Brian Regan Is Tired of the Political Correctness Brigade

Maxim talked to the master of dad humor about headlining Comedy Central’s first-ever live standup special, Steve Rannazzisi’s 9/11 comments, and audience members videotaping his jokes. 

Standup comedian Brian Regan may not be as well known as his contemporaries, but he’s among the highest regarded. The funnyman, who Jerry Seinfeld once named as one of his favorite working comics, has made clean and noncontroversial comedy his shtick since the eighties. And while quipping about Pop-Tarts labels and visits to the optometrist may not grab headlines, make no mistake: Brian Regan is the real deal.

Case in point, Comedy Central is honoring this doyen of dad humor with the network’s first-ever live standup special, to be filmed this Saturday from Radio City Music Hall. And in an age where standups are increasingly vying for the limelight with shock value and topicality, Comedy Central’s choice to headline Regan is downright novel. It seems people are at last discovering the evergreen appeal of Regan’s aw-shucks, observational style.

Maxim recently chatted with Regan about his forthcoming special, performing on one of David Letterman’s final shows, the Steve Rannazzisi 9/11 debacle, and the raging debate over political correctness in comedy. 

So, Radio City Music Hall. Are you nervous?

I feel really great. I really do. Comedy Central has really been in my corner on this. They’ve never done a live special before, and I pitched the idea to them, and they’ve been incredibly supportive. And I’ve been doing this a long time, so I’m not really nervous about it. I’m excited. I do live shows every time I’m performing. If I’m in Poughkeepsie, I’m doing a live show in front of that audience, and if I’m in Des Moines then I’m doing a live show in front of that audience. That’s what I do for a living. Obviously the stakes are a bit higher, but that’s always the risk in comedy. There are no guarantees about it, but I love the challenge.

You perform at larger venues nowadays. Do you miss the club comedy scene?

Sure. I miss the camaraderie of the other comedians. After the show, local comedians are hanging out, and you can have a beer. In a big venue, as fun as that is, it’s weird. You say goodnight, and it’s always amazing to me how quickly the theater can empty. They just basically bolt for the doors, and you feel like saying, “Hey! Don’t we cuddle? I feel like I’m being used here!”

You recently gave your final performance on Late Show With David Letterman, on which you performed a total of 28 times. Was it sad to see Dave retire?

I was honored that they asked me to do one of their final shows. I always love the fact that David Letterman and the show seemed to like my stuff. In terms of sadness, not really. I think he was great for comedy. He had a subversive way of doing what he did, and he brought a kind of comedy to the forefront that really hadn’t been out there until he came onto the scene, and I think comedy is in a better place than it used to be. So, he’ll be missed, but that kind of comedy isn’t going to go away.

Do you still remember your first set at a comedy club?

My first set in a comedy club was in Fort Lauderdale, FL. I was auditioning, and I got on stage, and I was so nervous that I completely blanked out. It’s amazing to see how a brain can shut down. I had my entire five-minute act memorized. I walked onstage, and I couldn’t remember any of it — not one word. So I just ad-libbed about how stupid I was that I couldn’t remember my act. Everyone knew I was an auditioner, and I was able to get them laughing about what a moron I was.

Self-deprecation has  become part of your style. Why has it remained so key to your approach? 

Everyone should be truthful to who they are as a performer. The truer something feels, the better the connection is with the audience. I have those uncomfortable feelings in my life. I have a touch of social anxiety, and I magnify things like that on stage, but they’re rooted in the truth. I think if you’re sharing a little bit about who you are, then the audience wants to see who you are. And for me, just being a little bit vulnerable helps. If I poke fun at myself, I think the audience is more willing to let me poke a stick about other things.

Speaking of being truthful, it recently came to light that comedian Steve Rannazzisi had completely fabricated a story about surviving 9/11. What do you make of that?

I just read about this over the last couple of says. I was hanging out with my brother Dennis, who’s a standup, and another comedian Joe Bolster, and we were talking about how weird it is that we comedians tend to exaggerate the funny things that we say. You might tell a story on stage that’s rooted in the truth, yet you exaggerate it for comedic purposes, and that’s completely okay. But when you tell something that’s not necessarily comedic, then people are going to judge you a bit differently if it’s not truthful. I know he’s doing his thing to apologize, and we’ll see if he’s able to work his way through it. Not to condone what he said, but we make mistakes, and sometimes we make big mistakes.

You’ve managed to avoid controversy throughout your career, largely due to your clean brand of humor. Have you been able to bypass the current debate over the place of political correctness in comedy?

Well, I’m intrigued by the debate. Some people let comedians have a pass, because they’re on stage, and they’re exploring different things, but I think sometimes people should get a pass even if they’re not comedians. I don’t think we should be so fearful of being able to say things even if they’re controversial. I know there’s a place for political correctness. We do live in a world with many different kinds of people, but I also don’t want to live in a world where everyone is afraid to say something. People aren’t dropping dead because of these comments, are they?

So, you’re a total pro and say you have no nerves about Saturday. But is there anything an audience member can do to trip you up?

Lately, people like to videotape you with their phones. They’re not supposed to, but a phone is so easy to hide. Yet, some of these phones have red lights on them when they’re videoing that you can see the red light. And you look out in the audience, and you see 20 red dots, and you’re thinking to yourself, “None of these red dots should be on.” And then you finish that bit, and you go onto the next bit, and now you’re down to three red dots, and you get your feelings hurt. You think, “How come people aren’t feeling this joke? This joke is worth stealing!”

Brian Regan: Live will premiere on Comedy Central on Saturday, September 26 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Photos by Brian Friedman