Veteran comedian Brian Regan's good-natured approach to observing and making fun of life's weirdest and most awkward moments has led him through a magnificent career.
Revered and respected by his contemporaries, Regan's relatively clean material and goofy, down-to-earth style has been a hit with a growing fan base for years.
Regan regularly avoids using any foul language or vulgar subject matter. His sharp, honest observations and vignettes don't need to lean on language or extra color; they're sturdy and effective as they are. And somehow, he makes it look easy on stage.
"It's a mixture of being relaxed and pretending to be relaxed," Regan says of his easy-going delivery. "Some of it is technique, and some of it is actually feeling comfortable. You have to learn over the years to make the stage yours."
Regan hit the road earlier this winter, performing a series of shows out West and along the East Coast. The current tour includes a return to the North Charleston Performing Arts Center on Friday, where local fans are sure to be delighted to watch Regan make the stage his again.
"There's so much psychology involved in performing, especially with comedy, that you need an audience to feel like you feel you belong on stage," Regan says. "If you give them any indication that, 'Ah, maybe I don't belong here,' they're going to sense that and lose faith in you, and then it's very, very hard to make them laugh. But if you give a vibe like, 'Hey, I'm up here to have a good time, and you're welcome to join in,' people are more willing to go along with it.
"It's a psyche game," he adds. "I think the audience kind of shrugs at some point and goes, 'Well, he's having fun ... I guess it's up to us to go along with it.' "
Regan grew up in the Miami area and settled in New York City in the late '80s. After working the comedy clubs of the city for a few years, he took his stand-up set on the road and gradually started working as a contributing writer for TV shows including MTV's "Half Hour Comedy Hour," and Pat Sajak's and Arsenio Hall's talk shows.
In the mid-'90s, Regan landed several spots on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," "Late Show With David Letterman" and "Late Night With Conan O'Brien." He was particularly successful on "Letterman," where he recently made his 26th appearance, which was the most of any comedian on the CBS show.
Regan's natural ability to poke fun at the little things in life that seem absurd and strange probably endeared him to Letterman the most. It's as if Regan had fine-tuned the art of shrugging off silly and serious curiosities, and the skill of inspiring his audience to shrug along with him
"I like to keep my options open in terms of topic choices," Regan says. "I try not to paint myself in a corner. Over the years, I've tried to guard against being easily defined, you know? As soon as I feel like I'm starting to be defined a certain way, I start writing away from that so that I don't become a caricature of myself."
Regan steadily built a loyal fan base in the late '90s and early 2000s, graduating from the small club circuit to larger venues and theaters around the country.
Over the last decade, he's averaged close to 100 cities each year.
Some of his best performances were documented and released as two hour-long Comedy Central specials, including "The Epitome of Hyperbole" (2008) and "Brian Regan Standing Up" (2007). His most recent CD release, "All By Myself," came out in 2011.
Watching footage of Regan in his concert specials, it looks as if he's simply winging it on the mic, coming up with material on the spot as it crosses his mind. But an awful lot of time, effort and self-editing goes into his bits, he says, explaining that he works tirelessly on developing the rhythm, dynamics and timing of his jokes and stories, no matter if the material is light and silly or heavy and challenging.
"Early in my career, people tended to say, 'Oh, you're the guy who feels stupid and awkward all the time,' and I thought, well that's part of my act because that's part of how I felt about life and part of what I wanted to explore on stage," Regan says. "Some people used to say that I was the guy who just crouched and prowled on the stage. That's like a performance technique, but I didn't want to be just that, so I started walking more upright. Now, I tend to have anger fantasies on stage (laughs)."
There's a tendency with some critics and fans to label Regan's comedic style as observational, but Regan chuckles at the tag.
"That's kind of a wide net to throw to say, 'This person is observational,' " he says. "It's like, OK, it's kind of hard not to be observational as a comedian, unless you were doing some really bizarre stuff. It's hard for me to even express what my goal is because I want it to be simple enough for my audiences to be able to relate and know what I'm talking about. I also want to occasionally push the envelope and push their thinking. There's a lot more going on than might appear. I'd like to feel like there's a little bit more there than just going on and acting like a goof for an hour."
As a young performer, Regan idolized TV comedians and variety show hosts like Carson, Bill Cosby, the Smothers Brothers and Letterman.
Although he's made numerous appearances on late shows, and a few cameos as himself on a handful of sitcoms and cable specials, Regan has never quite felt ready to make the leap from doing stand-up on stage to creating his comedy for a TV show.
"I like doing comedy, obviously, and I like coming up with the comedy itself," Regan says. "I've had my difficulties and frustrations trying to crack through into the television world because once you get to the network level, they have their own ideas about what's going to work on that level ... and I'm not someone who's really into compromising."
At this point in his successful career, Regan doesn't need to jump into the TV world to try to score a hit. He consistently sells out theaters and halls across the country. He is, however, a natural talent in front of a TV camera.
In 2012, Regan hopped in a snazzy convertible with Jerry Seinfeld during an episode of Seinfeld's web series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" (the episode is titled "A Monkey and a Lava Lamp"). Driving to grab coffee and bagels in Los Angeles, the two comedic pals simply conversed, riffed and cracked each other up for half an hour. The episode turned out to be one of the most popular of the series.
In 2013, Regan's nationwide theater tour landed in more than 80 cities. A film crew documented one of the largest shows of the tour, a sold-out concert at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater near Denver. The four-minute clip displays a focused, cheerful performer, an unpretentious one-man show, totally captivating more than 8,000 giddy attendees.
"I wouldn't say I was frightened," Regan says of the Red Rocks show. "It was exhilarating. I found that over the years that if a group of people is assembled to specifically see me, then I have a pretty good shot of gettin' them, you know? If they're assembled for another reason and I happen to be on the bill, it's a complete different story."
Perhaps the alternative, non-network side of the TV world suits Regan's style and philosophy best these days.
"I've always thought that as a comedian, it's a mistake to try to figure out what an audience wants," he says. "As an artist, you're supposed to do what you want to say, and hopefully your audience agrees. Otherwise, you're not being creative; you're just pushing buttons. Once you crack through to the network level, it seems to flip in the opposite direction where they're much more concerned with what they think people want rather than what you should be giving them.
"I try to make sure that I have each foot in two different worlds," he adds. "There's my showbiz world, the comedian world where I'm on stage and that sort of thing. But I feel like if my other foot isn't in reality, then I'm not going to be talking about stuff that the audience can to relate to. I like when I'm off stage to be as normal and unshowbizy as I can."