For stand-up comedy fans, few comics are as popular as Brian Regan. Like Jim Gaffigan, Mike Birbiglia and Louis C.K., Regan has built a large and loyal fan base without having been on a sitcom or starring in a hit movie. Now he has a career many comics would love.
“I wish I could take credit for this master plan,” he says, laughing. “But over the years, more so in the past, I was trying to get a sitcom just like everyone else, but it never seemed to fall together properly. So in the meantime, I just kept doing stand-up, and fortunately I was able to build a following with stand-up and that’s all I ever wanted anyway.”
Indeed, he viewed a sitcom as the easiest way to put a lot of butts in the seats at his live shows.
“Now I don’t desire the sitcom thing anymore,” Regan says.
He doesn’t rule out doing something in television someday, but the developmental system makes him skittish.
“If I could do comedy on television I’d want to do something that relates to how I think as a comedian,” he says. “It’s just a matter of finding the people and the network that understands that fact.”
Regan has pitched ideas before, but always got the same response. “They’d tell me, ‘We don’t have anything like that on our network.’ That sounds like good news, but to them, it’s bad news,” he says. “It just blows my mind.”
Through it all there has been no lack of advice from fans. “I get a kick out of people that give you career advice,” he says. “Stuff they think you didn’t think of.
Like years ago people used to come up to me and say ‘You know what you should do? You should go on The Tonight Show. That way more people would see you.’ Really? OK, let me jot that down. That does seem like really good advice.”
Seeking some distance from the entertainment industry, Regan has lived in Las Vegas for years, preferring it to Los Angeles. “I’m just one step removed from show business here,” he explains. “When I lived in L.A., all my friends were in show business. I love doing stand-up and I love talking about it, but you can also get burned out on it.”
All of the conversations he had in Southern California involved who was up for what part, or who might be getting a call back or pitching a deal.
“I come to Las Vegas,” Regan says, “and I see parents watching their kids ride bikes and talking about grilling this weekend. I was like ‘This is so real!’ We’re talking about grilling hot dogs, I love this!”
It’s slightly ironic that Regan lives in a city that markets sin when he’s known for and, in fact, built his following on a predominantly clean act. This was not by design.
“I never really planned it,” he says. “I always just did what interested me as a comedian.”
It wasn’t until he released his first CD in 1997 that he realized there was a whole audience of people under the age of 18 who were enjoying his material.
“I was like, ‘They like comedy, too?’ And it wasn’t geared toward kids, but more towards adults reminiscing about being kids,” Regan says. When he started playing venues where all ages could attend, it became apparent he had a pretty diverse fan base.
He recalls it was always his nature to veer more toward the goofy and silly as opposed to the blue and dirty. “Somebody gave me a tape that he and I had made as freshmen in college,” he says. “And this was before I thought about being a comedian. We were doing this silly interview thing. This guy was interviewing me, and he was playing a character and I was playing a character, and we were pretending like we were on a talk show.”
As he listened back, he realized his buddy was trying to make the skit dirty, but Regan kept steering it back to being silly. “It made me feel good to confirm that I’ve always been that way in terms of comedy.”
Regan says he enjoys those who do work blue, though.
“It’s not a values thing,” he says. “I’m not saying comics shouldn’t curse, they should curse, and all kinds of comedy should exist. It’s like music; everything should be explored.”
Regan’s specialty remains the persona of the slightly confused everyman, accenting his jokes with a bit of physicality.
“Years ago when I tried to script out my act, I realized all of my jokes are vignettes or little plays,” he says. “It’s me and the eye doctor, or me and the ironing board. Those bits only work when I act them out. If I just say them it doesn’t have the same impact.”
BRIAN REGAN performs at the Taft Theatre Friday. Tickets and more info: tafttheatre.org.