Brian Regan on "clean comedy," crafting jokes and childhood

Brian Regan will perform at the Old National Centre in Indianapolis Thursday, November 17

On November 17, comedian Brian Regan is making his way to Indianapolis to perform at the Old National Centre. Anyone who’s ever had the opportunity to watch Regan on stage knows he is one of the most unique comedians you’ll ever come across. His style is a blend of some other well-known acts with observational humor like Jerry Seinfeld, wacky antics like Steve Martin and a sense of lighthearted self-deprecation, kind of like a less crass Louis C.K. But, to simply compare him to these acts would be a disservice to the artist, because Regan is in a class of his own.

In fact, Patton Oswalt is quoted as saying, “Brian Regan’s the best stand-up working today. Period.”

And Marc Maron, known for his podcast WTF and his show Maron says, “Brian Regan’s the funniest guy...there’s Brian Regan and then there’s other people.”

It is a rarity to find someone who is lauded by everyone in their industry; especially in highly competitive industries like the entertainment business. After fifteen minutes of chatting with Brian Regan it is easy to see why he is loved by most any comedian you’ve ever heard of.

When Regan calls me, I have to admit I’m feeling slightly giddy. He is one of the first comedians I remember truly making me laugh.

When I tell him I’m just getting to work after a long night at the office on Election Night, he starts right in with a light joke. “Didya like binge watch a show last night?”

This simple joke shows how his mind works: he isn’t one for mundane, “How ya doin'?” conversation; he enjoys comedy and laughter and it just kind of rolls naturally out of him. It isn’t something he plans on. He tells me this when explaining his childhood.

“I don’t think we thought about [comedy in our household], but we did like to laugh. Everybody was funny. My mom and dad are funny. My brothers and sisters are funny. You know we’d watch things on TV and make wise cracks, we’d make fun of each other. But, it was always loving. You know, I mean, we never liked to get laughs at someone’s expense. Maybe in a playful way, but no one was ever out to hurt anybody, and I like that.”

It’s easy to see this style of comedy purvey through his act. Read an article about his act and there is a word you will see over and over again — clean. “I don’t do the clean act for my kids,” he says, even though his two children often travel with him to see his shows when he is on tour.

“[The clean act] is not really even a big decision of mine. It’s just how I do comedy. The clean thing is always a bigger thing for other people than it is for me. It’s like, some people look for a way to describe it and they don’t necessarily know a way to describe it, so they describe it as clean.

“If you were to walk through a museum and look at paintings most of those paintings are clean, but people don’t describe them as clean, even though they are. So, I guess it is clean, but that’s not really the point of it.

“Some people think that is the point of it, but that’s not the point of it as far as I’m concerned.”

This has never been the point and if you take an evening to see Regan this coming Thursday, you’ll quickly see there is much more intelligence and thought that goes into his act than simply, ‘Gotta make some clean jokes’.

According to Regan, the point is simple: “I don’t mean to sound flippant, but you know, I like to make people laugh with unique comedic perspective. I hate to sound like I’m ever patting myself on the back or like I’m giving myself a compliment, but it is a murky quest.

“Laughter, yes, that’s part of it, but I want good quality laughs and I don’t like getting laughs out of easy things, I like getting them out of things that are unique and original. Hopefully sometimes I’m successful at it.”

Listen through some of Regan’s best and most absurd bits, like his famous Manslaughter and Loitering joke or his bit about ordering black coffee:

“How would you like that, sir?”

“How would I like that black coffee? Can ya, put it in a cup? Yeah, don’t just splash it on my face.”

“Would you like cream and sugar with that?”

“Is it black cream? If not I’ll take it blackity black black.”

If you can listen through these without having a ‘good quality laugh’ then, well, you might need a Medieval doctor to check your humours.

Regan’s style of comedy has been denoted as observational, but for him that isn’t what sets him apart — it isn’t what defines his comedy.

“I think everybody in life is observational,” he tells me, “I mean you go through life and you have your senses and you’re going to experience things through your senses. So, I think my comedy is going to be about the things I see, hear and experience.

“But I also try to mix it up and try to throw some absurd things in there. I was always a big fan of Steve Martin and you know, most of his comedy was absurd. While most of George Carlin’s comedy was about real things. I like to be a real, plausible person on stage, but I like to have some hiccups in there. I like there to be an occasional off-the-wall curveball and keep an audience on its toes, and go ‘Where’s he coming from next?’ So, it’s a fun challenge for me.”

This blend of reality and absurdity is seen throughout his bits and he often overplays the absurdity through his on-stage mannerisms. He truly is a master of stage presence, playing each character in his ever-weaving tales, from hisself, to the casual bystander, to a “dumb ol’ donkey.” He explains this approach to being on-stage: “When you really look at my bits, a lot of them tend to be little vignettes, you know they’re like little pieces. But, I’m the only one on stage so I have to be both characters. I have to be me and the eye doctor. I have to be me and the refrigerator salesman.

“And sometimes it’s me and an inanimate object — it’s me and a microwave oven, or me and an ironing board. And so, for the bit to work I have to act it out. Instead of just saying I’m opening an ironing board I want to use my arms and pretend I’m opening it up. Instead of saying I’m opening a microwave oven door I want to pretend like I’m pulling the handle and add to the visual experience for the people in the audience, from their perspective.”

For a veteran of the comedy circuit like Regan, there are always going to be fan favorite jokes and he is happy to indulge his fans; in fact throughout the interview he continually makes references to making sure the audience experience is positive. But for him, he says his favorite part of stand-up comes from testing new jokes.

“The newer the joke the more fun the laugh. You know, because I like all the laughs. I don’t mind getting a laugh off an older joke too, but I prefer newer bits. Because you don’t know how to say them yet.

“When you happen upon a series of words that seems to convey your thought more concisely, it’s fun. And you go, ‘Oh man, boom, that’s how you say that.’ And so it’s fun.

“It’s kind of like a sculptor taking a big block and chiseling away until he has some work of art, it’s kind of like that with a comedy bit. You have this big block of an idea and you keep chipping away at it until you fine-tune it and it’s fun to massage a joke night after night until it gets closer and closer to perfection. And yet, it’s never going to be perfect,” he says with an easy laugh, “you know you just get closer and closer, but you never quite get there.”

Get your tickets to the 7:30 p.m. show at the Old National Centre this Thursday, November 17.

I travel. I eat. I drink. I meet. I record. I'm the Food & Drink Editor for NUVO and the co-creator and director of Indy's Table. I also host a weekly comedy podcast, Film Forecast and occasionally write about movies and television for NUVO.