip side to that? All the management and production required to get those projects done?
BR: If you have a following, you can get away with self-producing because your fans will go to your Facebook and website and get your new production. But TV still does have a lot of power to introduce you to new people. It’s a good way to make a lot of new fans. I’ve done a DVD myself, and a CD myself, but I do see the benefit of letting other people do it for me to get it to a new audience.
Are we going to be getting a new special or album from you?
BR: The last thing I did was an audio CD and download that came out in December [All By Myself], so now I’m in the “batter’s circle” to do another hour, but I don’t know yet what I’m going to do. I do have an offer to do a special, but I’m weighing that against producing something on my own. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m getting close to pulling the trigger on it.