Comedian Brian Regan Sees The Dinosaurs In Everyday Life

Apr 26, 2019
Originally published on April 26, 2019 12:16 pm

Entertainment Weekly once called Brian Regan "your favorite comedian's favorite comedian." Chris Rock has been quoted saying: "No comedian in the world says, 'Yeah, I want to follow Brian Regan.'" Bill Burr said on his podcast: "Brian basically goes out and, for 90 straight minutes, it sounds like a jet is landing, how hard this guy kills."

Regan has been "killing" on the road pretty much nonstop since the 1980s. And he also keeps his act clean — free of profanity or explicit jokes.

If he were a rock star, one of his hits might be called "Dora The Explorer." "First of all, do the producers think that rhymes?" Regan asks earnestly in one of his stand-up specials. "Maybe that rhymes in the Kennedy household: 'Put on Dora the Explor-ah.'"

Another hit would be "Sports on TV," a riff on sports interview clichés: "Then I get to hear my favorite sports reporter question: 'Would you consider this a must-win game?' And they always feel they have to say yes. 'Yeah, we wanna win it. It's very important [to] have momentum and, you know, we have our uniforms on anyway. Might as well try.'"

With an almost cartoonish, Chaplinesque flair, Regan puts his entire body into his act, furrowing his eyebrows when he's confused, shuffling his feet when he feels dejected, awkwardly swiveling his hips to demonstrate how poorly he dances.

Since Regan performs his silly, physical, observational humor free of curse words, families flock to his shows. At a recent run at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., 15-year-old Alissa Timko was there with her parents. She says one of her favorite Regan bits is about him being "Stupid in School."

"He describes how he fails at spelling and the science project," Timko says. "Oh, my God, that was funny."

YouTube

Regan's science-fair rejection story debuted on his first album, Brian Regan Live in 1997. It's a bit so popular that fans have created short films to go with it (like this one, or this one).

Brian Regan says comedians notice things other people don't always see. He compares it to those 3D stereograms in which there's a hidden image within an image — like a dinosaur.

"And you look at it, go, 'I don't see a dinosaur. I don't see a dinosaur. I don't see a dinosaur. Oh! Oh I see it.' That's what jokes are like," Regan says. "You look at life. You look at it the same way everybody else does. But for a comedian, every once in a while you see a dinosaur. You see a joke. You go: 'Hey, there's a joke there.'"

Regan grew up in suburban Miami with his parents and seven siblings. ("All my brothers and sisters are funny," he insists; his brother Dennis Regan is also a comedian.) It was his college football coach, at Heidelberg University in Ohio, who encouraged him to try theater, which eventually lead him to stand-up.

"I dropped out of college to do it," Regan says. "So imagine that phone call to mom and dad."

He says his parents didn't like the idea — but also didn't stop him. After auditioning for a spot at a comedy club in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the manager told Regan he could perform as often as he wanted — but only after the headliners. For about two years Regan performed there every single night it was open.

"It was at the end of the show after the other comedians were done," he says. "The audience was walking out. It was not an easy atmosphere. But I figured: I'm going to learn something every time I get on stage."

After that self-imposed boot camp, he started touring small clubs around the country. Regan landed a spot on The Late Show with David Letterman on CBS in 1995. He was invited back 27 more times — more than any other stand-up comedian on that show.

In the early years, Regan's work ethic gained him something of a reputation among his peers. He was known to go on tour with enough jokes to fill two completely different shows, so audiences could come back twice in one weekend knowing they wouldn't hear the same bits again.

Comedian Ray Romano, who shares the same manager with Regan, admits to being a little bit envious.

"I'm like, 'How can he write that much material?' It's just incredible," Romano says.

Romano says Regan's output is even more impressive given that he doesn't curse or tell dirty jokes, known as "working blue."

"Not to take anything away from crafting comedy and being blue," Romano says. "I just think the degree of difficulty is much harder for Brian and I just give him more credit for it."

While Regan is thrilled his stand-up has a multigenerational appeal, he bristles a bit at the "clean comedian" label.

"Because I think when you see the word 'clean' associated with comedy, a lot of people think that that's the point of it," Regan says. "Like, 'Oh he's trying to be wholesome. He's trying to make a statement.' And that's not it at all. There are comedians out there who work dirty who I think are great."

Regan says that when he first started doing stand-up, he had a few four-letter words in his act.

"But I found that that didn't feel natural to me," he says. "You want to feel like you're as in-the-moment as possible. You want to feel real. And that stuff doesn't feel real to me."

At this point, the real Brian Regan is so popular, he doesn't do clubs anymore. Instead, he fills civic centers and arenas around the country. And if you can't catch him there, he's on Netflix with a stand-up special (Nunchucks and Flamethrowers) and a new sketch series (Stand Up and Away!).

Nina Gregory edited this story for broadcast.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Veteran stand-up comedian Brian Regan has been on the road performing pretty much nonstop since the 1980s.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIAN REGAN: I'm trying to go to more parties. I'm not - not good at them. I'm not good at talking to people...

(LAUGHTER)

REGAN: ...Which might sound weird in this setting.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Regan has been called your favorite comedian's favorite comedian. And he does it clean, without profanity, which may be one reason he consistently fills major venues. NPR's Elizabeth Blair caught up with him before a recent show at the Kennedy Center here in Washington, D.C.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: If Brian Regan were a rock star, one of his hits would be called "Dora The Explorer."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REGAN: First of all, did the producers think that rhymes?

(LAUGHTER)

REGAN: (Singing) Dora, the explorer.

(LAUGHTER)

REGAN: Maybe that rhymes in a Kennedy household. (Imitating Kennedy accent) Put on Dora the explor-ah (ph).

BLAIR: Another hit would be "Sports On TV."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REGAN: Then I get to hear my favorite sports reporter question. (Imitating sports reporter) Would you consider this a must-win game?

(LAUGHTER)

REGAN: They always feel like they have to say yes. (Imitating athlete) Yeah, we want to win it. It's very important to have momentum. And, you know, we have our uniforms on anyway - might as well try.

BLAIR: Since Regan plays it clean, families flock to his shows. Fifteen-year-old Alissa Timko (ph) was there with her family. She says one of her favorite bits of his is called "Stupid In School."

ALISSA TIMKO: He describes how he fails at spelling and the science project. Oh, my God, that was funny.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REGAN: I think the worst day was the day the science project was due. Waking up that morning, that was fun, huh? Your head would pop off your pillow. Oh, no.

(LAUGHTER)

REGAN: That's due today.

(LAUGHTER)

REGAN: I had nine months to work on it, and I did nothing.

BLAIR: "Stupid In School" is a bit from the '90s and was on Regan's first album.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REGAN: And you'd show up. You're scared because you don't have anything good. And you find out all the other kids, their parents made theirs for them. I hated that, you know? They're backing them in on flatbed trucks. One kid with a volcano, he didn't know how to zip up his own pants. But he built a volcano.

(LAUGHTER)

REGAN: How'd you swing that?

BLAIR: Brian Regan says comedians notice things other people don't always see.

REGAN: You know those 3D posters where it's just, like, weird shapes? And people say if you look at it for a while, there's a dinosaur in there. And you look at it and go, I don't see a dinosaur. I don't see a dinosaur. I don't see a dinosaur. Oh, oh, I see it. That's what jokes are like. You look at life. You look at it the same way everybody else does. But for a comedian, every once in a while, you see a dinosaur. You see a joke. You go, hey, there's a joke there.

BLAIR: Regan grew up in suburban Miami with his seven siblings. It was his college football coach who encouraged him to try theater, which eventually led him to stand-up.

REGAN: I dropped out of college to do it. So imagine that phone call to mom and dad.

BLAIR: Regan says they didn't like the idea but didn't stop him. He auditioned for a spot at a comedy club in Fort Lauderdale. The manager said he could perform as often as he wanted after the headliners.

REGAN: So I decided I was going to go on every single night. And it was at the end of the show, after the other comedians were done. The audience was walking out. It was not an easy atmosphere. But I figured, I'm going to learn something every time I get on stage.

BLAIR: After his self-imposed bootcamp, Regan started touring comedy clubs around the country. In 1995, he landed a spot on the "Late Show With David Letterman" on CBS. Regan was invited back 27 more times, more than any other stand-up comedian on that show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

REGAN: I went into a greeting card store today - too many sections. They have a whole section called blank inside.

(LAUGHTER)

REGAN: What the hell is a blank-inside card? So I've been sending them out. Sorry you're feeling so blank inside.

(LAUGHTER)

REGAN: I feel like that myself sometimes.

RAY ROMANO: I'm very envious of a couple things of his.

BLAIR: Ray Romano and Brian Regan started doing stand-up around the same time, before Romano became famous in the sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond." Romano says Regan is known for going on tour with enough jokes to fill two completely different shows. So his fans would come back twice in one weekend knowing they wouldn't see the same show.

ROMANO: And I'm like, how can he write that much material? It's just incredible.

BLAIR: And Romano says Regan does all that writing without curse words or dirty jokes, known as working blue.

ROMANO: Not to take anything away from crafting comedy and being blue. I just think the degree of difficulty is much harder for Brian. And I just give him more credit for it.

BLAIR: But Brian Regan isn't thrilled with the clean comedian label.

REGAN: Because I think when you see the word clean associated with comedy, a lot of people think that that's the point of it. Like, oh, he's trying to be wholesome. He's trying to make a statement. And that's not it at all. There are comedians out there who work dirty who I think are great.

BLAIR: Comedians, even those who work blue, are some of Regan's biggest fans. Chris Rock's been quoted as saying, "no comedian in the world says, yeah, I want to follow Brian Regan." And Bill Burr, one of today's top stand-ups who drops plenty of F bombs, called Regan a master on his podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "MONDAY MORNING PODCAST")

BILL BURR: Brian basically goes out, and for 90 straight minutes it sounds like a jet is landing, how hard this guy kills.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REGAN: You ever go to a brand new doctor, and the moment he walks in, you're like, no?

(LAUGHTER)

REGAN: No, this ain't gonna work out. I need an air vent or something I can crawl through to safety.

(LAUGHTER)

REGAN: I was sitting there. I'm nervous enough. Doctor walks in, all the buttons on his lab coat were off by one.

(LAUGHTER)

REGAN: If he can't nail that task...

(LAUGHTER)

BLAIR: Brian Regan says when he first started doing stand-up, he had a few four-letter words in his act.

REGAN: But I found that that - that didn't feel natural to me. You know, it's like you want to feel like you're as in-the-moment as possible. You want to feel real. And that stuff doesn't - doesn't feel real to me.

BLAIR: The real Brian Regan is so popular, he doesn't do clubs anymore. Instead, he fills civic centers and arenas around the country. And if you can't catch him there, he's on Netflix. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.