It's Not Easy Bein' Clean…
But Brian Regan has built a successful career on family-friendly humor

By Lee Valentine Smith

While other comics casually drop f-bombs and graphically detail their sexual adventures, Brian Regan offers hilarious stories that avoid profanity, politics and controversy. The technique has been a successful one for the Miami born comedian/actor who regularly headlines arenas and amphitheaters all over the country. On a lengthy tour that takes him across the USA and ends this winter at Carnegie Hall, the affable raconteur will be mixing material from his upcoming Netflix special with brand new stuff and a few familiar bits for good measure. INsite caught up with Regan by phone in the middle of a long day of promotional interviews.

In your episode of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, your friend Jerry Seinfeld asks you probably the best - and worst - question for a comic that I've ever heard: "Do you think comedians are kinda smart idiots?"

There's a lot of truth in the simplicity of that question. But there's a lot to it, maybe more than the average person out there knows. A lot of people just sit back and laugh or don't laugh, but there's a lot of work and everything that goes into it. You gotta be kinda smart and on the idiot side of things, it's a big risk to take, to get on stage and not do well. It's very humiliating and I've done it. Or if you do a kind of self-deprecating, even if it's working you're still exploiting your own weaknesses.

It's literally a big step to walk on stage alone.

It really dawned on me after my son was born. I took three months off to do the daddy thing and it was the longest time I'd ever taken off since I started doing comedy. Then one night I walked in, I saw the people sitting in the audience and then I looked at the empty stage with a microphone and I thought, 'Who do I think I am? I'm gonna entertain these people for an hour?' But when I got back on stage, it fell together, kinda like riding a bicycle. It's a big thing to undertake. Now I do it all the time, so it's not quite as scary. Especially if I'm performing in front of fans who already like what I do.

You'll have plenty of fans on your side in Atlanta.

I've had a good time in Atlanta over the years. I've been fortunate enough to do the Fox Theater which was a big deal for me and the Cobb Energy Center. Then before that, for years I played at the Punchline and that's where I really developed my following in Atlanta.

The show coming up is at Chastain Park, which as you know, is an outdoor amphitheater. Does it change your performance style - to basically play in a room with no ceiling?

Most comics do like to have a ceiling, so the laughs kinda bounce around and you want the show to feel like it's just for this group of people. But when there's no roof it feels a little murkier because it's going up into the ether. Some comics don't like to work outside for that reason. But I actually like outdoor shows and I've asked my bookers to get more outdoor shows in the summer, just for the experience of it.

You mentioned the Punchline; before you made it to that circuit you took a rather unorthodox career route in the early '80s.

I decided I wanted to be a comedian when I was in college and when I made that decision the only comedy clubs I knew about were in New York City and Los Angeles. I thought I was gonna have to move to one of those two cities. As luck with have it, I was at home in Miami and I saw an ad for a comedy club that was opening in Fort Lauderdale. It changed my life! I was like, 'Wow, I can get to that comedy club with a tank of gas!' I was getting prepared to move to New York or L.A., that was my original goal. I didn't know how I was going to accomplish it but then to be able to try it right up the road was amazing for me. Then I went on the road and when I felt like I had enough skills, then I moved to New York City. Then things really started popping in a good way for me.

In three decades of touring, you've certainly endured a number of major changes in the mercurial industry.

When I started to go on the road, I was fortunate that comedy had just exploded and I was able to ride that wave. Then comedy dried up, but the people who already had a little bit of a following were able to survive that. I was lucky to have had enough of a following that I could perform in comedy clubs. If you were a draw, you could survive. I kinda rode that out. And now comedy is exploding again, and there's all these different ways people can make it, with podcasts and this and that and the other. It's tremendous. It's like the wild west in a way, there's so many ways of getting comedy to the people. I'm happy to be part of the ride.

Of course these days the most popular format is the hour special. You've been doing them for years, but now it seems like everybody has one.

I signed for two one-hour specials with Netflix, because that's the only way to impress people. I'm not belittling anyone who has a special, I just wanted a way to make it a little different. One debuts in November.

Will we see that material in the live show?

Now that the special has been shot, I'm working on writing new material and replacing it because my special is supposed to be in 2019. So it's a process and by the time I get to Atlanta, you'll still see some of the stuff that's in the special but a lot of the stuff that's not.

That's the main problem with all the new ways to broadcast comedy, it eats up material so fast.

Yeah, I'm always writing and replacing and movin' on but it's hard. It's like there's a big monster chasing you, like in a bad dream. It keeps coming. It's like the dream where you trip and fall and the monster's still coming for you. So I'm trying to stay ahead of the monster.

You're not even swearing at that darn monster.

In comedy everything is fair game, including language – for somebody. I don't like to do it because I want to make sure they're laughing at the thought and not the word, at the concept rather than the subject matter. But that's me. Look at Richard Pryor or George Carlin, they were geniuses. So if it's truthful and organic to who you are and what your message is, then I have no problem with it. But if you're on stage just pushing buttons because people will react, I'm less interested. Some people say hey if I say the f-word, they'll laugh so therefore I'm going to say the f-word. But that doesn't take a lot of skill.

That word is used so much, it's lost a lot of its power to be subversive.

Yeah, and you know I'm seen my some people as subversive because I work clean! I like when young people tell me they like what I do because I'm clean. You might think it'd be older people, but it's young people, because it is now different. People are like, "Why is this guy talking about poptarts?' But it's ok. I'm gonna do what I do, because that's what I do.

Brian Regan plays Chastain Park Amphitheater September 23 at 8 p.m. For more information, please visit chastainseries.com.

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