Nowadays, in the age of cable TV and the Internet, there's really no need for a standup comic to swear off swearing and adult content. Back when the three major U.S. networks ruled, many comedians chose the clean route as the fast track to television. These days, anything goes.
So it's refreshing–if only for its rarity–to see a comic absolutely killing audiences, from kids to grandparents to uptight Christians, with nary an expletive.
Not that Brian Regan wants to brag about it. The comedy veteran, who's making his Vancouver debut at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts next Thursday (May 17), sells out theatres across North America but never bills himself as a clean comic.
"It's like putting a G rating on a movie," he says on the phone from his home in Las Vegas. "You might turn more people away than would come in. I wouldn't want people thinking, 'Oh, he's this real candy-ass, wholesome comic'.”¦I never want the point of the comedy to be [that it's] clean. That's just an asterisk."
Candy-ass? What kind of language is that? "If people only knew," he laughs. "My wife and my friends say, 'If your fans only had a clue about the things that can come out of your mouth.'"
When he started out in 1981 Regan would throw in the odd F-bomb to spice up a joke, but eventually he just eliminated them from his act.
"I started thinking, 'If you're that close to the finish line anyway, why not just put the ball over the line?'" he says. "It seemed kind of silly to be 95 percent clean. You might as well be 100 percent clean and see what happens."
Though his comedy can best be described as goofy–but hilarious–observational humour ("holding up a circus-funhouse mirror" to society is how he describes it), he doesn't purposely avoid stepping on toes.
"I don't want my comedy to be completely devoid of a point of view," he says. "I'll give them the gift of knowing I'm not going to throw any four-letter words in there and that I'm not going to hit on any sexual topics. But other than that, I need to retain the right to be able to say something on-stage. I have to be able to risk bumping up against a topic here or there that might have someone go, 'Wow, I don't agree with that.' That's okay. I don't want it to be so wholesome it has no substance whatsoever."
Regan's career arc has been a slow, steady ascent to the top of his field. He's done all the talk shows but never made the transition to acting, leaving him at a level he's fine with.
"I can go into a theatre and be big man on campus," he says, "and literally 10 minutes later I can be in a Starbucks without anyone knowing who I am. It blows my mind that you can have such a following and yet be so completely unknown."
That might not last, though. On April 23 Comedy Central announced that it had signed Regan to a "multi-platform talent deal" that covers a tour, TV specials, and a DVD.
"Fame to me is an unwanted byproduct of this," he says. "The goal for me is I want my comedy to be famous. If there was a way to let my comedy be famous and me not go along for the ride, that would be ideal."