By JACKIE MOE
Comedian icon Brian Regan has a lot going on.
After three decades of consistently touring and appearing on late night television, he is currently gearing up to record his second Netflix one-hour special planned for release in 2019, premiered his new Jerry Seinfeld-produced Netflix sketch comedy series “Stand Up and Away! With Brian Regan” in December, and stars as a recovering addict in Peter Farrelly’s TV series “Loudermilk.” The 60-year-old is also on his non-stop theater tour, making a return to Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa on April 5.
The comedian, who Vanity Fair deemed “the funniest stand-up alive,” chatted with Jackie Moe of Backstage SoCal about his latest career shift into television, writing process (or lack thereof), challenges in the modern comedy climate, future plans and more.
How has life changed for you since making your way into the world of Netflix?
REGAN: Well, now I walk around and wear rhinestone capes, you know? I have a few white tigers now that walk around my apartment. [laughs] No, not really. I mean, I’m very fortunate that I have this nice opportunity with Netflix, and my personal life still moves along the way it used to. Everything’s good.
You have obviously done a ton of TV appearances throughout your standup career, but what led you to making this bigger step into acting and television?
REGAN: There were a couple of things that factored into “Standup and Away!” Jerry Seinfeld is the executive producer and he’s obviously like a top dog in the comedy world, and he was kind enough to want to spearhead this process to be able to give me a show. So I was truly honored by that and I had an idea for a show that I shared with him when he said he wanted to do something like this and I wanted to do my older stand up routines. I also wanted to do new sketches. So I thought maybe if I put them together in a show, that could be kind of interesting. So it’s been fun to do and I’m happy that Netflix is kind enough to give me the opportunity.
You’ve had enough longevity and are popular enough to probably stay put and people will come to see you. What drives you to continue to hit the road?
REGAN: Well, I’ve tried to do shows in my living room, but no one shows up! No but you say people are nice enough to come to me, but they’re not willing to come all the way to where I’m living. I have to get on an airplane and go to where the people are. But I like being on the road; I’m flying tonight on a red eye to Washington D.C. to do shows there. So there’s a lot of traveling involved, but it’s fun to be able to see the country and it’s fun to make people laugh in the four corners of the United States.
I know comedians don’t like to share what topics they are going to talk about in their show — or they have no clue what they are going to talk about until they are on stage. But are there any specific unique aspects to this tour?
REGAN: It’s always so hard to describe the comedy, because it’s just kind of a murky thing. I read somewhere, somebody said talking about comedy is like dancing about architecture; like it’s just kind of hard to do. But it’s just me doing my standup, and some people are curious as to whether they’re going to see a lot of stuff from my previous Netflix special. I usually try to move away from whatever the last hour is. I’m working towards my next Netflix standup special, which is different from ‘Standup and Away!’ I’ll be doing another stand-up special next year. And so I’m in the process of trying to create a new hour. So that’s what people will see when they come out.
What are your biggest challenges as a comedian today?
REGAN: Well there are a number of things that are challenging in today’s climate. One is the world is very divided politically and a lot of people want that to be reflected in comedy and a lot of people don’t want it to be harped on in comedy. That’s one thing. I don’t go by what other people want anyway. I go by what I want to do as a performer. But another thing that’s challenging is the explosion of smartphones. You know, you get on stage and you have a lot of people that want to have their phones out there either taping you like reading things that have nothing to do with you. You know, it’s very disturbing to be on stage and look out at people and see their faces lit up from their iPhone screens. They don’t even realize I can see you, you know? So it hurts my feelings when people would rather look at their iPhone screen than pay attention to what I’m talking about.
I read somewhere that you like the stage lighting to be situated so you only see the first few rows of the audience during your shows — which I know many performers prefer, but why do you?
REGAN: Yeah, every performer has a different thing. I think most performers only want to see the first few rows. So I don’t know if I’m unusual in that way. Some people don’t want to see anybody, they want the light so bright they don’t see anybody. And some people want to see everybody. But I’d rather just look out and pretend like I’m seeing the audience, but concentrate on the words that I’m saying and what I’m doing. I want to be more into that than watching people’s reactions. I’d like to hear the reaction than actually see the reaction.
You’ve probably been asked this at least a billion times, but do you have a writing process?
REGAN: Well, for me it’s more natural. I hope that doesn’t sound cocky. I’ve tried to sit down and write, but that doesn’t work for me. At least in terms of standup comedy, I’m not good at sitting down and trying to create something out of nothing. When I start with nothing, I end with nothing. Right? I need to be out in the world just doing my normal thing. And every once in a while you see something that feels interesting, comedically, and you go, ‘Hey, that could be a bit.’ And then once you have the idea, then you can sit down with a piece of paper and figure out the words you want to convey it. But the original idea has to come from outside and not from inside, at least for me.
Do you feel like you see the world differently or do you feel like you are just more inclined to notice things?
REGAN: Now let me try to explain this. You know, those 3-D posters where you look at a poster and it’s just looks like a bunch of weird shapes and then somebody says, ‘No, you got to look at it and relax your eyes and you’ll see a dinosaur’; and you look at it and go, ‘I don’t see the dinosaur, I don’t see the dinosaur, I don’t see the dinosaur.’ And then all of a sudden you go, ‘Oh, okay, I see the dinosaur.’ That’s what jokes are like, you know? You’re out in the world and most people are going, I don’t see the joke, I don’t see the joke. But every once in a while, a comedian goes, oh, I see the joke. I see what’s funny about this. So that’s the best way I can explain it is by equating it to 3-D dinosaurs [laughs].
The point is, everybody sees the same thing, but not everybody notices the same thing. And those are two different things, seeing and noticing. So I guess it’s the same comedically. It’s like every once in a while I’m fortunate enough to see something in a way that I feel I can put on stage as a joke. And sometimes the more common or simple the experience, the better it can be for the audience because everybody relates to it. And hopefully you’re doing something right and finding something interesting about it. Even though the experience might be very commonplace, you want to try to find something peculiar within that. Wow I’m getting very scientific with my answers. [laughs]
You’ve had such a long career; have you experienced any sort of defining moment where you felt like you made it or have you felt like you’ve made it?
REGAN: For me it’s been very gradual. I never had a line in the sand moment where the day before was one thing and the day after, it was a completely different animal. I’ve never had that. I’ve had great opportunities in my career. I’ve been fortunate enough to do big shows on TV and stuff like that, but everything’s just added in a cumulative way to whatever following I have. But even as lucky as I am to have a following, I’m still not famous, but I don’t even care about that. You know what I mean? Like I have some people who know who I am and I can go to a city and fill a theater, but as soon as I leave that theater, half a mile down the road, nobody knows who I am. I find that very intriguing. So there was never that ‘eureka!’ moment with my career. Everything just little by little adds to the overall package.
What’s in the future for Brian Regan?
REGAN: Well, I still like doing stand-up and I’ll be doing that for awhile, but I hope that Netflix will allow me to make some more ‘Standup and Away!,’ but I’m also in a TV series called ‘Loudermilk,’ which is about substance abuse. Peter Farrelly who just won for Best Picture for ‘Green Book’ is the creator of this show. It’s on an obscure channel, the audience network on DirecTV, but we just got picked up for a third season. It’s a dark comedy and I get to play a recovering person. It’s funny but it’s also serious and I enjoy doing it because I’ve just been a stand-up my whole career. And then to be able to do a little bit of acting is very rewarding. I’m always gravitating towards analogies, but I guess when I’m on stage as a stand up, I’m the entire pie. But with the TV show, I’m just a piece of the pie, and it’s fun to just be a piece sometimes.
Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 5
Tickets: Start at $54.50 In person
Phone: (714) 556-2787