Arts & Culture

Comic Brian Regan brings his down-to-earth humor to SLO

Standup comedian Brian Regan performs Saturday at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo.
Standup comedian Brian Regan performs Saturday at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo. Friedman Bergman

Brian Regan finds magic in the mundane.

In the hands of this down-to-earth Everydude, Pop-Tarts become pop art. An ordinary trip to the doctor’s office inspires sidetracks about punctuality and personal hygiene. And simple subjects such as driving, school and grocery shopping reveal strange and startling depths.

“It’s like a tightrope I try to walk on. I want to do comedy of the people, not above the people,” said Regan, who combines rubber-faced expressiveness and loose-limbed physicality with carefully crafted vignettes. “I like to share things about my life that hopefully you can relate to.”

Regan, who grew up in the Miami suburbs, learned about the power of comedy as a kid.

“You go to the orthodontist and they put (on) your braces, and then you go home and look in the mirror and go, ‘How am I going to go to school tomorrow?’ ” he said, which is where comedy comes into play. “You go in with five minutes of material prepared, (and) you completely disarm everybody. (It’s like) ‘No, you’re not going to make fun of me. I’m going to make fun of me.’ 

Comedy, he continued, is “a way for a lot of people to fit in. ‘I’m not a good athlete. I’m not very smart. I don’t have a lot of skills, but I can make these kids laugh.’ 

Regan has been a scrupulous student of comedy ever since. He dropped out of college to pursue his stand-up career, refining his act at southern Florida clubs before moving to New York City in 1988.

Over the years, he’s released two comedy albums (“Brian Regan Live,”All By Myself”) and four stand-up specials, including 2015’s “Brian Regan: Live From Radio City Music Hall.”

In addition, Regan logged an impressive 28 appearances on “Late Show with David Letterman,” and has performed on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Other recent screen credits include Jerry Seinfeld’s web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” and the 2014 movie “Top Five.”

He counts Seinfeld, Fallon, Chris Rock and Patton Oswalt among his high-profile fans.

Regan, who returns to San Luis Obispo on Saturday for a Rotary Club of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa fundraiser, recently chatted with The Tribune about his comedy and his career. (He previously performed there in 2011 and 2014, and played Vina Robles Amphitheatre in Paso Robles in 2015.)

Q: How much of your sense of humor comes from your parents?

A: My dad has this silly but dry sense of humor. He says things with a straight face but they’re nonsensical. They’re very interesting.

My mom is on the silly side of the tracks. … I would watch her watch Andy Kaufman (on TV) and just howl. I’m thinking, “Here’s this brilliant woman who knows every answer on ‘Jeopardy!’ and she likes this goofy comedian.” … It was fun growing up and making my parents laugh.

Q: Your younger brother Dennis is a stand-up comedian, too. What’s it like to have another comedian in the family?

A: It’s nice to have a kinship with someone in the industry. There’s not a lot of people you can talk to about what it was like backstage with Letterman.

Q: How did you develop your comedy style?

A: When I first started, I had all different kinds of things I was throwing out there. I was always mostly clean, (but) when I first started I had some jokes with four-letter words in them. I also had a bag with a handful of props in it. …

You start realizing “What is it I want to do as a comedian?” … Where you become more unique is when you realize that your job is to tell (audience members) what you want to tell them, and not tell them what you think they want to hear.

Q: How do you accomplish that in a stand-up setting?

A: I use this as a trick sometimes – if a show isn’t going great, I pretend I’m sitting in the middle of the audience and go(ing) “Make me laugh.” That calms me down. Sometimes that can turn a show around.

Q: How do you develop and refine new material?

A: Some of the best writing, I think, takes place onstage. When you’re onstage you’re in the heat of the moment. There’s something about being on stage that forces you to come up with a quicker, smarter, tighter version of what you thought up earlier in the day.

Q: What’s the value of live performance for you?

A: I love the do-or-die aspect of it. You have to get the job done. … This is all happening right there, right now. It’s fun to have that challenge.

Like they say in golf, anybody can make a 3-foot put, but can you make a 3-foot put when you need to make one in the U.S. Open? A lot of people can make people laugh, but I can make them laugh when they’re sitting there wanting to laugh.

There’s something about laughter that’s beautiful. People don’t often fake a laugh. … Because of that, it’s a reaction I can trust. It’s a very honest, beautifully honest interaction between human beings.

Q: Given the current political climate, do you feel we need laughter now more than ever?

A: Humor is a beautiful thing. I think it’s much more important than people realize.

Comedy can be used for good and for evil. I’m getting very serious but in a playful way.

You can divide comedy into “laugh with” and “laugh at.” If you get people “laughing with,” that can be a very comforting thing. If you get people to “laugh at” with a negative tone, that can work as well.

When Ronald Reagan was running for president, there was concern about his age. … In his debate against Walter Mondale (in 1984), he said, “I’m not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” He took control of that issue with that one joke and it was no longer an issue. …

Comedy is a very powerful thing, and we should only put it in the hands of good people. (laughs)

Q: What does it mean to you to be considered a comedian’s comedian?

A: It’s incredibly flattering. Just to have an audience out there that likes what you do is an extra level of a good feeling. You go, “Wow, I must be doing something right. … I must be blazing a decent trail here.”

Jerry Seinfeld, he’s been at it a long time. (laughs) What I love about him is he always felt he was a stand-up comedian even when he had the most successful sitcom on television. The TV show was something that happened in the middle of his stand-up career. He doesn’t need any money. He does it because … he loves the craft and the art of stand-up comedy.

Q: Do you find that inspiring?

A: I like the notion that you’re never going to completely figure it out. You can get closer and closer, but you’re never going to get to the finish line and go, “Aha! I have this stand-up comedy thing figured out.”

It’s a never-ending quest. You’re always learning. You’re always growing. There’s always something around the corner.

Brian Regan

8 p.m. Saturday

Cohan Center, Cal Poly

$50 to $90

805-756-4849 or www.pacslo.org, www.slorotary.org

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