Every comedian in the business knows that Brian Regan is one of stand up comedy’s greatest artists. He makes the art form seem effortless and consistently creates outstanding new material, but his early comedy remains as classic and relevant as a great rock band’s first album. Universally relatable and yet completely original, Brian Regan appeals to every comedy audience.
I sat down with Brian earlier this month to talk about all of the projects he’s been tackling including his brand new Netflix special- his first of a two special deal with the streaming giant. The hour debuted over the Thanksgiving holiday and if you haven’t seen it yet, put it at the top of your list. The new special titled Nunchucks and Flamethrowers dives headfirst into some new territory for Regan, while still delivering plenty of the signature material his fans know and love from him. We talked about performing at Carnegie Hall and his new television series in part one of my interview with Regan, and of course, we talked about the new Netflix hour.
For many comedians, getting a Netflix hour has become a signpost- a marker of career accomplishment, even if they’ve already been putting out specials for years. For Brian, the platform is not something he focuses on. “I love that I’m in the Netflix family, don’t get me wrong,” he told me over coffee in the lobby of his hotel, “but the comedy is the comedy, and I just try to make it as good and tight as I can make it.”
The challenge for this special, he said, came from creating a brand new hour so quickly after his Comedy Central special. Brian’s last hour was performed at Radio City in September 2015, and was on his timeline- he had approached Comedy Central with the idea to do a live special. For Nunchucks and Flamethrowers, the timing was a little closer in time to his last special than he would have chosen. “It was a pretty tight turnaround from the Radio City one,” Regan admits, and quickly pointing out that he had already moved on to working on his new hour before this one even aired. “It’s a two special deal, so I’m doing another one in 2019. So, I already have to blow that material out and do another album. So, that’s what I’m doing right now is getting rid of that and coming up with new stuff.” He recorded Nunchucks at Denver’s infamous Paramount Theatre, taping three shows instead of two. Ever the perfectionist, Regan wanted to make sure he nailed it. “I was covering my bases. After the tight turnaround…a lot of that material was, it wasn’t as ‘in my bones’ as I would like it to be. You know what I mean? I was worried if I flubbed something, I wanted a couple shots at it.”
Regan is not only one of the best in the business, he’s also among the most prolific, and in this special he covers a tremendous amount of ground. It’s all new material, but some topics feel familiar- like a very Brian Regan-esque take on sports, children’s toys and board games, and a brilliant bit about waiting on line. Other parts of the special cover topics that may surprise Regan’s longtime fans. “I want to keep changing,” Regan told me. “This is gonna sound weird …if I start to be described a certain way too often, instead of working towards that, I write away from that. It’s like, I don’t wanna be a thing that you can easily hang your hat on, or ‘he’s the guy that does this.’ I wanna be more than that.”
“So, like years ago, I had a lot of ‘feeling stupid’ fantasy jokes, you know, you too and take love, and stuff like that. A true part of my persona that I’m magnifying, but then I started hearing people, ‘oh, you’re the guy that always goes stupid,’ and it’s like, okay, I don’t just wanna be that. So, I started adding anger fantasies, you know, like getting back at the world, you know what I mean? Like, fantasizing. So I put those in my act, and then there was another thing where people go, ‘oh, he’s the guy that always crouches over when he’s on stage,” and I’m like ‘okay. Yeah. I’ll show them.’ You know, walk erect. Then what are they gonna talk about?”
For his Netflix special, Regan definitely pushed his way out of any box you might have put him in- he covered the topics you might least expect– politics and current events. Although he’s never gotten into political subjects on stage before, Regan loves having political discussions offstage– as long as those conversations are with people open to changing their point of view. “I only like talking about [serious topics] with people who enjoy looking at things from a perspective of wonder.” He explained. “We all just have opinions. There’s not a single person on Earth who has read every book that there is, who has seen every documentary that there is. Or even if you have read every book there is, you haven’t read any of the books that haven’t been written yet. So everybody is basing their opinions on incomplete information. Everybody. Everybody on Earth is basing their viewpoints on incomplete data, and it’s okay to have a viewpoint, but to not also have a sense of wonder…to go ‘well, maybe there’s something right around the corner that will change my perspective,’ and people aren’t willing to do that. People are just locked in. ‘No, I’ve decided, I’ve got enough information,’ and now I think that people just seek out that information that supports what they already believe.”
For the stage, Regan knew he needed to cover politics in a different way from other comics. “For my comedy, I don’t want to faction off my audience. I do love comedians who do that. I do love comedians who take a stand and have a position, have a viewpoint and they wanna reflect that through their comedy. That’s all valid, but most of my comedy is not about that and it’s not worth it to me to cut my audience in half for the sake of two jokes so, when I do touch on politics I like it to be where both sides can laugh.” And he succeeds. His political comedy in the hour zooms all the way out and laughs at all of it, including the concept of divisiveness itself, so you don’t have to worry about whether you can watch the hour with that uncle that you spent Thanksgiving arguing with or your kids, or your parents regardless of where you sit politically. In 2017, that’s rare.
Brian also talks about his family. Not just in the abstract, shared experiences framework– he talks about his actual family, sharing stories and giving fans a little more insight into his life. “It’s like I was saying before, I want to talk about what interests me and my family interests me, politics interests me, and board games interest me. So serious subjects interest me and minutia interests me. I like to have all of that within my comedy,” he explained.
Regan talks about his dad quite a bit in this hour, specifically his dad’s unique sense of humor; it’s an absolute scream and one of my favorite parts of the hour. “Family is important to me,” he said, and he told me he wanted the material to come off as a homage to his dad, who passed away shortly after the special was recorded. “He had a sense of humor, he was a wonderful man,” Regan said. In the special, he talks about his dad still being around, but then while he was editing the special, Brian got a phone call from one of his brothers that his dad has passed away. “Yeah, and it was … I mean, he was 90, he had lived a good, long life. I was in the editing session and my brother Terry calls me and I said, ‘Hey, man. How ya doing?’ I said, ‘I’m right in the middle of editing,’ and he goes, ‘This is important,’ and I knew right then. Like, he wasn’t gonna say, ‘This is important, we have to change our tee times,’ you know? Yeah, that could be important too, but I knew when he said it what the deal was.”
Regan didn’t want to edit the material, but it was also strange that he talks about his father still being alive, so he decided to dedicate the hour to his dad’s memory at the end.
You’ll also get to hear him talk about his kids in this special- another favorite part of the hour concerns waiting on line at Disney. His kids are also funny, which you might have guessed. “They both make me laugh and catch me off guard and poke at my vulnerabilities in a way that kids can. My daughter, we were on our way to go somewhere and she had forgotten something, she’s in the back seat, and I said, ‘You know what? In life, we should think about what we have and what we don’t have, even if you forgot something, you did bring other things and enjoy what you have,’ and in that moment, I realized I had forgot my baseball hat, like, not even realizing the irony and I said, ‘Oh, darn it, I forgot my baseball hat,’ and my daughter goes, ‘well, you should just be happy that you didn’t forget your pants.’ Yeah, it made me laugh for like five minutes. I’m like, she just hit me right on the head with, you know … so anyway, they’re both funny.”
If you ask Regan what his favorite bits are, he’ll tell you it’s the new ones coming in. “The new ones coming in are what I’m excited about, so those are my favorite moments on stage is when I go, ‘okay, here’s a new bit, here’s a new bit.'” The old ones, he says, just tend to fall away as he focuses on the jokes that are newer and more interesting to him. But before they go, he likes to make sure all of his bits get memorialized in an hour or an album. “I want it recorded, so it’s out there, like I’m proud of that body of work. Once it’s in within an hour and I try to say ‘okay, that’s done,’ done what I can with it and time to move on.”
Of course like any comedian, Regan has some bits that don’t work- those bits where you’re still trying to find the words and beats and moments. “And you may never find it, you might end up having to drop it,” he explained. He shared one of those jokes with me.
“I used to do this thing; I’ve always been intrigued with lists in magazines or newspapers. The top 50 guitarists lists, you know? What intrigues me is not the lists, it’s knowing that it’s always followed by a backlash of people getting angry at the list. Always. Any magazine that publishes a list, then they’re gonna get letters, ‘how could you say that so and so was only 17? He should definitely be in the top ten.’ Or, ‘why would you even put so and so in the top five, that guy should be in the …’ and I always wonder why would people give any credence to what this publication thinks. You’re allowed to have your own thoughts, this isn’t like some official document that, you know, that’s gonna go on a plaque somewhere.”
“So my bit, which I hope makes fun of that, but I don’t think people get it. Here’s the bit, I’ll just do it. So I’d say so, the other day I’m just sitting around, couldn’t think of anything to do so I thought ‘oh, I’ll make a list of Brian Regan’s top ten sandwiches.’ So I wrote the list and I put a lot of thought into it, you know? And I put them in the order that I thought they should be in, and I just wrote Brian Regan’s top ten sandwiches, one through ten. I’m like, ‘alright, so what do I do with this?’ So, I went outside and I just walked around and I just, you know, nailed it to an elm tree and I went back to my house. I thought that was the end of it. Then ten minutes later, there was this furious pounding at my door, I opened the door and a guy said, ‘How can ham and cheese be number three!?!?'”
“I find that funny. Like, why does that guy reading that list care? But people do. But when I do the bit on stage, people just stare at me.”
I found it funny too, and yes, of course, it’s even funnier hearing Brian tell the joke. In case you’re wondering, Regan does have a list of top ten sandwiches. Number one is a Meatball Parmesan Sandwich from an unexpected place. No, it’s not Italy, or even Little Italy, or some deep Italian joint in Brooklyn that’s been there for 100 years. It’s from a place called Pizza Patio in Miami Florida which unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore. “So my favorite sandwich on Earth doesn’t exist anymore. They had this bread and this perfect meatball, perfect …Pizza Patio. And now you can’t even have it. But you know what you can have right now? What they did was, they took a bulldozer and they bulldozed that wonderful part of my life, they bulldozed that down and put a Wendy’s up. So you can go there and get a Wendy’s sandwich. Nothing against Wendy’s, I like Wendy’s, but I just wish a Wendy’s would have opened up across the street from Pizza Patio.”