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Good Show, Bad Show

Brian Regan (photo by Brian Friedman)

Standup Brian Regan talks about his curse-free comedy

Modern comedians often fall into two categories: There are the safe, clean comics who don’t receive critical acclaim but find a considerable audience, and there are the bold, daring performers who received tons of critical love but can’t find success with a mainstream audience. Very few comics are able to break free of that dichotomy, but Brian Regan has.

Regan is the rare comic who has been able to find success with critics as well as with mainstream audiences. His standup is largely observational; he discusses such modern oddities as the unnecessary instructions on food products (who doesn’t know how to toast a Pop-Tart?) and the difficulties of using UPS to ship a package. He is also known for his sarcastic, self-mocking style, as he is more often the butt of his jokes than anyone else.

Regan is known for a lack of cursing in his act, and he’s one of the few comics who can truthfully say that he doesn’t need to. He’s received considerable praise from critics, as well as fellow comics, and his two Comedy Central standup specials (2007’s Standing Up and 2008’s The Epitome of Hyperbole) netted him a considerable mainstream audience. Next Friday, (February 10, Regan will be playing at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, and we caught up with him in anticipation of the big show.

AV: You’re known for being a clean, family-friendly comic. Is that something you set out to do, or did it just happen?

Brian Regan: It’s not something I sought to attempt. Some people would think I’m “Mr. Wholesome,” but that’s not the case. It’s just about the comedy. Some people like to use rougher language in their acts, but I like to see what I can do without it.

AV: Which comedians have been your biggest inspirations?

BR: Before I got into comedy, it would be Steve Martin and Kelly Monteith—he never made it big, but he was very funny. When I got into standup, it was Jerry Seinfeld. He’s able to get such crisp comedy. He looks at cotton balls and says “I can get five minutes out of this.” He proved that you can get comedy out of nothing. You can find humor in the mundane.

AV: Your act certainly can be self-deprecating.

BR: Yeah, I like poking fun at myself in addition to the world around me. People are willing to laugh at me if I’m laughing at myself.

There was an interesting conversation with Louis CK and Jerry Seinfeld about whether or not the comic was above the audience. Seinfeld’s argument was, of course we are, because we’re the ones talking. But I think there’s also a perspective of vulnerability.

AV: Louis CK definitely makes himself vulnerable in his act.

BR: I always thought he was incredibly funny. He’s capable of silly, observational stuff, but recently he’s gravitated towards more introspective material.

AV: He says that he re-writes his act each year. How important is it for comics to keep their material fresh?

BR: I think when you’re performing, you want it to sound spontaneous. If you don’t grow with your act, you’re just going to be doing old stuff. When I’m on stage, I need to discuss things that are in my life—this is the world that I’m living in. Like right now, I’m raising my kids, so that’s going to be a part of my act. I remember this one comedian who kept doing this bit about changing his kids diapers, and it was a good bit, but he had been doing it for so long. So, after a show I asked him how old his kids were, and he says, “One’s 16, one’s 19.” So I just stare at him, and he says, “Yeah, but the bit’s so good!”

AV: It seems like these days, it’s more important to stay fresh, since anyone can find your old material on YouTube.

BR: That’s definitely true. I think changing my set has worked out well for me. I try to only do stuff from the last few years. If you do a great set, people will come back next time. If you do the same the stuff the next time they see you, they might not come back a third time.

AV: Any advice for people who are thinking of getting into standup?

BR: It’s a blast, but you really need to want it. It takes a while, and you’ve got to be willing to go through some rough patches. There will be lots ups and downs, and you’ve got to be able to enjoy the downs. When I was just starting out doing shows, there was this club owner who wanted to draw a line between the good show and the bad show. After the more popular comics were done, he’d tell the audience the show was over, and then he’d introduce the younger comics. I went on every night for a year straight, and I was petrified every night.

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