It's not something a professional journalist should probably admit to, but it was the first time it's happened so my track record is pretty good. Regan is a morning person. And I'm not. Still, I'd done plenty of morning interviews over the years so his request to talk at 8:30 one Tuesday morning wasn't a problem. Or wouldn't have been had I remembered it. The night before, funnily enough, my wife asked me if I had anything coming up. I said I had to interview Brian Regan next week sometime.
Cut-to: The next morning. I'm lying in bed. My son is haranguing me to get up. I ask him the time. He says it's 8:15. i.e. way too early for me. I tell him I'll get up at 8:30. Well, 8:30 comes and I'm still lying there and the phone rings. Who the hell would be calling me at such a time? I figure it's my wife so I let my son answer. I hear a man's voice on the other end so I grab the phone, half asleep. "Hi Guy? It's Brian Regan." Shit! I had completely forgotten the interview was today. I had prepared no questions and he's a busy guy. There's no way I can ask him to call back. So I fake it. "Oh, hi, Brian. Can you hang on for just a second?" And then I scramble, running downstairs to find my iPod, which I record phone interviews with. Check. Then I need the mic attachment so I run upstairs. Not there. Run back downstairs. Not there. Run back upstairs and find it in my pants pocket. Quickly set up recording and then breathlessly greet Regan, who's waiting patiently on the phone. Good guy, that Brian Regan.
Then I proceeded to interview him without any preparation whatsoever. But I've done enough of them over the years I can fake it okay. We spoke for 25 minutes and I got some good info. But what I was most pleased in getting was his take on his Just For Laughs meltdown that I had heard so much about over the years. All I had heard was that ten years ago he had his first gala at the Montreal festival and that he kept stopping and restarting, exiting the stage and coming back out. But I had never heard his take on it. Part of me wondered if it was part of the gag and people just made too big a deal out of it. But Regan set me straight. None of this made it into the story because it's not exactly newsworthy a decade later. But I found it fascinating. And hilarious. Here's how the exchange went:
GM: Can I ask you about the Just For Laughs situation? About the time at a gala where you came out, left and came back. I keep hearing about this story but have never heard your take on it.Now that's comedy! If you're not familiar with Brian Regan, do yourself a favour and check out his clips on YouTube. Here's one of my favourites:
GM: So it is true?
BR: It is true.
GM: Because I thought maybe you were doing it as a joke or something.
BR: No. No, I wish. I mean, there are some people who say, "Was that like a performance art kind of piece?" I guess I could take the easy way out and go, "Yeah, people just didn't seem to get it." But it wasn't at all. (laughs) It was a disaster is what it was! An absolute disaster. I remember all four moments. I can actually defend every time I walked offstage and came back on but I guess in hindsight it sounds ridiculous. Ultimately, to make a long story short, it was one of the worst nights of my career.
BR: Oh, yeah. That night I was so embarrassed and everything. I talked to my manager. This isn't like bombing at a corporate gig where nobody knows and you lick your wounds and go up to your hotel room; this is bombing in front of the comedy community! (laughs) I said, "I just feel horrible about this." He said, "You know what you ought to do?" – and I give him a lot of credit for this – he goes, "You ought to walk right downstairs" to where the bar was where everybody congregated at each night at the Delta, and he goes, "Just hang out. Have fun." And so I did that. I went down there. Everybody came up. Everybody wanted to talk about it. It was the talk of the festival! But at least I was there laughing it off. Hopefully I have a decent enough reputation amongst comedians where it wasn't a career killer, but it was about as close to a career killer as you could get without actually going down.
GM: When was it?
BR: It was about ten years ago.
GM: And obviously it didn't affect you.
BR: I don't know if it affected me at all but in my mind it certainly was an ouch moment, you know?
GM: Was it just that you flubbed a line? Why did you keep starting over?
BR: Well, the initial reason why I left the stage was Dame Edna was the emcee, the host, and she came out – he... she... I don't know what the politically correct way of saying it is – her character came out and did a lot of self-deprecating stuff saying, "Yes, it's truly me, it's truly me! Can you believe it? Yes, I'm right here before your very eyes! It actually is me!" And the crowd was going nuts. They loved the character. I was the very first comedian after her. I was the first comedian that she introduced. So she introduced me and I came out. And I thought I would be self-deprecating and make fun of myself, so I said, "Yes, it's truly me!" You know, like a little call-back to what she did. "It's truly me! Yes, can you believe it?! I'm actually here!" And they did not laugh at all. No one laughed. It just bombed. So in my mind I'm thinking, Wait a sec, maybe they thought I was making fun of her. Which wasn't my intention. I was trying to make fun of me! So then I got into my bit. I just started getting into my routine and it got nothing. Like, literally nothing! I'd never heard silence be so loud in my life. It was getting like nothing. I was like, How is this happening? And then I started getting paranoid thinking they must have thought that I was slamming her and now they just collectively don't like me.
GM: All these things just racing through your head.
BR: Oh, my gosh, my brain was just trying to figure things out and all of that. One time before in my career I had stopped a taping when I had flubbed a line and got off stage and came back out and redid it and killed. So I had that little red flag in my head going, "You know what I'm going to do? I'm gonna try that trick!" So I said, "Hey, folks..." I didn't want to try to over-explain it with the Dame Edna thing, so I said, "I think I messed up here. I messed up a line." I kind of white-lied it. So I left the stage, came back out and didn't do the "Yes, can you believe it's me?" stuff. I just went into the bit. And then they still didn't laugh at all! (laughs) They didn't laugh one bit.
GM: They were in shock. What did he just do?
BR: Yeah, I think they were stunned. Like, nobody knew what was going on. My manager, who I saw briefly backstage when I ran off, didn't know what was going on. Everybody was looking at me strange when I left the stage. So now I'm out there and I'm thinking, "They're still not laughing." So I stopped it that time and I said, "Oh, folks, just try to react naturally. You know, normally." Now I'm scrambling.
GM: "Laugh, dammit!"
BR: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I said, "Oh, this is for a TV thing. I know it's weird that I started again but if you could just laugh normally and it'll all be cool. Alright, I feel like a moron. I'll be back in a second." So I left the stage for the second time. I run back out and I start doing the routine again. Now they start laughing like sarcastically over-the-top. I said, "Hey, I'm Brian" and "Ahaha!" and huge applause. Now I'm thinking this is a nightmare. If anybody watched the tape, they're not going to show the first two, I'm thinking. So I stopped again, the third time, and said, "You know what, folks? I know you're trying to help me out and I appreciate it but this is for a TV thing so no one's going to understand why you're laughing like that, over-the-top. So just try to react normally." So I left the stage again! (laughs) And then I came back. Now this is my fourth time on stage. And now the audience, I'm sure, is like, "the hell with this guy!" So I started the bit again and they just stared at me for the entire time. I'm no fool! (laughs) I'm not going to leave a stage a fifth time! Only idiots do that! (laughs) So I stayed out there and bombed. Got nothing for my ten, twelve minutes and then just said goodnight and walked off to the most tepid applause I've ever heard in my life! (laughs) I was shell-shocked. I was absolutely shell-shocked.
GM: That's a great story. Maybe they put you on the French gala and they just didn't understand you.
BR: (laughs) Yeah, I wish!
GM: Did you ever think of defending it as some people thought, that it was performance art?
BR: No. I'm too honest. I like to live and die on my sword, or whatever that expression is. That actually happened so I just try to explain it honestly to people if they were curious. It was a tough deal, man. And I worried that it could have been a career killer at the time. But it ended up just a little bump in the road but it didn't hurt overall.