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Friday, March 16, 2012

Brian Regan interview 2012

With Brian Regan playing the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts tomorrow (Mar. 17), I thought I'd get you ready by sharing the transcript to the phone interview I did with him a couple weeks ago. The story I wrote from this interview runs in the Georgia Straight this week and online forever here. As always, there's so much more I couldn't get to in the article than I got in the interview. So enjoy. I did.

Brian Regan – February 20, 2012

 "I think my comedy is glom-proof because people tell me that they tried to tell my joke at a party or somewhere and everybody just stared at them. I don’t know whether to take that as a compliment or not. I’m like, alright, well, maybe you need the whole thing. Maybe it’s gotta be me saying it or else it just kind of falls flat. So that makes it glom-resistant." – Brian Regan

Guy MacPherson: Hello.
Brian Regan: Hey, this is Brian Regan for Guy MacPherson, please.

GM: Brian, hello.
BR: Hey, how are you?

GM: Great. How are you?
BR: Good.

GM: I say ‘great’ but I apologize in advance for any hacking cough or sneezing.
BR: Aw, man. Well, I wish you the best.

GM: Thank you. I imagine you have to perform sick, right?
BR: I do sometimes, yeah. It’s not fun, you know?

GM: What’s the sickest you’ve been on stage?
BR: I’ve had two experiences that come to mind. I get laryngitis sometimes and I had to do a two-show thing in one day where I could barely speak. It didn’t hurt that much doing it. I was okay; I just couldn’t talk that well. And the poor audience was like, “I think we’re here to understand and hear comedy clearly.” So it wasn’t the best show I can put out there, the best two shows. So that wasn’t fun. 

But then there was another that I did, I forget where it was. I normally don’t get headaches but I had this incredibly bad headache, the kind that ebbs and flows. And I had to muscle through the show. Oh man, it was horrible. Sometimes it would come right on punchlines but I had to have this happy exterior. I can’t let on to the audience that I’m in agony up here (laughs). I’m trying to give this illusion that, hey, man, isn’t this all fun? Aren’t we all having a good time? Maybe they were having a good time but it was horrible for me.

GM: Where was that?
BR: I forget. Norfolk, Virginia, comes to mind. It was in that part of the country. I can’t remember if it was there or not but it was in that area.

GM: The show must go on.
BR: Yeah. I don’t get that. (laughs) Where did this old adage come from and why do we have to subscribe to it? Why can’t I just say, “I’m not going out there; I have a headache”?

GM: I suppose you could… I’ve interviewed you twice before. The challenge for me this time is I’m not going to mention that you’re a clean comic because you must be sick of that. And I’m sick of writing about it.
BR: (laughs) Hey, you know what? I re-read the article that you wrote last time and I really liked the way you wrote about it. And I appreciate it.

GM: Oh, thanks. I’ll have to go back and look. I don’t remember.
BR: You touched on it but you mentioned it was something that I do but that I don’t tout necessarily. I think you captured it very clearly.

GM: Oh, good. I appreciate that. I’m a bit of a comedy enthusiast and I like all styles. I don’t get when somebody will like a comic just for the fact that they’re clean or just for the fact that they’re edgy. There’s gotta be something more to it.
BR: Yeah. I agree. I feel the same way. To me it’s like shock jock radio. I don’t mind somebody being a shock jock but are you funny? The shock in itself isn’t really hard to pull off, is it? And clean itself is not hard to pull off. I could sit down with somebody in ten minutes and tell them how to do a clean show but they might not get any laughs: “Just get out there and talk. Just go out there and say whatever comes into your mind. Just don’t hit that f-word!”

GM: That’s right! It’s a little harder to teach the “Be funny” part.
BR: Yeah, exactly.

GM: So we better stop talking about this otherwise you’re going to give me a great quote that I’m going to have to use… I interview lots of comedians and you always hear the names – and I don’t know if it’s true or they’re just parroting each other – Carlin and Pryor as big influences. I don’t know that I know yours.
BR: I never heard of either of those two comedians.

GM: (laughs)
BR:  Um… well, it’s interesting. When I wanted to do comedy, when I realized that’s what I wanted to do, I was going to Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio. Before computers. It was hard to get satellite TV in there. This is before the wheel. Before fire. And so there was nothing to be influenced by. At least my beginning thoughts of being a comedian. I mean, of course it wasn’t like I lived in a cave and didn’t see TV when I was home on spring break and stuff like that. But I think I was kind of fortunate in that I had to come up with some quirky thoughts on my own. There were comedians that I liked. When I was in high school, Steve Martin… I remember laughing in a different way at him than other comedians. I just found him absurdly off the tracks. But if you really analyze it, there was a smartness to it, you know? Sometimes I think you gotta be smart to be that stupid. The character, I mean. I remember laughing at him in a way that was, like, really interesting and fun, going, ‘Wow, this guy thinks in a very bizarre fashion.’ So he may have been one of the people who opened my eyes to the fact that you can be way off the beaten path and still make people laugh.

GM: It’s kind of like the rodeo clown. You have to be really good and accomplished before you can act stupid out there.
BR: Yes. One of my favourite scenes is in The Honeymooners when Ralph Kramden is on the roller skates and the character doesn’t know how to roller skate. When you’re watching it you go, ‘This guy clearly knows how to roller skate because he wouldn’t be able to look this bad unless he were really good.’ It was just a brilliant scene.

GM: You’re an influential comic now. I don’t know if you go out and watch comedy on a regular basis anymore, but there are guys coming up who sound like, you know, Mitch Hedberg or you or Bill Hicks or somebody like that. It’s like there are these templates and now you’re one of them. Do you ever see it or notice it?
BR: I do, a little bit. I don’t really do the comedy clubs anymore but it was interesting sometimes going to a comedy club and there’d be like a couple of younger comedians that I’m following and I’m thinking, ‘I think I’m following myself tonight!’ But it was very flattering. There’s a difference between being influenced and stealing, so I have no problem with somebody kind of adopting a little bit of this or a little bit of that. That’s how we all learn. But it’s when you’re blatantly glomming onto stuff, that’s a whole different animal. But yeah, it’s interesting to know that, or flattering to know that somebody might like my comedy enough to want to tap into it a touch.

GM: You haven’t been the victim of any glomming onto, have you?
BR: (laughs) I think my comedy is glom-proof because people tell me that they tried to tell my joke at a party or somewhere and everybody just stared at them. (laughs) I don’t know whether to take that as a compliment or not. I’m like, alright, well, maybe you need the whole thing. Maybe it’s gotta be me saying it or else it just kind of falls flat. So that makes it glom-resistant. (laughs)

GM: It seems like the so-called alternative scene has really moved into the mainstream, with the Louis CK, David Cross types. What do you think of that scene? They have a very personal style. With you, we don’t learn as much raw information about you as we do with these guys.
BR: That’s correct. And I think about that from time to time. Sometimes I wonder, ‘Is my comedy less valid because it’s not autobiographical?’ But then I get off that real quickly because I look at a Mitch Hedberg. There was no autobiography in his stuff; it was all conceptual. It was a fun way to look at things sideways. I’m not trying to say I do his type of comedy but I just use that as an example of it’s okay to just make somebody look at things at a weird angle and it doesn’t necessarily have to be about something from an autobiographical place; it can just be something about the world. So I like to think that my comedy is just as valid as anybody else’s; it’s just different, you know?

GM: I totally agree. For anyone who says comedy has to be truthful or autobiographical, there are a ton of exceptions. You could point to Mitch Hedberg or Zach Galifianakis or Demetri Martin that don’t do it that way. So anything is valid.
BR: Yeah, I agree. I don’t have anything profound to follow that with so I’m going to submit the ‘I agree’ and leave it at that.

GM: Okay. It’s tabled. I always feel we do learn about you and comics like Hedberg and the others of that ilk because we’re learning about the way you think, the way you see the world. It’s just not personal information.
BR: Yeah, it’s interesting. I felt that way doubling back to Steve Martin. There’s two ways of looking at it: His character, if you will, was just incredibly naïve and dumb but the way the comedy was put together meant that the comedian was incredibly brilliant. So you’re getting a double-barrel effect. So as an audience member I’m laughing at both simultaneously. I’m laughing at the dumb character but I’m laughing at the brilliant guy who created it and I’m enjoying the whole experience. So I’d like to think, if I’m on stage and people are laughing, that they don’t just see the dumb guy that I do sometimes and be like, ‘Wow, that’s just a goofy dumb character that he does.’ I’d like to think if they’re listening to it, don’t they realize that there has to be some kind of craftiness to it? But then you can risk over-analyzing it and worrying about stuff. I guess what’s frustrating is when you do a whole show, you make people laugh, you like to think through some concepts, and people after the show go, “I love it when you cross your eyes and hunch over!” You go, “Wow.” (laughs) I could have done that for an hour! I guess I didn’t need to say anything.

GM: Do you consciously avoid talking about yourself or revealing stuff about yourself, or do you just think you can’t make that as funny as the other things?
BR: Well, you know, I always tried to tinker with the formula, the ratio of what is autobiographical and what is not. In my last CD that came out, I have a couple of bits about my kids in there. I try to think of them as examples of just anybody that has kids themselves or just hangs out with kids. Just using mine as an example. But it always felt a little weird for me going, ‘This is me talking about my life.’ And my daughter, my sweet little girl, in the most beautiful way said that she loved my jokes but she felt a tad uncomfortable about the ones about her. And I haven’t told one about either of my kids since.

GM: How old are they?
BR: My boy is twelve, my girl is eight.

GM: So you won’t talk about your kids. Are there other topics you won’t discuss? You don’t really get into pop cultural stuff too much. I know you don’t get political. Are there topics where you just go, ‘Nah. Not for me’?
BR: At this point in time, yes. But I don’t like to make absolute rules because I think comedy is like a growing organism. You keep changing. Look at George Carlin. He did the hippy-dippy weatherman and then he came into somebody that was much more socially conscious. I don’t know what I’ll do in the future so I don’t like to say I would never talk about religion or I’d never talk about politics because I’m finding more and more that that kind of stuff interests me in my regular life and maybe that will creep its way in. I like to keep the doors open.

"The closer people are to you who like what you do, the more meaningful the compliment. When other comedians like what you do, that’s the ultimate compliment. The second level is making a comedy club waitress laugh because they have heard it all. I remember being on stage one time and seeing a comedy club waitress down in the front trying to hand drinks off looking up at me and she was laughing so hard that she almost couldn’t put the drinks down. I felt like saying, 'Folks, I don’t know if you guys realize what has happened here but I feel like I’ve just been knighted.'" – Brian Regan

GM: When I spoke to you when you first came here a couple years ago, that was I think your first time in Vancouver. Now you’re coming back more regularly. I see you’ve been to Victoria. Has the internet helped open the doors to other markets?
BR: For Canada, yes, because the television exposure… It used to be you had to have more television exposure than not to be able to seen. A lot of the shows that I was on in the United States I don’t think were necessarily up in Canada. The Letterman show, maybe some Comedy Central things. So I just thought that Canadian audiences weren’t as aware of me as United States audiences. But I think the internet, as you say, has changed that world somewhat. More and more even people in the U.S. say that they first got interested in me from YouTube. It’s flipped to that degree where people more often than not tell me that they first saw me on the computer than on television.

GM: And you’re okay with that because they’re coming out to see you.
BR: Yeah, yeah. I mean, yeah, absolutely. I’ve only seen a positive effect from it. The numbers are still good when I go to places. They keep increasing here and there so it’s like I don’t want to mess with it, you know?

GM: Yeah. As long as keep hunching over and making funny faces.
BR: (laughs) Yeah, exactly. That’s right, another reason to do that. That’s the way they used to do the I Love Lucy shows. They would come up with the silly thing first and then go, ‘Make it happen. We gotta get Lucy on stilts!’ They’d write some reason why she’s on stilts. So maybe I learned something in this phone call. (laughs) Maybe I should just go, 'There’s got to be some other ways when I can cross my eyes and hunch over!'

GM: (laughs) You released your CD on your website. Did you do this before Louis CK did?
BR: I’m not even going to come close to trying to claim anything like that. I mean, downloads were around before I did my download. I just came out with mine about a year ago or something like that. The one thing that Louis CK was able to do that I wasn’t able to do was pull in a million dollars in a day! (laughs) He broke the ground on that!

GM: It’s funny since that made the news all these young comedians are thinking, ‘That’s what I gotta do! I just have to release my CD on my own website.’
BR: Right. Like his talent and his abilities and his following didn’t have something to do with it.

GM: You are revered by lots of comics of all different styles, even if they’re filthy or edgy or whatever. They tend to look down at a lot of comics outside their clique, but you’re still the guy. That must feel good.
BR: Absolutely. I mean, the closer people are to you who like what you do, the more meaningful the compliment. When other comedians like what you do, that’s the ultimate compliment. The second level is making a comedy club waitress laugh because they have heard it all. I remember being on stage one time and seeing a comedy club waitress down in the front trying to hand drinks off looking up at me and she was laughing so hard that she almost couldn’t put the drinks down. I felt like saying, “Folks, I don’t know if you guys realize what has happened here but I feel like I’ve just been knighted.” How could I possibly get through to a comedy club waitress, you know? Anyway, I kind of got off track there, but people that are in the comedy world, that know the nuts and bolts of it, they’re going to see through façades, so if they like what you do, it means something. It makes you feel like maybe I’m on the right track here.

GM: I heard you on Comedy and Everything Else. Have you done other podcasts?
BR: I’ve only done a handful. I’ve done Greg Fitzsimmons, Tom Rhodes… I’m trying to think if I’ve done another one… Oh, Come to Papa. That’s actually not a podcast. He’s got an hour show on XM-Sirius. But those longer, hour-long forms of interviews, I haven’t done a lot of them but it seems to be the way things are headed so I’ll probably do a handful more.

GM: The only one that I listen to religiously is WTF with Marc Maron.
BR: Yup, yup.

GM: I don’t know if you’ve heard any of those shows or heard about them.
BR: I’ve heard a lot about them. I’m not a real podcast listener. I just don’t really do that, you know? But I know Marc Maron and I had an opportunity to do it but I haven’t been able to get the planets lined up to do it with him but I would be honoured to do his podcast, especially with all the good he has. I always like when somebody finds the vehicle that utilizes their talents. Marc Maron has been around for a long time and has always been a comedian that other comedians liked. He might not have had the following that he deserved but it’s nice for him to fall into this way of presenting his comedy, which is more conversational. It’s cool when people hit a vehicle that just takes them to the top.

GM: Is your brother still doing stand-up?
BR: Yes. He was writing for The King of Queens TV show, when it was on, obviously. Since then he’s back into the stand-up world exclusively. I think he would love to get on another TV show because he’s a very good writer and that sort of thing. He and I used to work together once a month but now he’s just kind of doing his own thing and loving it.

GM: Who was funnier as a kid?
BR: (laughs) Well, we have another brother who doesn’t do stand-up who was funnier than both of us put together.

GM: Older or younger?
BR: Our oldest brother Mike. I used to say to people you could ask my brother Mike a yes or no question and it wouldn’t matter whether he said yes or no, you would laugh. So in some cases it comes from attitude, you know? Yeah, he’s very funny. Everybody in my family is funny.

GM: I remember hearing Mike Myers saying that he was the least funny person in his family.
BR: (laughs) That’s funny.

GM: I know you haven’t had any regular TV exposure. Do you ever sit around and get jealous and go, “Why not me?” Or are you just happy with the career you’ve had?
BR: I used to get more envious. I don’t know if ‘envy’ is the right word because I never begrudged anybody hitting big if I felt they deserved it. And most people that would get a TV show, like Seinfeld or Ray Romano, I’m just completely happy for them. Kevin James, you know what I mean? These guys are strong, they’re good, and they deserve this. So I never was envious like, “Why did they get that?” But I used to feel that that is what represented whether or not you were a good comedian. So it used to bother me that I didn’t get that because I felt it was a quarterback who never won the Super Bowl. It’s like, “Well, I guess you’re a pretty good comedian but you never did get a sitcom so you can’t be one of the best.” So I used to want that feather in my cap just so it could represent that I had reached a certain level. But I don’t feel that way anymore. I have enough of a following and I think I’m respected pretty well, so I’m cool with just being a stand-up at this point.

GM: It’s more of a perception thing. People will go, “How good can he be if he’s never had a sitcom?”
BR: Yes, yes.

GM: How many weeks a year do you work?
BR: Roughly half the year. What I do is I’ll do four nights in a row on a weekend: Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And then I take the next week and a half off. So it’s 26 out of 52. It doesn’t exactly work out that way because I work a little less in the summer than in the other three seasons. So it tends to be three out of five weeks in those other seasons and maybe one out of five weeks in the summer. But for the most part it’s every other weekend.

GM: That’s a lot of press hours.
BR: Yeah. I recently have shied away from doing radio. I just kind of backed off that and I’m just doing print. I never felt like I was one of those guys that just really sparked on the radio so I started to lay low on that.

GM: Yes, the press is a cut above! But you must get some really stupid questions.
BR: (in an exaggerated radio voice) “For people who aren’t familiar with your comedy, what can people expect if they come out to your show?” I feel just like hanging up the phone: “Okay, the interview has to be over. Because clearly you don’t know anything about me.” And for me it’s an impossible question to answer to the point where you’re going to satisfy anybody. You can’t really do a bit after that question: “Well, here’s one of my jokes!...” It’s just going to fall flat. And the other way to answer it is to give a scientific answer. So I told my manager I’m tired of that question and similar questions so can we just lay low on the radio?

GM: But print guys can be just as bad.
BR: No, no, no. Print is clearly different, and I’m not just saying it because this is a print interview. Print is a half-hour interview and the people have to do a little bit of research whereas radio – and I’m not saying all radio hosts, but some radio people just wing it. Like, they’ll throw the press sheet in front of them two minutes before the interview starts and they’re just going in and not necessarily asking anything interesting, you know?

GM: I appreciate you talking. It was great.
BR: The next question on your hit list wasn’t, “For those people not familiar with your comedy…”, was it? That was going to be his closing question and I just riddled it to pieces!

GM: “Where do you get your material?”
BR: (laughs) Yeah, that’s right. There’s a place in K-Mart, a lot of people don’t realize that there’s an aisle in the back and you just go there and you just pick up what you need.

GM: (laughs) And then hunch over.
BR: (laughs) Yeah. Alright, Guy.

GM: Great, thanks a lot, Brian.
BR: I thought you were done. I would not cut you off.

GM: No, no. Yes, I was. I mean I am. But thank you.
BR: (laughs) Well, if you were, then how come we’re still talking?

GM: I don’t know. Well, let’s say goodbye then.
BR: Alright, man. Well, I appreciate it very much. I liked the last one you wrote. It felt like you were on it in terms of at least the way I look at things so I appreciate it.

GM: Oh, great. Thank you very much.
BR: Alright, Guy. Bye.

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