Read any story about Brian Regan, and you’ll almost certainly find the word “clean” used to describe his comedy before you get to the end of it.
So now that we’ve met that prerequisite, let’s get this out of the way: That label bugs him. In his mind, he’s not a “clean” comedian – he’s just a comedian.
“I’ve been using this analogy recently, and I’ve gotta stop because I feel like I’m comparing myself,” says Regan, who performs his stand-up show Saturday at Ovens Auditorium. “But if you listen to the Beatles’ music, the Beatles’ music is clean. What they would think if people said, ‘Wow, your music is so clean! Is that why people like you, because your music is clean?’ I think they’d say, ‘I guess it’s clean, but that’s not the point.’
“I feel the same way about the comedy. I don’t think, ‘Man, My act is lily white! These people are gonna be so happy about how wholesome and sanitized it is!’ ... Just because I don’t talk about X, Y or Z doesn’t mean that somebody who likes X, Y and Z can’t also like A, B and C. I don’t know why I answered that question with letters. I think I gave you a more confusing answer than if I had used actual words.”
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Without uttering a single F-bomb since beginning to make his way up nearly 20 years ago, Regan has built a resume that includes 26 appearances on “The Late Show with David Letterman” (the most of any comic on the CBS show); two hour-long Comedy Central specials; a featured guest spot on Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” web series (in 2012); and two sold-out shows at the 12,500-seat Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City last month.
Yet at 56, he still isn’t a household name, and he still finds himself in situations where people don’t know he makes his living telling jokes in front of huge crowds. When his occupation does become the topic of conversation, it can make Regan a little anxious.
“I’m probably more paranoid about it than I should be,” he says, “but ... if you’re at a social gathering and somebody mentions that you’re a comedian, sometimes I feel like they’re looking at you like, ‘Well, this guy hasn’t made me laugh in the last five minutes.’ So it’s hard for me to be funny if I feel like I’m in ‘prove-it’ mode.”
On stage, though, being funny comes easy to Regan, who can spot the absurdity in the most mundane everyday activities and items: visits to eye doctors, ironing boards, dinner parties, telephones, dogs, food labels, walkie-talkies, UPS delivery workers, airplane cabins, shopping for refrigerators – you name it.
These jokes all spring from random observations. Basically, when he sees, reads, or experiences something that has potential, he’ll jot it down or tap it into the Notes app on his iPhone, then later will work it into a rough draft that has a beginning, a middle and an end.
But they don’t come fast and furious – only sporadically – and they rarely are conceived when he’s actually trying to come up with material.
“I’m not good at just sitting down in front of a blank piece of paper and saying, ‘Alright, come on funny stuff! End up on this page in front of me!’ The thing that works best for me is to just go through my day and go through my life the way I normally would,” says Regan, who’s talking to the Observer by phone from his home in Las Vegas.
Then suddenly, mid-conversation, he interrupts himself.
“I’m sorry, I’m watching a jerk in a car outside of my window. People can be jerks inside their hunks of metal. Guy was honking at an old lady because she was walking too slowly across the street,” Regan says, laughing incredulously. “What kind of human being does that? Oh my God. What a horrible, dark soul.”
You can almost hear the wheels turning. There’s a joke there, somewhere.