Since his debut in 1997, stand-up comedian Brian Regan has regularly brought down the house with his unique combination of clean humor, situational comedy and ever-changing routines that represent the freshest in stand-up theater. Thursday, Regan will bring his act to the Overture Center for the Arts in pursuit of the funny bones of Madisonians and University of Wisconsin students everywhere.
At first glance, Regan doesn’t look like your typical stand-up comic, and with good reason: He had originally planned to get a degree in accounting, as far away from comedy and humor as you can get.
There was only one lesson he got out of accounting, Regan joked: “The numbers have to add up in a straight line. I use that to stand on the stage without toppling over.”
After he got out of accounting, Regan discovered his talent for theater and comedy when he switched majors. “When I started going, I was enjoying this world a lot more.”
Today, Regan is one of the most popular stand-up comics around, with several live albums to his credit and a Comedy Central special.
Regan plans to come onstage with his newest routine, “All By Myself,” for UW students this Thursday. He noted, however, that it won’t be just a rehash of his previous tour routines and will include new material.
“The act constantly evolves, and once you have a new hour together, once it’s recorded, I start moving away from that material,” he said. The title of a particular stand-up routine often has little to do with the material he’s presenting, Regan said. The same skit, at two different performances, can feature different content.
Regan often relies on everyday humor borne out of normal, run-of-the-mill lives to please his audience. His biggest inspiration as a comic was himself, he said.
“I think it’s a mistake to figure out what the audience is looking for,” Regan said. “I’m interested in what I want to tell them. The best way to approach it is, I try to imagine myself out in the audience. I think about what makes me laugh.”
In one of his oft-repeated performances, Regan retells a story about how he went refrigerator shopping and the antics that unfolded with the clueless salesperson. Thanks to his way with words, even the most mundane of tasks are transformed into pure comedy gold. Plus, Regan always throws in an impersonation or two to get the audience interested.
“If you look at them, my jokes aren’t even really jokes as they are little vignettes,” Regan said. “They’re little plays! It’s a situation I’ll set up. These are scenes, and the way they work is to act them out.”
The impersonations aren’t necessarily borne out of a desire to make the audience laugh, Regan said. “I’m not even aware of what I’m doing physically,” he confessed. “I don’t do them for the buffoonery aspect.”
Along with his impersonations and pantomime, another of Regan’s unique traits is the way he keeps his comedy PG-rated, with nary a swear word in sight. This persona wasn’t purposefully created, Regan said. “I just tend to naturally think that way comedically,” he noted, while maintaining that the essence of the comedy was unchanged by how it was told. “Black and white is different from color pictures,” he said. “But they’re still the same picture of the exact same thing.”
Regan said that stand-up comedy has changed since his debut in 1997. A large part of that has to do with the Internet and the increased speed of communication that it brings, he explained. “Because so much stuff now gets posted on YouTube, a lot of times people might have already seen things,” he said. “Luckily for me, I like to write and change things up.”
He equates the current Internet boom as trying to ride a wave and stay one step ahead of expectations. “It’s like trying to stay on a board in front of the information that’s out there,” he explained. “If you can stay a little ahead of it, if people say, ‘Wow, I’ve seen a lot of stuff but that was stuff I haven’t seen before,’ that’s why people keep coming back.”
Although there are many tough obstacles to being a stand-up comedian, Regan says that all of the hard work has only served to motivate him even more. “I love writing, hitting the stage and seeing how much fresh stuff I can throw out there,” he said.
“If you’re on a board, you’re having a blast at that moment,” the comic quipped, reiterating his desire to have fun with the process. “I love the challenge of being a comedian.”
Tickets for Brian Regan’s performance at the Overture Center on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. can be purchased at www.overturecenter.com. Seats sell for $39.50.