Considering he’s a guy who’s made a healthy living solely from standup comedy, it’s funny that Brian Regan has never really understood how he’s been able to.
Regan is one of the few standups able to sell out theatres across North America without regular acting credits on TV or in movies. Not that he’s looking a gift horse in the mouth, but he does wonder about the general public’s appetite for professional comedy.
“I’ve always found it weird,” he says on the phone, holed up in his bathroom while workers invade his Las Vegas condo. “Comedy is not supposed to be a thing. To me, comedy is a how. Clearly, I’m a comedian and I know that there’s a thing called comedy clubs and stuff like that, but it just seems odd that people would walk into a building and go, ‘We’re going to sit in chairs and laugh.’ And they’re not even really interested in what they’re going to be laughing about! ‘We’re just going to go there and we’re just going to laugh.’ It would be like a club where ‘We’re going to go to this place and cry.’ ‘What are you going to cry about?’ ‘I don’t know. I just feel like crying.’ But the comedy thing, it’s like people don’t even care what they’re laughing at. It’s just ‘We just wanna laugh! We just want our bodies to shake!’ ”
The 55-year-old has been making people’s bodies shake since he dropped out of college in 1980. He’s a rare combination of fan favourite, comic’s comic, and prototype. People of all ages and comedians of all styles love him. It’s hard to imagine he’s ever gone through tough times in his career.
He remembers a difficult two- or three-week period out on the road relatively early on, when he asked himself, “Am I out of my mind?”
“After about two weeks in a row, you go, ‘Am I delusional? Why do I want to make a living making people laugh when clearly I don’t know how to do it?’ ” he says with a chuckle. “But then you have that good show and you’re back on track. You go, ‘Oh, okay, I know how to do it. It’s just a question of making it more consistent, I guess.’ ”
In a landscape where comedians are creating new shows with new material every year, Regan learned the hard way that’s not the best method for him. Years ago, he did two completely different one-hour shows concurrently, The Idiot and The Oddity, a titular nod to Homer’s epic poems. Now he employs a more evolutionary method where the act gradually changes.
“I realized once you title something, it’s something people can check off, and that’s not necessarily a good thing,” he says. “Now I just like the philosophy of gradually turning the material over. And if somebody hears a bit that was in the previous time they were here, that’s okay. But you’re also going to hear a bunch of stuff you didn’t hear.”