Comedian Brian Regan performs at Kansas City Improv Nov. 30-Dec. 2
Today we have a chat with one of the biggest comedians in the world: Brian Regan. Regan’s performing at The Kansas City Improv on Nov. 30 – Dec. 2 and has two specials hitting Netflix this year. Nunchucks and Flamethrowers is currently streaming and a new one is forthcoming shortly. Regan joins an illustrious group of legendary standups with a two-special deal for the platform including Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, and Jerry Seinfeld.
Here’s our talk with the cleanest comic working today.
The Pitch: How are you holding up? What is the dumbest purchase that you’ve made during quarantine? I’ve spent so much money on stupid things just because I’m sitting up here alone and looking at Amazon some nights with a beer in me, so I want to know what someone with Brian Regan money buys when they’re stuck at home alone.
Brian Regan: I wish I could say white tigers, but I live here in Las Vegas, and it seems like you’re supposed to have white tigers when you live in Las Vegas. I haven’t quite turned that corner yet. Still sans white tigers.
To kick it off, we are talking today because you’re coming to Kansas City to perform at the end of the month. Has this been the longest period you have done in decades of your career without doing a live show?
Well, I’m doing comedy clubs. Every state is a little different. For the most part, regular theaters are not open ye, but some theaters are open with social distancing. A lot of comedy clubs are open but with social distancing, tables are farther apart then they normally would be. I’ve done outdoor shows, I’ve done movie theaters, so I’ve been performing but not in the way that I was performing prior to COVID.
Does that make it—it feels like it must be like an athlete not having access to the normal gym equipment, to be trying to develop your material in a weird alternate space. Has that led to you having different material than you normally would, or are you working in the tradition you normally would and just seeing how things develop?
I was working towards a Netflix special which I shot at the end of October. I was just trying to do the material I would normally do if there was not a pandemic. I was working towards a special that I want people to enjoy twenty years from now, so I didn’t want it to be all about this particular time. Plus, many comics are covering all of this COVID territory. But to answer your question with the weird venues, it has been strange. The strangest of all was that I’ve done two drive-in movie theaters; the first of the two, I’ve almost heard literally nothing–
I was going to say, I imagine people honking their horns during the set is weird, but I imagine silence is much weirder.
They actually asked people on the big screen, as a courtesy, not to honk their horns and not to flash their lights because it could be problematic too. I thought I’d hear laughter instead, so all that created was a big blob of nothingness. I was on stage in front of a bunch of cars, just doing my act. It was very bizarre. I could hear very muted, distant laughs, but it was quite challenging.
I suppose with the windows up, it’s just like having an audience laugh into a pillow.
Yeah, my biggest laugh sounded like this, [weak, distant laughter].
So, you’re out on the road, what sort of work does your team put in to vet these venues and make sure everything’s safe? Or do you trust that everyone’s going to have your audience’s safety at heart?
We kind of trust that the venues are following the proper protocols. I’ve found that every place I’ve performed at, that people are taking it seriously. Comedy clubs are at half-capacity; the tables are farther apart than the would be, people still wear masks at their tables— not always, if everyone at the table knows each other, than I guess they don’t need to wear masks. The comedians are usually pretty far away from the actual audience members, often times they don’t seat the very nearest tables. Every place is a little bit different, but I haven’t found any venue yet that doesn’t care. They all care, and they all take precautions. Maybe some take bigger precautions than others, but they all take precautions.
Are you bringing your own microphone to each one, making sure no on else has touched it?
No, I don’t go quite that far with it. Some of the places I’ve performed at, each comedian uses a different microphone. If there are three comedians on stage, there are three mic stands with three microphones.
But not every club does that. You go someplace else, and the comedians use the same microphone. There aren’t hard, fast rules that everybody’s adhering to, everybody’s kind of doing the best they can.
How has this impacted you fiscally? You’re such a pure comedian that you live so clearly off of touring versus being somebody with a bunch of tv money to fall back on or is doing side projects like that. Has this year been difficult for making up for that, or is it still working out okay?
I’m on the fortunate side of the tracks—I don’t know if anyone’s ever used that expression before.
It’s a new one and people will understand it.
I’d hate to be on the other side of the tracks, I’m on the fortunate side of the tracks. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been noticeable. What I’m doing now isn’t nearly what I’m used to doing as far as the financial side of things. I’m doing it now more for the love of doing comedy. It’s more of—I don’t know, a breaking even kind of thing? Taking care of the people working for me and getting a couple of laughs. It’s not like it was prior to COVID, that’s for sure.
What is your personal philosophy on what makes a good joke, or more specifically, what makes a good Brian Regan joke?
I’ve always said that a laugh—when somebody laughs at something, they are internalizing the message as a truth. Getting very philosophical here. When you laugh at something, you’re agreeing that it is a true thing. When you laugh with someone, you’re also agreeing that it’s a true thing. Laughter is powerful, it’s a way of communicating. If I want to share something on stage from some quirky place in my mind where I’ve made an observation about something, and you get a room full of people laughing about it, they’re agreeing with you about that particular point of view. I know it sounds very scientific, but I believe comedy is very scientific.
It seems like you always must be working on this—you do such an excellent job of always remaining apolitical in your material; how do you maintain that in an era where every facet of life has found a way to be politicized?
It’s challenging, and I do bump up against the edges, especially lately. I’m choosing some topics that might surprise some people. Not a lot, but I do venture into certain areas that people might go, “Huh, I didn’t expect him to be talking about this.” I’ve got stuff about crime, I have some material about guns and assault weapons, but I try to do the kinds of jokes that both sides would laugh at. But it’s tricky; just bringing up the subject can bump up against somebody out there that goes, “Why are you talking about assault weapons? People get hurt by these things.” It’s impossible to speak without possibly hurting someone’s feelings, so I can’t overly worry about it.
Is it ever difficult for you to take your personal convictions and put them in that place. I’ve watched your material and I’m like, “I’m sure he feels a way about this…” Is it just that you put that aside in service of finding the universal truth that both sides can agree on? Or do you wish you could do more of sharing who you are? Or would that not accomplish the goal of being funny to everyone?
That’s a very question and it’s something that I—I don’t want to say, “grapple” with it, but I consider it all the time. Clearly, there are comedians out there who make their positions about things clear through their comedy. I’m a freedom of speech person, I completely support somebody who wants to do that. The kind of thing that I like to do onstage is more like everyday stuff. There’s dividing kind of comedy, and there’s unifying kind of comedy. I tend to enjoy trying to find things that can unify people through humor, and those are the kind of jokes that I tend to gravitate towards. I like the jokes that people tend to laugh at regardless of what their point of view is, you know? The gun thing is tricky for me; I talk about how I never understood the difference between an assault weapon and a non-assault weapon. Anytime somebody on tv explains the difference to me, I’m only more confused. This guy talking about all these crazy guns, but the way he explains it is so confusing that I don’t know what he’s talking about. I’d like to think that no matter what side you’re on, you can still laugh at that. You can be pro-gun and laugh at that, you could be anti-gun and laugh at that. I try to do those kinds of jokes, that it doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on, you’re still going to get into it, I hope.
What is—if you have one—a favorite performance experience in Kansas City/ Missouri area?
I was performing—I don’t want to say the theater because I don’t want to get somebody in trouble, but I’m almost positive it was in Kansas City. There was a guy, a stage worker, who just walked behind me onstage in the middle of the show, to get from one side to the other. There was no back way, usually there’s room behind the curtain to walk from one side to the other; after the show, a friend said, “What was the deal with the guy walking behind you during the show?” I said, “What guy?” He said, “A stage worker walked behind you from one side of the theater to the other in the middle of your show.” To me, it’s still one of the most bizarre things that’s ever happened to me. You’d think a guy would know—this is show business, you don’t walk behind a guy in the middle of his performance. But I guess he needed to get his screwdriver. [Laughter]
That is the casual midwestern attitude that we aim to cultivate over here.
It was a head-scratcher, for sure.
What is it like to be on the shortlist for the biggest names in comedy in a world right now that have multi-special deals with Netflix, which seems to be the new pinnacle? It’s you and a handful of comics now, is that exciting, is that a good referendum on where your career is?
Yeah, believe me, I’m quite flattered to get to a certain place, if you will, in comedy. I was very happy when Netflix offered me the two-special deal—the one I shot recently was the second of the two. I think Chappelle, Seinfeld, those are the kind of names that they normally give them to. I kind of know where I’m at, it seems like I have a pretty good stature within the comedy world but I know I’m not huge like a lot of these people. I have a niche following that’s big enough for me to have a nice career, but I never went super-wide. Everybody knows who Seinfeld is, everybody knows who Dave Chappelle is, but you’ve got to be into what I do to know who I am. In a way, that’s cool. The people who come to see me know what I do and that’s why they’re there.
I want to tell you that I think everyone knows who you are, but I can tell that you don’t love the praise of being asked about what it’s like to be the best of the best right now.
Well, I’m honored to do comedy and to get some laughs and have some people like it.
What was the last normal show you did before we slid into this year? Do you have a fun positive memory of what that was before the drop-off?
I’m going to look at my calendar, that’s a good question. I know I cancelled Florida’s shows, those were the first shows that I cancelled. Let me go back to my– [shuffling calendar] I believe my last show was in Chico, California. I was off the last two weeks of February, and then early March was when I was supposed to go back out, and that’s when the world fell apart. So yeah, if you’re going to have a last show, I always recommend that you do it in Chico, California.
Finally, I just want to ask: what’s the thing that you’ve done for your mental health, to stay cool and above it during the pandemic time?
I think I’m just doing what everybody’s doing. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed doing nothing. I think a lot of people, in the back of their head, go, “If only I had the time, I would re-organize my garage or read all these books,” and I had all that time and I still didn’t do those things. I’m perfectly content sitting on a couch with a pillow in my lap, watching some television or putting my head on that pillow and taking a nap. Doing nothing is thrilling for me.
That is a wonderful philosophy. Brian, thank you for taking the time to talk, and good luck on the road, man.
Transcribed by Anya Stanley, who you should hire if you have transcription needs.