His character Mugsy is a mouthy lout who’s engaged in a battle with the booze. It’s a different role for the comic, who has been delivering filth-free observational humor that is both sarcastic and self-deprecating since the '80s.
It’s an excellent time to be Regan. In addition to the TV show and his current tour, he’s got two separate deals with Netflix. One is for the second of two solo comedy specials, and the other is a comedy-hybrid show with Jerry Seinfeld serving as the executive producer.
Regan stops in Phoenix to help the New Year’s Eve crowd at Arizona Federal Theatre ring in 2020 with laughter.
We talked to him about his comedic style, tackling acting after decades as a stand-up comedian, and one of his worst on-stage failures ever.
Phoenix New Times: You’re a stand-up veteran. At this point, how much of your live show is planned and how much is improv?
Brian Regan: Oh, I definitely plan, but I’m always working on different things that might get added. Right now, I’m working toward a new special for Netflix. For the live show, one thing I’ll be doing is a short five-minute bit where I talk about OCD. Also, I talk about crime, sports, and social anxiety. I like my topics to be wide-ranging.
Style-wise, you run a clean set — pretty family-friendly. Has that always been your style?
I’d say my style has evolved. Adjusting things is part of the creative process day to day and year to year, but I was always mostly clean even when I started, but not 100 percent in those early days. I had the occasional joke that was more on the peppery side.
Did you feel that a clean act was more reflective of your personality, or were you looking to appeal to a specific crowd?
Even when I was in college, before I wanted to be a comedian, I noticed my style of humor was more of the quirky, silly, playful kind, and not the down-in-the-dirt variety. When I first started, I threw everything at the wall, including a handful of dirty jokes to see if those interested me. I think when you are the performer, you need to do things that interest you, and those kinds of jokes weren’t really interesting to me. I’m not opposed to other comedians taking that route, but it’s more important for me to try and see how much mileage I can get without hitting certain buzz words and topics.
Doing comedy was something someone suggested to you in college. Do you think without that prompt, you would have taken the same path?
I don't know if I would have happened upon it anyway, but, oddly, it was my college football coach who directed me towards the communication and theater arts department. I was an economics major, and I didn't enjoy that world at all. I was bored, and I told my college football coach, “Hey, I love playing football, but I don't love the school part.” He said, “You're a funny guy. You make everybody on the team laugh.”
I didn't know if that was an insult to my athleticism or if he was talking about my wit, but he said, “If I were you, I'd look into the theater and arts department, they do plays, they do speeches, that might be up your alley.” So, I did, and he was right. I switched majors, and it was in that new world that I took on this comedy quest.
Lots of comedians say it’s easy to forget all the nights where you knock 'em dead, but there are certain failures you never forget. Do you hold one harrowing memory at the fore?
There have been plenty of bad nights (laughs), but I grew up in south Florida, and I got booked to do a show at the Miami Seaquarium. I’d only been doing comedy for six months. At those water parks, you’re on one side of the water, and the audience is on the other. There were other performers, and then I went out, and I was so nervous.
I had a joke about one of their killer whales, Hugo, who I didn’t know had died just days before. So, I start with, “It’s great to be here at the home of Hugo, the killer whale,” and as I begin to launch into the joke, a little girl across the water yells, “He’s dead!” so, after that I went blank. I just stood there for a few minutes and then cut to the thanks and goodbye portion of the set.
You get to stretch your comedic muscle in some different ways on Loudermilk.
Yes, that’s been a big thing for me because I get to do the acting side of the equation. It's a dark comedy about substance abuse, created by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Mort.
Has it been a challenge?
Oh, very much so. I've been doing stand-up comedy my whole adult life, and then to have this opportunity to do acting is very strange. As a stand-up comic, I’m wired to know that laughs equal success. When you’re acting and shooting scenes, everyone is quiet. That was hard for me at first because when they’d say “cut,” I had no idea if it was any good or not.
How did you reconcile that?
I had to figure out a different way to gauge whether or not I was doing okay. I started thinking that they must be happy with what’d we’d just done, or they’re giving up on the entire thing (laughs).
What do you hope people get from your live show?
I want people to laugh — I like making them feel good. I grew up in a big family, and I love it when people around me are happy. When I can see people laughing, I feel like they are happy, and it makes me feel good to make that happen.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring comics?
You have to have passion. It’s the only way to make it as a stand-up comedian because you are going to go through some rough patches and have rough shows. If you feel like your skin is too thin, you better do something else, because there will always be challenges. And remember when you have the occasional good show along the way, remember those and go, “Okay, I know how to do it. I just need to learn how to do it more consistently.”
Brian Regan is scheduled to perform on Tuesday, December 31, at Arizona Federal Theatre. Tickets are $45 to $75 via Live Nation.