Q&A: Brian Regan Keeps It Classy at the South Beach Comedy Festival This Saturday

Categories: Culture
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Now living in Las Vegas, Brian Regan remains a Miami boy. Sure, it's been more than 10 years since he last stopped by South Florida for the express purpose of making people laugh. But he's coming back this Saturday and he's happy as heck about it.  

With two Comedy Central specials -- 2008's The Epitome of Hyperbole and 2007's Brian Regan Standing Up -- and the 2004 comedy album Brian Regan Live and gigs all across the country every other weekend and a neverending string of late night bookings with Letterman and Conan and others ... Regan's as busy as a Dairy Queen in Kendall. So it's acceptable (if not entirely forgivable) that he's neglected his hometown for this long. 

To get ready for Regan's return, the New Times caught up with the Gold Coast-bred comedian. We talked first laughs, clean routines, and Johnny Carson.

New TimesGrowing up, did you think there was a career for you in comedy? 

Brian Regan: No, because Miami, Florida's about a million miles away from Hollywood, California. So I don't think it was something I even considered an option in life. I went to college thinking I was gonna be an accountant. I was all geared up for an exciting life in the accounting world. And it wasn't until I was in college that I started thinking, "Hey, man. I think I could do comedy." 

Did you start doing standup around that time? 

It was right after college that I got right into it. There was a comedy club that opened in Fort Lauderdale called the Comic Strip. I got goosebumps when I saw the ad in the newspaper and it had a big thing that said: "Open mic night Monday nights!" And here I thought I was gonna have to fly to New York or Los Angeles to try to be a comedian. 

Your first night, did you do OK or did you bomb? 

My first night at the Comic Strip was a very, very bizarre experience to say the least. I was incredibly nervous. I got onstage and realized that the lights were brighter than I thought they were gonna be. I was closer to the microphone than I was supposed to be. I said my very first word and I got feedback because I was so close to the mic. So I ad-libbed about how dumb I was. Everybody laughed at that, but I blanked. I couldn't remember a single word that I had memorized for my five-minute audition. I panicked. So I just continued ad-libbing about how stupid I was that I couldn't remember anything. Everybody was laughing. And in a way, I killed. I killed for five minutes. But I was just trying to survive, just splashing around in the water trying not to go under. When I got offstage, I had professional comedians running up to me, saying, "Man, that was incredible! How did you come up with that?" And I was like, "Come up with what?" They said, "That routine!" And I was like, "That wasn't a routine! I wasn't pretending to be stupid. I am stupid." 

Often your brand of comedy is described as "clean." Do you think of it that way? 

To me, it's like a medium, so to speak. You know, Ansel Adams, the famous photographer, liked to take pictures in black and white. That didn't mean he wasn't taking a picture of a real mountain. You know, it was just a black and white version of that mountain. I like to think I'm hitting on the same things other comedians are hitting on, but from a different perspective. It's still real, just different. But it's not a statement, like "Hey! Wow! Look! It's clean! It's better than other kinds of comedy!" I don't feel that way at all. You know, there's comedy out there that's blue or raunchy that I think is brilliant. 

You've been a fixture of late-night TV for years now. But you appeared on the Late Show with Johnny Carson. That must have been a huge thrill. 

It was amazing. I don't mean the comedy was amazing. (Laughs) But to stand backstage behind that curtain and to hear Johnny Carson's voice introduce me, "Please welcome, Brian Regan!" It's was so surreal it's hard to describe. 

Then, somebody pulled back the curtain and I walked out and I just couldn't believe it. I looked to the right and I saw Johnny Carson sitting behind his desk and I remember thinking, "Man, I've never seen him from that angle before!" You only see the angles they let you see on television. And then I looked over at Doc Severinsen and the band and I was like, "I've never seen that from that angle!" And then I realized, "Very few people ever get to see this angle!" 

After the show, I was standing with my manager. And I was in as much of a fog as I was that first night I completely blanked. I didn't know how to feel. And I'm just talking with him and he was saying, "No, it was great, man. Don't worry about it." All of a sudden, Johnny Carson himself walked up. He wasn't walking up to talk to me. He just happened to be walking past. But he stopped and said, "Hey, nice shot." Then, he gave me a wink and just kept on walking. I felt like I'd just been knighted. 

Brian Regan performs as part of the South Beach Comedy Festival this Saturday, January 23. Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The show starts at 7 p.m. and tickets cost $45. Visit southbeachcomedyfestival.com.

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