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Brian Regan on fatherhood, college football, empty stages and private jet captains

Published: Sunday, Jan. 15 2012 3:00 p.m. MST

Brian Regan (Brian Friedman ) Brian Regan (Brian Friedman )

The Deseret News recently spoke via telephone with comedian Brian Regan, who will perform the first of 10 shows at Salt Lake City's Abravanel Hall on Jan. 18. Regan talked about everything from fatherhood to his college football career to why jokes about limousines and private jet captains aren't funny. He also explains why he tries to be more than just a "clean" comic. After all, an empty stage is clean, he says. Read the story here.

The following is a transcript of the majority of the phone interview:

Deseret News: Are you thinking of buying a house out here in Salt Lake? You're going to be here long enough.

Brian Regan: A lot of friends of mine who are from Florida, and that's where I grew up, are looking at my web page and saying, "What the heck is going on there in Salt Lake City, Brian?" It might not be a bad idea. I haven't looked into buying a home there yet, but I'm certainly flattered to be able to spend some time there.

How unusual is it to be doing 10 shows in one stop?

Oh, it's very unusual. I could lie and try to suggest that this happens everywhere. "Oh, it's always 10, 15 shows that I'm adding. It doesn't matter where I go, whether it's Des Moines, Iowa, or …"

No, it's definitely something that's unusual, but I'm quite honored to be able to have enough of a following there to be able to warrant it. But … listen, in addition to counting the shows I'm counting the goose bumps I have as a result of it.

Do you consider yourself to have a significant following here compared with elsewhere?

Oh, yeah. I don't want to sell myself short. I'm fortunate to have a following throughout the country. It might not be quite as avid as in the Salt Lake City and surrounding areas. But I do OK in a number of places around the country. Salt Lake City and all of Utah, obviously it's a tad stronger. So it's interesting to me. I love doing stand-up and I love when anybody else seems to take a liking to what I do. But, clearly, 10 shows is unusual.

You've spent some time here and you've seen the reaction from some audiences; why do you think your comedy resonates so much?

Clearly there's a community in Utah that gravitates towards cleaner comedy. So I know that that's part of it. I'd like to think that it's more than that, because I'm not the only clean comedian out there. I'd like to feel that in addition to being clean, it's also funny. I tell people that an empty stage for an hour is clean. People aren't buying tickets for that. But I think the clean part weighs into it certainly. But I also try to be careful not to gear my comedy … I try not to figure out what audiences are looking for.

I just do what I like to do, and if there are people out there who happen to also like it, then all the better. I've always liked doing this kind of comedy just because it interests me. I'm not necessarily Mr. Wholesome. I just like it as a comedic choice. It's sort of like a photographer might choose to work in back and white as opposed to color. It's a medium. To me, clean is a medium. It's a way of doing something. That clearly is something that's important to a lot of people in Utah. Like I said, I don't do it for that reason. I don't do it to get people to come to shows. But if people seem to like that, well then, cool.

There's not a whole lot of comedians out there — there are some — but there's not a whole lot who parents can feel completely comfortable sending their kids to or letting them listen to. What is it about you — your life, your upbringing, whatever — that makes you interested in that medium of comedy?

That's a good question. I don't know. I wasn't always squeaky clean as a comedian. When I first started, I had a handful of jokes that would have a four-letter word here or there. Or I might touch on a topic that some people might be surprised by. But I was always about 95 percent clean anyway. It's hard for me to know exactly why that's what interests me.

Someone surprised me by giving me a tape. He's a guy I went to college with, and he and I had done this fake interview when I was a freshman in college, before I even thought about being a comedian. … We just pretended we were these characters and he was interviewing me. … He gave (this tape) to me just a few years ago, after I had been doing comedy for years. And in the tape, I could see that he kept trying to take the interview on this dark and dirty tangent. And I kept putting it back into a cleaner tangent in my answers. You know, I would go for the more absurd, conceptual kind of stuff and he was going for the darker, crude stuff. And it interested me listening to this stuff, going, "Wow, that was my instinct even before I knew I wanted to be a comedian." So it comforted me to think, "Well, alright, then I'm going after my true path." It isn't like I've chosen this for career reasons. I've chosen it because it's what interests me. It was very gratifying to listen to that, going, "Wow, man, that is proof that it's just something that has always interested me."

I read that you played college football. Where did you play at and what position?

I was going to give a silly, flippant lie. I was the No. 1 player in the league … No, I went to a small college in Ohio called Heidelberg College. It's now a university, but when I went there it was a college. And I was a wide receiver. And I loved it. As much as I liked stand-up now, that's how much I enjoyed playing football back then. In fact, I have dreams to this day about playing football. I wasn't able to play my senior year, and I have one year of college eligibility left. And I have these dreams, literally, where I'm like a grown man going back to college to play my final year of eligibility. I have the dream like every six months. It's very bizarre.

Can I find your stats anywhere online?

I don't know. I remember a statistician telling me that after the first game — I don't know, I don't want to sound like I'm patting myself on the back — but I had nine catches in think in my first game of, I don't know if it was my junior or senior year, and the Heidelberg statistician after the game said, "You know you're leading the nation in receptions, right?" And I said, "No way." And then I got hurt and I didn't catch any more passes. But I loved it. To me it was like an art form just like stand-up is, trying to find the open area in the defense and catch the ball and let these people come and knock the daylights out of you and see if you can't hang on to the football. It's thrilling for me.

Did you watch the game last night? (Alabama's 21-0 victory over LSU in the BCS national championship game.)

Oh, yeah, I watched the big game last night, the national championship. I love it. … It wasn't an offensive showcase, that's for sure. … It was kind of ugly, and I hope that it leads to a playoff system. … I think it's like 80 percent of fans say that they hate the current system, that they want a playoff system, and yet it can't get done. It's so ungratifying. It's like, let the No. 7 team in the nation have a shot at it. Let the No. 12 team in the nation have a shot at it. I would love to see a playoff system."

The first time I actually heard your comedy was on Dr. Katz on Comedy Central. And I think one of the first jokes I heard you tell was about you having a big family and having name tags at Thanksgiving dinner. How much can family life be a source for comedy?

In a big way. But I walk a tightrope when it comes to my own kids, because I don't want my children to feel like I'm following them around with a notebook. I want them to just be able to be kids and be themselves and feel like they have a certain amount of privacy. I don't want them feeling like all of their behavior and everything they say can ultimately be on display so Daddy can get another album together. But that doesn't mean I don't notice some things here or there that I might be able to draw from. But like I say, when I'm on stage, I want to be autobiographical enough where people can sort of have a sense of who I am and what I'm about. But I don't want to go too far in that direction, either, because I want the comedy to be from an everyman's perspective. I want people to say, "Oh, wow, I've experienced that." If you get too autobiographical, then it's about me and not about all of us. And I like the comedy to be about all of us, including the people in the audience."

What aspects of family life can be particularly funny or effective?

The things children say, clearly. There's something naÏve about kids. They just approach things from such an honest perspective, even in the words they choose and things like that. The honesty of children just intrigues me. I took the kids to Disneyland, and our daughter, it was going to be her first time on California Screamin', which is the big roller coaster that has the loop de loop. And the two women that got off the roller coaster, that got out of the seats that I was going to get in with my daughter, one of them was hyperventilating and literally got on her knees. She was horrified by what had just happened. And I'm like, "Oh, my gosh, my daughter, this is going to be her first time. This is not what she needs to see." And I was telling that story to people afterwards — saying, "There's my daughter, and she's watching this woman hyperventilating and I had to try to comfort her." And my daughter was listening to me tell the story and then afterwards she said, "Daddy, I never even saw that lady." … She kind of brought that back to reality. It's like, "Daddy, that might be a funny story that you're telling, but it has nothing to do with what actually happened." So it's interesting. They have a way of grounding you and making sure that you don't go off on a tangent that's too silly or untruthful.

You appeal to a lot of generations. Do you take any satisfaction in that?

I do. But it wasn't by design. For years, I worked in comedy clubs. I only started doing theaters about seven years ago. And when I was performing exclusively in comedy clubs, you have to be an adult to go. You have to be 18 or 21, depending on the state. My comedy, it wasn't intended for kids. I mean, it was clean, I guess. But it was more for adults reminiscing about their childhood. My first CD had a lot of stuff about me feeling stupid in school and playing Little League baseball and things like that, and then it was released as a CD, and it was interesting to me that I didn't even realize that kids would respond to this. It wasn't even a game plan or anything. It just happened to be where, "Wow, kids like this, too, and families can listen to this together." But it wasn't by design. It was sort of like a happy accident. And then when I started playing theaters, I didn't even think in terms of the fact that kids would be coming to shows. I still thought it was for adults — not that it was adult comedy — I was just intending to do my show where more people could come to the venue. And it was weird for me that people would come backstage and say, "You know there's kids out in the audience." And I'm like, "Kids?" I was surprised by that. But it was like, "Wow, OK. I guess that's cool." The only thing that's challenging for me is I don't want my show to become a kiddie show. I don't want it to be too simplistic. I do have some points of view that can be sharp, sharp-edged. I do like to talk about things that kids wouldn't necessarily relate to. I talk about having high cholesterol and signing mortgage documents. I don't want to paint myself in the corner to where every bit is something that everyone can relate to. I try to be careful that kids won't be offended by it, but I don't want it to be that every single bit is a Pop-Tarts bit. I want older folks to be able to go, "Oh, wow, good, something that I can relate to a little more than kid-oriented show."

Could you give people a sense of what home life is like for you? What's your daily routine, and how does your work factor into that?

It's important to me to almost forget that I'm a comedian when I'm home and offstage. I think that helps the comedy to be real and be coming from a real perspective. I just like to live as normal a life as possible and take my kids to a fast food place or go to the mall or do whatever we're doing. It's always a little weird when that bubble gets popped, when somebody might recognize me and come up and go, "Hey, wow, Brian Regan." And I'm not even in that frame of mind. I'm just thinking, "I'm just buying my daughter some socks. I'm not here as a comedian." I'm always polite to anybody that might recognize me. I try to have the normal, non-show business life, and I think that helps the comedy. I try to separate the two worlds as much as possible. That's why when I'm here at home, I don't perform here. I don't want to be a comedian when I'm at home. I don't want people who know me talking about tickets. Hey, their friend's coming into town. Can I get them comps? I want to talk about my kids learning how to ride their bikes. I want to live a normal life and I want my kids to have a normal life.

Are there any jokes that your kids really like?

When they travel with me, which is quite often, I only want them to watch five minutes of my show each night. I don't want them to burn out on my comedy. When I get off stage and they quote something that's relatively new, it just means the world to me. My little boy was telling me that he liked my motorcycle routine and he was doing some of the bits and some of the lines. They have a way of being able to mimic me. I'm like, "Wow, I craft these little bits together that a 12-year-old or an 8-year-old can remember the actual words and the cadence and the delivery and they parrot it back to me." And I'm like, "They just heard that once, and it's already in their bones." It means a lot to me to have my kids like what I do. And that's why I limit them. But I don't want to put that pressure on them to be a fan of mine. I want them to think I'm Daddy. I don't want them to think of me as Daddy the comedian, even though I'm not naÏve. They know I'm a comedian. They know that people know I'm a comedian, and that sort of thing. But I don't really sit down and force them to listen to my DVDs or CDs or anything like that. When I'm on the road with them, what's more important to me than the show is going back to the hotel afterwards and reading them a story and tucking them in bed. I think the comedy is better if it comes from a real perspective. Once you start getting too high and mighty … the more successful you get, I think, the more it can ruin the comedy. You don't want to be doing comedy about limos and private jet captains. People in the audience go, "What the heck's going on here?"

Are there any of your jokes that you never get tired of telling?

I can get tired of all of it. That's why I like to keep replenishing. I take a lot of pride in trying to turn the material over. The main part of my show, I come out and I do 65 minutes, and then I do a 10-minute encore. The 65 minutes is hopefully from the last couple of years. And then I come out and do an encore, and that's when people shout (requests) out. I don't mind doing older stuff then because I feel like there's a clean, clear delineation between the two. If my entire show was a greatest hits, I think that would kind of drive me crazy because then I would feel like I'm not tapping into a new way of thinking and a new kind of comedy. But I don't mind revisiting some of the older stuff as long as it's a small proportion of the overall package. But there are times when, say, on a Thursday night, someone will shout out, "Do the school routine." OK, so, I've done that so many times and I'll do it on that night. And then the next night when I go out for the encore, somebody will yell, "Do the school routine." And I'll go, "Pop-Tarts! Great!" I selectively don't hear things I just did the night before. If you do it too often, then it doesn't come out truthfully. It comes out more as a memorized routine and then it's no longer funny when you're just reciting. You need to live it, man. You need to live it out. The less often you do something, the more you're in touch with the funny part of it.

Any thoughts on coming back here for these 10 shows?

I'm incredibly honored to feel like people want to come out and see what I do as a comedian. It means a lot to me. I try to be careful not to oversaturate the market. Like the last time I went through, I told the people that booked me, 'I don't want to go back right away. Let's wait a couple of years. Give me a chance to replenish some of this material. So I'd like to think if somebody saw me last time, that they're going to see hopefully mostly new stuff, at least compared to last time. In fact, that's one of my favorite compliments after a show, when people say, "Hey, man, we saw you last time you were through and this time most of the stuff we've never heard before." I like to feel like I'm throwing some virgin snow out there. Hopefully people appreciate that.

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