Cleaning Up

Brian Regan might be the most popular, least known comedian working today

Brian Regan is not "cool." He's not "edgy" or "hip." He's not part of the "alternative comedy" scene, nor a YouTube star. Ask someone on the street who he is, and more than likely you'll get a blank stare in return. Despite 35 years on the mic and stand-up shows that sell out 12,000-seat basketball arenas in some towns, Brian Regan is not a comedian recognizable by just using half his name, à la Pryor, Seinfeld or Schumer.

What Regan is, though, is simply one of the funniest people on the planet, and one particularly beloved by his fellow comics. Chris Rock says he's the last comedian he'd want to follow on stage. Bill Burr calls him "a master." Marc Maron says he's "the funniest guy," and Patton Oswalt dubs Regan "the best stand-up working today. Period." David Letterman made sure to include Regan in the last couple of weeks of his dearly departed show, the comedian's 28th appearance, and in September, Regan starred in Comedy Central's first-ever live stand-up broadcast, from the sold-out, 6,000-seat Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

The scale of places that comedy has taken him isn't lost on Regan.

"When I go back to when I first started, I remember a time when there was a local guy who had 12 minutes of material, and we'd look at him like, 'One day! One day I'm going to have 12 minutes of material,'" Regan says via phone from a Dallas hotel.

Regan has cycled through countless hours of jokes in the decades since he started working clubs in the Midwest after college in Ohio. Nowhere in those jokes will you learn much about Regan himself. He doesn't mine his family or the dark corners of his psyche for jokes, instead spinning laughs out of absurd observations about everyday events like childhood spelling bees or postgame sports interviews. He works "clean" and avoids controversial subject matter — hence Comedy Central's ability to broadcast him live, and his cross-generational appeal. He's a hulking physical presence, and gets a lot of laughs out of his facial expressions and body contortions.

You might think that working huge rooms and large theaters would mean Regan relies on his most physical comedy in those places, but he says they actually invite more subtlety than working in a club.

"In a comedy club, it's more of a three-ring circus sometimes. There's a blender going off in the back, and Joey's 40th birthday is over here. You're an emcee in addition to being a comedian," Regan says. "In a comedy club, you always have to be ready to push on the gas because you have to muscle through some of those challenging moments. It can get a little crazy, and sometimes louder and sillier can get you through those tougher times.

"When you're on stage in front of a bunch of people who have your name on their ticket, they're much more willing to ride your ride. I like loud and silly, too, but sometimes I like to do stuff that's lower-key, where you have to think and fill in the blanks. It's nice to have a more balanced attack," he says.

Given Regan's everyman appeal, undeniable chops and success selling tickets and DVDs of his shows, it's surprising that some savvy network exec hasn't turned his stand-up into a sitcom, like Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K. or less successful efforts from the likes of John Mulaney or Whitney Cummings.

It's not for lack of trying. Regan has taken his share of network meetings through the years, but for the most part they've left him frustrated.

"I've never walked into a network meeting where they've gone, 'Wow, this is that guy we've been hearing about!'" Regan says. "I still am interested, but I would need autonomy, complete autonomy. I have negative vibes toward at least the major networks ... I would like to have only one network meeting, where they go, 'Hi, we're the network. Do whatever you want. You'll never see us again.'"

Until then, Regan will be satisfied working the room and making it laugh, whether it's a corporate gig like the one he's doing in Dallas, or the two packed shows Saturday night at Northern Quest Resort & Casino's Pend Oreille Pavilion.

"I try to make the audience this one 'thing,' and I try to make that thing laugh," Regan says. "It doesn't matter if it's 200 people or a couple of thousand, you're just working on the jokes and making that thing laugh." ♦

Brian Regan with Dan Cummins • Sat, Feb. 13, at 5 and 8 pm • $45/$55/$75 • Northern Quest Resort & Casino • 100 N. Hayford Rd., Airway Heights • • 242-7000

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About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...