Brian Regan will be coming to Victoria for what should be called his “historical records” tour. Although Regan is not the kind of guy to claim such a title, he has every right to. After his record-sealing 26th performance on The Late Show with David Letterman (more than any other comedian) on May 8, Regan has been touring across North America, building up to a show at Radio City Music Hall, from which he will be airing the first ever live one-hour Comedy Central special. And then he’ll just keep on touring. His non-stop theatre tour has visited more than 80 cities every single year since 2005. This hard work earned him a 2014 American Comedy Award nomination for the Best Concert Comic.
The Martlet caught up with Regan over the phone ahead of his July 11 show here in Victoria. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Do you want to talk to me about your writing process? I’ve heard a lot of comedians explain that they just sit down for a couple designated hours and just write and polish bits. Is that similar for you?
Well, they are more diligent than I am. I’ve never been good at sitting down in front of a blank piece of paper for the initial creation process. That always has to come from outside me, you know? I always equate it to when you’re the one that’s chosen as the captain in high school gym class, and you’re gonna pick the basketball team, there is always a kid in the back jumping up and down waving his hand going “hey pick me!” Comedy material is like that. You’re just going through life and something just jumps up and down and says, “Hey pick me, I’m kind of funny!” So that’s the original idea. Then from that point you can apply a craft to it and say, “OK, now I’m going to sit down and try and pick the right words to convey this concept as much as possible.” So [with] that part of the writing, I’ll sit down and figure out, “How am I going to say this?” Then the third part of it is on stage. I tape all my shows and sometimes I find that, being on stage in the thick of it, I find a much more streamlined way of saying something. You know, when you write freehand or on a computer you tend to get really cutesy and clever, but it’s not necessarily funny. (Laughs) When you’re on stage you cut through the clutter and something in the back of your head says, “Say this now!” You say a much leaner version of it and you go, “That was the way to do it.”
With your historical live Comedy Central special airing on Sept. 26, you’ll have had this whole tour to preen and cut through the clutter of your material. About how much of that special will you be riffing or improvising?
During the special itself, I’m probably going to have it down, you know? There are different goals. When you’re just performing live in front of an audience you always want to give a good show, but at the same time you’re working and trying to develop new material. But for a TV set, you’re trying to have a pretty tight version of your material. I’ve always enjoyed doing The Late Show with David Letterman and for those, you know, you work on that set and really get the words down, so I think for the special I’ll probably know what I’m doing A to Z.
Are there any extra precautions or trepidations about your performance? Because your career is made of live performances, is this almost business as usual for you?
That’s a great question. There is a little part of me that is cautious about it saying what if something weird happens? What if you get a heckler that won’t shut up or a baby that won’t stop crying? But that’s the thrill of it as well. But, like you said, I do live shows every night I’m performing, so it isn’t like I haven’t done live shows. This is just another live show, but it’ll happen to be in front of a much larger audience.
I know that Steve Martin was an influence on you so yesterday I re-listened to a copy of A Wild and Crazy Guy that my dad had passed onto me when I started university, and I was just curious if you remember the first time you heard Steve Martin’s comedy.
I don’t know that I know the exact first time, but I remember being a huge fan. My brother (Dennis Regan), who is also a stand-up comedian, he and I were both huge fans of his and he was one of the few people who I would actually thumb through a TV Guide and say, “I wonder when he is going to be on again.” Any other comedian prior to that, even though I was a fan, I’d only see them if they happened to be on, like you’d be watching a TV show and they’d say ‘Tonight, George Carlin!’ Oh great! I love George Carlin; I’m going to watch! But Steve Martin I actually sought out. I still love listening to some of his stuff. Some of it you kind of go, “All right, that’s super on the silly side.” But he had that double-barrel thing going: silly mixed with smart. You know what I mean?
I think sometimes people missed the fact that you had to be incredibly smart to be that silly.
Brian Regan performs at the Royal Theatre July 11. Tickets are available at rmts.bc.ca.