Interview: Comedian Brian Regan Heads To The Peabody March 4
Brian Regan—revered by comedians from Bill Burr to Jerry Seinfeld—will take his act to the Peabody on March 4. Regan has been called a comedian’s comedian, is a favorite of David Letterman and recently made “Top Five,” a movie with Chris Rock.
Preparing for the interview with this titan of hilarity gave me the opportunity to watch countless bits and full-length routines that had me crying with laughter. Standup comedy, when performed by a master like Regan, is not to be missed and cannot often be topped by any other artistic act.
Were you encouraged by your family to be a comedian? How did you begin?
Well, it was while I was in college. I played football, and I decided to be an economics major. I figured I’d be an accountant. But after a semester of accounting classes, my eyes rolled to the back of my head and I was like, “This does not excite me.” So I switched to communication/theater arts, on the advice of my football coach. He told me I was a funny guy—”You make everybody laugh on the team”—and he was right. I switched majors and that influenced where I am today.
Which comedians influenced you when you were coming up?
Well, what’s weird is that when I was in college it was pre-internet. I went to college in Tiffon, Ohio. We marveled at the guy on our floor who could get on FM radio. We were isolated. And, I think that helped me in my early comedy because I wasn’t overly-influenced by anybody because I didn’t have access to anybody. I knew of Steve Martin and George Carlin and stuff like that. You could only see them on the Tonight Show. You just couldn’t see them whenever you wanted to.
You recently did Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Seinfeld has mentioned that college campuses are becoming harder to play, due to a collective lack of a sense of humor. What’s been your experience with that scene?
Well, I don’t do nearly as many colleges as I used to. As I’ve gotten further along in my career, I tend to skew a little older. There’s still stuff for younger people, but I also have jokes about signing mortgage documents and high cholesterol.
I can’t imagine a college sophomore thinking, “Oh, I’ve got to hear that joke about high cholesterol!” But in a general sense, I worry that college students are a little too fearful of hearing something they don’t agree with. I just think people shouldn’t be fearful of others they disagree with. You might even vehemently disagree with them. You’re not forced to change your mind, but why not challenge your own brain and open yourself to new ideas and thoughts?
There’s often a dichotomy that people make between clean/dirty comedy. How and when did your form of clean comedy take form?
When I first started, I wasn’t 100 percent clean. I was probably five to ten percent that ventured on the other side of the tracks, if you will. But, I decided at one point … that I wanted to be 100 percent clean, just because I thought “why be 95 percent clean?” I didn’t do it for prudish reasons or to make a point. I just did it because I just enjoyed to see how hard I could get people to laugh without hitting certain buttons. I think every kind of comedy is fair game.
Could you talk a bit about “Top Five” and working with Chris Rock?
It was a wonderful experience for me. I’d never been in a movie before and I’ve never been in one since. Chris Rock had come to see me do standup at a show in New Jersey, and then about a month later, I got a call from my manager’s office saying that Chris Rock would like me to submit an audition video for a movie he’s making. Well, actually, I just heard they wanted me to audition or read for a role. And I’m like, “How do I do that. I’m out on the road.” And they wanted me to do it on an iPhone. I just had somebody film me on an iPhone, which is so different. When I lived in L.A., you had to just shlep down to some studio. I heard nothing for about a month, and my manager’s assistant called to say, “Well, you’ve got to get to New York.” “For what?” “You’re going to be in the Chris Rock movie!”
What do you hope for your performance at the Peabody?
Well, I like St. Louis a lot. I performed there a lot over the years. I chose St. Louis years ago to be the first place I performed in a theater—I performed in comedy clubs, but 10 years ago, we decided to make the leap to theaters. And I wondered what was a good place to try this. I performed at The Pageant.
You go to a comedy club, and some people might just be there to see comedy, not necessarily you. They might have no clue who you are. But when I performed at the theater, it was full, and I left the stage, and they kept applauding. I looked at my manager who thought I should go back out there. They were shouting my older bits! It kind of became a thing. I do my show, come back out and then do some older bits. And it started because of St. Louis.