Radio and TV Talk

Rodney Ho covers TV and radio, from Atlanta’s stations to the hottest “American Idol" news.

Brian Regan interview: being funny more important than being 'clean'

This was posted on Wednesday, September 13, 2017 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

There are many paths for stand-up comics to headline 3,000-seat theaters. You can star in a sitcom (e.g. Jerry Seinfeld, Roseanne), be part of a sketch-comedy show (e.g. Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle), host a talk show (e.g. Trevor Noah, Jay Leno), build a following via social media (e.g. Dane Cook) or have a specific shtick (e.g. Jeff Foxworthy).

Brian Regan managed to become a theater headliner many years ago by taking the least sexy path of all: just being a funny observational comic who relies on word of mouth to sell tickets.

The 59 year old is back in Atlanta for a show September 23 at Chastain Park Amphitheater, which seats 6,900. (Buy tickets here.) He is frequently cited as an inspiration by many comics. Just this year, Matt Iseman and Tom Papa name-dropped him in AJC interviews.

"It's a huge huge honor to have other comedians tip their hat," he said in a recent interview. "I'm not doing this for them. I do it for the audience. But the fact comedians seem to enjoy it too is a bonus."

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He possesses George W. Bush's aw-shucks charm, a bit of Jim Carrey's physicality and a heaping of Jim Gaffigan's mischievousness and sarcasm.

He hasn't been totally invisible on TV. He's had Comedy Central specials. He's been on Conan O'Brien, David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

But he said he's a purist when it comes to being a stand-up comic. "I've always been into the comedy part of it, just getting on stage and if a following happens, great; if not, well, so be it. Then along the way, if other things happen like social media and podcasts, I participate because I'm part of this world. I'm always behind the curve on those kinds of things. I always cringe when I hit the send on a Tweet. I feel like it's invasive!"

Indeed, he can walk down the street, eat at restaurants, go to ballgames and live in relative anonymity. "I never tell anybody what I do unless I'm point blank asked," he said. "The reality is I'm not good at holding court. I'm not the funny guy at the party. I observe things, things I can talk about later."

He said he can leave a 3,000-seat theater where fans gave him a standing ovation, walk a half mile to a McDonald's and order in peace. And he said he's at peace with that.

Vulture two years ago asked Regan what celebrity peer he wanted to interview him. He chose Gaffigan.

"We're so similar, we share a lot of  the same fans," Regan said. "We kind of come from things from the same perspective. He was able to go a lot deeper than a lot of people."

Indeed, they had a discussion about being labelled "clean" comics by annoying journalists, as if that was a bizarre novelty. "A lot of people mistakenly think it's an us vs. them mentality. Like people will say, 'Hey, thanks for not being one of them!' I like them! I like dirty comedians. It's like different kinds of music. There's a place for rock and jazz and reggae. There are people who do dirty well. That's just not my piece of the pie."

Regan is no saint off stage, he said. "I can be pretty foul with my friends," he said. "I just tend to talk about things that we all relate to in a broad way. I never rode in on a big white horse and see myself as a nobler version of the craft. I like to talk about doughnuts. I like to talk about buying a refrigerator. I enjoy seeing what mileage I can get out of that. Let someone else talk about something filthy."

In a way, he challenges himself to approach a subject that other comics have worn down to see if there's anything left to mine.

He does worry that he might accidentally steal someone else's joke, similar to a musician inadvertently swiping a riff or melody from an already famous song. (That's a reputation no stand-up comic ever wants. Right, Carlos Mencia?)

A couple of times, other comics have gently pointed out to Regan that a bit he did was a lot like someone else's. Decades ago, he did a bit about how there's an hierarchy in terms of how harsh the descriptives "imbecile," "moron" and "idiot" are. Then someone told him the late comic Dennis Wolfberg had made similar observations and he was horrified.

His philosophy: "You're sharing your brain with the audience. That's the fun: making an electrical connection between ender and receiver. If you didn't create it, it's empty."

On the most part, "most comics will give you the benefit of the doubt because parallel thinking happens," he said. It just can't become habitual. In a 2012 episode of "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee," Seinfeld and Regan talked about doing similar bits regarding the phrase, "if we could put a man on the moon, why can't we..."

IN CONCERT

Brian Regan

$31-$140

8 p.m. September 23

Chastain Park Amphitheatre

4469 Stella Dr NW, Atlanta

www.livenation.com

About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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