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As a theatre minor in college, I dabbled in what I knew would be the only way to completely eradicate any ounce of stage fright that was left in me—stand-up comedy.
Why would you put yourself through such sado-masocistic torture? Simple. There’s little doubt that standing on a stage alone and looking into a dimly lit room filled with faces whose only gin-and-tonic-clouded thoughts at that moment are “make me laugh” makes you a better performer, even if you fumble your words and accidentally kick your water bottle into the lap of the gentleman sitting in the front row.
But when I spoke recently with Brian Regan, one of Jerry Seinfeld’s favorite comedians on the national circuit today, I was reminded of how rewarding the laughter of a live audience can be and was comforted to learn that Regan had his own uncomfortable moment on stage.
“I did a show in a hotel in the Pacific Northwest,” Regan said, recalling such a moment. “There was a window open near the stage and I wasn’t doing well; I was getting very few—or zero—laughs, and I finished a joke and from through the window I literally heard a cricket. The audience heard the cricket. And that’s the proverbial thing in stand-up. I thought, “Wow, I just did so bad I heard crickets. I can’t believe it, I’m on stage and I’m hearing crickets.”
All comedians bomb, many times in fact, but it’s part of stand-up. Ask any comedian about the early days of their careers and they’ll gladly testify that it is one of the most nerve-racking but rewarding times of their lives.
“I’ve done everything that they say not to do,” Regan said. “I’ve done stand up in daylight and, while I haven’t done it with animals, I did a show at the Miami Seaquarium and the stage was in a big moat, filled with water and the audience was sitting on the other side. So, I had to do stand-up across water.”
That work ethic is what has enabled Regan to sell out auditoriums across the country. His relatively clean act appeals to any audience and his dry, observational bits about everyday life—he notes that there are actual toasting and microwave instructions on Pop-Tart boxes—combined with his unique facial expressions and innocently voiced commentary brings to light the hilarity about everyday circumstances that rarely cross our mind.
Regan, a Miami native, started delivering that characteristic dry, observational humor in Fort Lauderdale in the ’80s at the Comic Strip, a haven for burgeoning comedians and one of growing number of comedy outposts outside New York and Los Angeles. Regan spoke of his “home” comedy club when I asked him if there was an “a-ha” moment when he felt he had “made it” in his career.
“The first moment like that was the night that I passed my audition at Comic Strip in Fort Lauderdale,” he said. “I had auditioned there four times before but I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life. I wasn’t sure if I was good enough, but during my fifth audition the guy who ran the place brought me back in the kitchen and said I had passed the test. Even though I’ve done some TV things since then, that to me was the best night of my career.”
Regan’s “TV things” include his 2008 Comedy Central Presents special, “The Epitome of Hyperbole,” and perhaps the show that propelled him to notoriety that you can catch on Comedy Central, the 2004 special, “Brian Regan: I Walked on the Moon.”
Spending his early years in stand-up opening for Seinfeld, Regan shared some insight on how the comedy icon helped his career.
“I remember him making fun of how I bowed,” Regan said. “Apparently I’ve never taken any bowing classes. That’s something they don’t teach, so I would finish my set and then just kind of lean over a little bit.”
Needless to say, Regan now refrains from doing the awkward lean at the end of his acts, but the playful banter between Regan and Seinfeld continues when Regan gets the occasional phone call from Seinfeld. Watch Regan’s guest turn on Seinfeld’s web series, “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee,” and you’ll get a taste of the repartee.
“Years ago I was much more fascinated with the idea of doing a sitcom,” Regan said of the “Seinfeld” factor. “But now that the stand-up career has gotten to a pretty nice place, that desire isn’t as strong as it used to be. I like the autonomy of being a stand up comedian. It would be hard for me to give that up to be on a TV show.”
Brian Regan • $38.50 • 7:30 p.m. • Thursday, Feb. 28 • Tivoli Theatre • 709 Broad St. • (423) 757-5050 • chattanoogaonstage.com