Caught in the Act

Brian Regan and his brother Dennis highlight the summer comedy offerings in central New Jersey and beyond.

Comedy Listings
By: Jim Boyle
   Everybody has had an embarrassing moment — that instant where you’ve done something really stupid. Right after, you look around, hoping no one saw it. Well, somebody did see it, and his name is Brian Regan.
   That’s not to say the 43-year-old comic has surveillance cameras trained on all of us. It’s just that he knows what it’s like to make a fool out of yourself. He knows so well, in fact, that he’s made a successful career by getting laughs from those moments.
   How about the time when you forgot about the science project? Mr. Regan has been there. Or the time when you took a cab to the airport and the driver told you to have a nice flight — you replied, "You, too." Obviously, the driver isn’t going on any planes in the near future. Mr. Regan can relate.
   "It’s not a conscious thing where I look for things," says Mr. Regan. "I just live my life. If I see something, I’ll think, ‘That might be funny,’ and go from there."
   Mr. Regan’s eye for life’s minutiae digs deeper than Jerry Seinfeld’s, and his knack for self-deprecation would put Conan O’Brien to shame. His skills will be on display when he takes the stage at the Stress Factory in New Brunswick June 14-15.
   Mr. Regan traces his sense of humor back to growing up in Miami, where he was fourth out of eight siblings.
   "Did you ever go to the circus and see those clown cars?" he jokes. "It was like that when we went to the mall. We drove around in a flat-bed truck."
   For further proof of his family’s sense of humor, consider that Mr. Regan’s older brother is a stand-up comedian as well. In fact, Dennis Regan also will visit the Stress Factory Aug. 15-17. Even though Brian was in the business for seven years before Dennis started out, the younger sib was careful not to hover over his brother with advice.
   "He thanked me for not being too hands-on," says Mr. Regan. "There’s a lot of stuff you have to learn as you go. If I watched him perform, I wouldn’t hand him 25 notes because that would be discouraging. I would tell him a couple stage-direction tips, such as you’re not supposed to put your hand up to block the lights so you can see the audience."
   It wasn’t until he went to Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio, in 1980 that Mr. Regan felt the desire to make comedy a career. It turned out that there wasn’t much else that could fit into his busy schedule.
   "I realized it was very hard to wake up in the morning," he says. "I wanted to do something that could be done after I was awake. I remember seeing a comedian at the college and thinking, "Hey, he doesn’t have to work until 8 p.m. That’s perfect."
   If there is one key ingredient to becoming a successful stand-up, it’s experience, and Mr. Regan needed some. He was sitting in the audience at an old ornate movie theater when he noticed that nothing was going on before the film started. Everybody was just sitting there. He approached the manager about doing a few minutes of jokes before the movie. The manager was apprehensive, and instead offered him some time during a children’s birthday party in the afternoon.
   "It was horrific," says Mr. Regan, describing his first stand-up experience. "It was just a bunch of little kids running around. I had simple jokes and some props I collected from around my dorm room. One thing I had was a ceramic head. One of my first jokes was when I told the kids, ‘To be in show biz, you have to try and get ahead.’ They had no idea what I was talking about."
   It was a grueling initiation, but Mr. Regan went on undeterred. One would think that it would only get easier, but not in his case. He found work at a coffee house at the college but had a hard time staying focused.
   "That didn’t go so great because I was in front of my friends," he says. "In comedy, a lot of what you talk about are fictionalized accounts. When I would say, ‘I was at the mall yesterday,’ they would start saying, ‘No you weren’t. You were with us yesterday.’"
   It was a bumpy beginning, but Mr. Regan’s path would soon lead to good fortune. While in Miami on spring break, he found an ad for open-mike night at a club in Fort Lauderdale. After five auditions, he caught the eye of the manager.
   "His name was Joe Mullen," says Mr. Regan. "He picked my check off the table and asked to see me in the kitchen. He wanted me to become the club’s local comedian, which basically meant I had a regular gig. I still think of it as one of my biggest days. That night, and I know this sounds corny, I was driving home and I saw a shooting star for the first time."
   He honed his act for seven to eight years before his name began to grow. He started popping up all over comedy shows, including The Tonight Show, Late Show with David Letterman and specials on Showtime and A&E.
   A major characteristic of Mr. Regan’s act is that it is completely clean. He decided a long time ago that he didn’t need four-letter words to make people laugh.
   "When I started out," he says, "my act was 90 percent clean, 10 percent dirty. I figured I might as well keep it totally clean. It’s also good because it can go right on television without having to change the words."
   He has built a solid reputation, one that can sometimes backfire.
   "A month ago I said something that sounded like the f-word," he says. "I got off the stage and a bunch of people came up to me saying, ‘Hey, you said the f-word. I thought you were supposed to be clean.’ I didn’t even say it and I was hunted down by a pack of wolves. I like it, though. It’s a challenge."
   With the kind of material Mr. Regan writes and the choice to keep it clean, he seems tailor-made for his own sitcom. In fact, it’s a little surprising that he doesn’t have one yet.
   "The problem is I’m very demanding," he says. "I want four million dollars an episode. I want my star wagon to have gold faucets. Actually, I’m just trying to be careful. You only get one shot at the plate, so I want to make sure the show is right."
Brian Regan will perform at the Stress Factory, 90 Church St., New Brunswick, June 14-15, at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Tickets cost $21.50. For information, call (732) 545-4242. On the Web: