Utah’s favorite comedian shares why mixed-up elevator conversations, backstage Band-Aids and gum-chewing violations in downtown Salt Lake keep him grounded in funniness and fatherhood
Brian Regan grew up in Florida and now lives in Las Vegas, but Utahns claim him as our favorite ‘clean comedian’ and we’re filling Energy Solutions — twice — this spring as he performs for the largest number of girth units in his solo career. Brian gave Utah Valley Magazine’s Jeanette Bennett 38 minutes and 40 seconds of silliness in early December.
UV: Last time you came to Utah, you kept adding shows until you filled Abravanel Hall 10 times. And now you’re filling Energy Solutions Arena twice. Do you love Utah as much as we love you?
Brian: I’m quite honored and tickled. Maybe I should just pick one of those words, but it’s thrilling to have anyone like what I do, so it means a lot to me.
UV: How do you explain your fan base in Utah? Have you figured out why you sell more tickets here than anywhere?
Brian: I like to think the funny part factors in at least a little bit. The last time I was here it was nutty! The crowds were just really, really fun. This next run will be the largest crowd I’ve performed for when the audience is there specifically for me.
UV: Mormons like to claim you as their favorite “clean” comedian. What do you know about Mormons?
Brian: I know it’s a religious community, and in my experience everybody I’ve met in that area is nothing but kind and sweet and wonderful to me. I’m very happy about that. It’s really cool.
UV: When I watch you perform with your untucked shirt and a simple microphone, I’m amazed we all happily pay as much to see you as we do a full-stage Broadway production.
Brian: It’s really cool to be backstage. Oftentimes I’ll perform in a place where either the week before or the next week they’re going to have a huge production in the same venue. I’m backstage and there is a big curtain and I’m looking at the curtain and to the right where the audience is I see a microphone, a stool and a bottle of water. And then to the left behind the curtain I see all the sets and seats for singers and all kinds of stuff, and I think what a difference a weekend is going to make.
It’s cool to go out there and entertain people for an hour, but it is also a little scary too, because if you’re in a big giant production and it isn’t going well you can go, “It’s not me, it’s these other people around me.” But if you’re on a stage by yourself and it’s not going well, you just have to go, “It must be me.”
UV: How much of a script do you have when you hit the stage?
Brian: I have an outline, but the parts are movable. I don’t like it to be overly scripted because I want to have to think so the show feels real and “in the moment.”
UV: When you are developing material, do you come up with a bit and think, “Utahns are going to eat this up”?
Brian: I don’t feel that way. I just try to think of bits that will work anywhere and everywhere. I always try not to figure out what anybody else is going to like because I don’t think I’m qualified to do that. I don’t think I have the kind of talent to know what other people are going to like. I can only come up with what I think is funny. I know I can think of things that I think are funny; then I’ll get on stage and see if audiences agree. If they do, I have something new for my act. If they kind of look at me with a quizzical look, which I think this is the first time I’ve ever used the word quizzical in my life, then I’ll go maybe I need to work on this bit or move on altogether.
UV: What are you doing backstage during your opening act?
Brian: I like to watch the first comedian go out on stage so I can experience his intro and watch the crowd welcome him. After a minute or two, I’ll go backstage. Sometimes there’s a sound system so I can hear the other performer, but usually I’ll go through my notes and start focusing in on my act. And there’s one thing I’ll always do before going on stage — I re-tie my shoes because I’m a little crazy.
UV: What kind of father are you?
Brian: My son is 14 and my little girl just turned 10. They might be with me when I come to Utah in February. I like to bring them with me on weekend runs, and the Utah shows are going to be especially exciting. It’s so grounding to walk off stage after a great show and have your little girl say, “Daddy, my fingernail broke.” It’s such an extreme in worlds. I just killed in front of 2,000 people and now I’m putting a Band-Aid on a pinkie. But I like that. It brings me back down to the world the way it’s supposed to be.
UV: See — that’s exactly what Utahns like about you. You relate to family life. Are toddlers or teenagers funnier?
Brian: When kids are younger there’s a lot of humor when they take things literally. But I try to be careful not to mine my kids too much for comedy. When they are with me, they can trust that I’m just their daddy and not a comedian following them around with a notebook. I’m a daddy first and a comedian second.
UV: You grew up in a large family — even by Utah standards — with eight kids. Was your family religious?
Brian: My mom and dad were very religious — they are both 87 now. As kids we kept varying degrees of that as we’ve gotten older. But that was definitely a part of our lives when we were young. We’re still very close as a family and get together as often as we can. We had a lot of laughs and joy growing up, and it fueled my comedy. I like to notice goofiness and weirdness and negativity in the world. But overall things are pretty cool.
UV: I hear you got in trouble at Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum in Salt Lake City for chewing gum.
Brian: Oh really. Yeah, so I put a piece of gum in my mouth and didn’t realize I was breaking rules or regulations. Some young guy said he’d been asked to tell me to take my gum out and throw it away. I felt horrible. I believe in rules. I believe in stop signs. I believe in yield signs. I believe in railroad crossing signs. If you aren’t supposed to chew gum, then I believe in not chewing gum. But there are levels of being on the wrong side of the tracks. Some people wear black leather motorcycle jackets and ride into town on a Harley. My version of “over the edge” is sticking a piece of gum in my mouth.
Brian: (laughing) I might not be quite as wholesome as I come off on stage. I like to golf. And if I hit a bad shot and I’m around close friends, I might utter a word and people might say, “I don’t think those kinds of words end up in his show!” But for the most part, yeah, I like to live a normal existence.
UV: This article is coming out in January when everyone will have just jotted down resolutions. Are you a goal guy?
Brian: I did a bit in my 2013 shows about how my New Year’s resolution was to lose 20 pounds, and I ended the year with just 25 pounds to go.
UV: What do you do and where do you eat when you are in Utah making us laugh?
Brian: I don’t take advantage of cities as much as I could or should. I’m in show mode. I wake up later than most people, so I eat later and then work on my material and chill out. After I perform I eat like some kind of famished grizzly bear.
UV: Have you seen some of Utah’s hot spots — like Temple Square or Zion National Park?
Brian: I’ve heard of Zion National Park and how beautiful it is, but I haven’t visited. I stay in a downtown hotel with a nice view, and I go out on the balcony and look at the beautiful city. But then I close the sliding glass door and read the newspaper.
UV: I’m impressed we’re doing this 9 a.m. interview because you’re a night owl.
Brian: Well, I have two kids and have to get up with them, so I’m not too much of a late-nighter. But when I was in college, my nickname was Rip — for Rip Van Winkle. I used to sleep all the time — crazy, record-breaking kinds of slumber events. It was hard for me to wake up for 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. classes and I used to think, “How am I going to function in this world? Most jobs seem to start by 9 a.m.” Then I saw a comedian perform on campus for an 8 p.m. show and I thought, “I can swing this. I think I can get up by 8 p.m.”
UV: You’re on the top of the comedy world. Where does Brian Regan go from here?
Brian: Well as far as my standup comedy career, I’m just really, really happy that I can make a living by getting on stage and saying some goofy things that I come up with. And the fact that there are a handful of people out there that seem to like it, I’m really honored by that and it means the world to me.
But you like to keep having things you’re going after and I would love if a network somewhere would say, “Hey man, how about you create a TV show for us? We’d like to put your stuff on television.” And so far, that hasn’t really seemed to gel. I’ll go pitch an idea at a network and they’ll be like, “Who are you?”
It’s weird to go out in the world and feel like you have thousands of fans, and then you walk into an office with someone who is clueless as t0 who you are and what you’ve accomplished. Maybe one day I’ll have the opportunity to throw something together in a TV context. That is something I’m still trying to do, but I’m fortunate that if it doesn’t happen, I still have this standup career. And if nothing ever happens beyond that, that will be fine. But I don’t like to have those goals I’m going after.
UV: Seriously? They don’t know Brian Regan?
Brian: Seriously! It’s weird to go out in the world and have thousands of fans and then walk into an office with someone who is clueless as to who you are and what you may have accomplished.
UV: Do people come up and say your lines back to you like “Take luck” or “Say 8”?
UV: What is your favorite sound?
UV: You’re filling Energy Solutions Arena twice. That ought to fill up your bank account.
Brian: Maybe I’ll be able to take out $200.
UV: Does anyone heckle you anymore?
UV: Anything else you’d like to say to your Utah fans?
Brian: Well, I think we done good here in this interview. There we go — let’s finish with some poor grammar. I’m certainly looking forward to my shows in Salt Lake. It’s a big deal for me. I’ve never played in a venue that size where they are just there to watch me. I’m honored that some people are going to come and check it out.
UV: We’ll be there. Take luck!