Of course he wouldn’t. If there’s anyone you can trust to make sure things go as planned, it’s Brian Regan. But wouldn’t it be great if he did?
This Saturday at Radio City Music Hall comedian Brian Regan will take the stage and perform live not only for the 6,000 seats in the theater, but for a everyone across North American who tunes in to Comedy Central at 9pm. It’s the first time Comedy Central has ever broadcast a comedy special live, and Brian is the perfect comedian to break new ground for the channel. He’s beloved by fans and fellow comedians, and he performs material that kills with every age group. Brian’s been on a huge press tour to promote the big event, and I got to speak with him earlier this week about getting ready for the big night.
The idea to perform Radio City wasn’t Brian’s. He said he’s been fortunate enough over the years to gradually increase the size of the venues he plays in New York City, and the guys who book his show suggested Radio City Music Hall. Regan was excited by the idea, and agreed. It was some time later when he was talking with his manager, Rory Rosegarten about doing a new hour special, and wanting to do something different this time. “Sometimes I record a CD by myself, in the past I’ve done Comedy Central specials, and I wanted to do something different, so I talked to my manager about doing a live special, and he was like wow okay, so we just hit on the idea of ‘why don’t we try it from Radio City and see what happens.’ So we pitched the idea to Comedy Central and they’ve been incredible supportive.”
Doing a special as a live television broadcast might seem like it’s no different from doing a special without a live broadcast but there are some important differences. Like timing. “The timing thing is probably the biggest thing I have to concentrate on because of it being live,” Regan said. “I gotta start this thing right when they need to start it.” Those in the theater will get to see two opening acts before Regan comes out so they’ll have to make sure everything is timed right as well. And then there’s the issue of commercials; Comedy Central runs commercials during programming, and they would need to break. Even with a recorded special, handling breaks is challenging, because the comedian needs to leave places where breaks can go that won’t ruin the momentum of the special. In Regan’s case, he’ll actually need to stop. “We’re doing just one break- we were able to get them to one break in the middle. So I’m doing two 28 minute segments basically for a total of 56 minutes.” To time it properly, Regan will be performing with a clock on stage- something you don’t usually see at a comedy show. “We’re having one four minute break in the middle and so I have to have this clock on stage. I have to get it as close to 28 as possible and I need to come in as close to the end of the hour as possible,” he explained. But Regan said that Comedy Central was so supportive, they said they won’t cut him off if he goes longer than 56 minutes. “So if I don’t nail it right at the end of the show, if I go a few minutes long, they’re gonna stick with me which is pretty cool. So my plan is to go long by about an hour and 15 minutes.” When I suggested to Regan that he should just keep going, he laughed, and imagined creating the world’s first comedy fillibuster. “At some point somebody is going to have to make the decision to cut me off. Put it all on them,” he said. “They’re gonna be in the control booth going, ‘well I don’t see this guy ever shutting up, we just gotta pull the plug on him.'”
There are three things you can count on with Brian Regan. He’s murderously funny, he’s incredibly polite, and if you talk to him for more than a few minutes, you’re bound to get a great story about an awkward uncomfortable moment in his life. Having already experienced the first two, it was no surprise that when he told me that being cut off reminded him of an awkwardly funny story about the very first time he remembered being told to “wrap it up.”
“When I was in college for my speech class I had to give a final speech and my teacher didn’t really like me. And it was about what makes people laugh. And I was killing. I was on my way to getting an F and I was thinking maybe this will at least pull me up to a D, and I’m killing! And then in the back of the room she just gave me a wrap up sign! I wasn’t even in comedy yet and I realize how horrible that sign was. Wrap it up? I’m about to fail this class and I’m finally pulling myself out of this and you’re making me wrap it up? My nightmare is that she’s going to be in Radio City and come up at the one hour mark. ‘Alright wrap it up Brian.’
That led into a hilarious Regan-esque riff about what he learned when he researched the topic for his speech, best imagined in Regan’s own voice.
“It’s weird because they have books about it, and people analyze it scientifically and stuff like that. I remember some of the stuff I learned. At the time I knew that I wanted to maybe try to become a comedian so I was intrigued with it. I read this one thing about what makes people laugh and they said all comedy involves incongruencies. And I remember thinking, I don’t know what incontruencies are. No wonder I’m failing this class. I guess an incongruency is something that doesn’t add up. You know, doesn’t make sense. But they completed the thought by saying not all incongruities are necessarily funny. So hence the dilemna of the stand up comedian.”
I asked Brian where he developed his signature style, his manner of telling stories that seem to sum up everything that is funny about awkward encounters, and turn simple moments into huge laughs. He said it happened gradually, trying different things, keeping what worked. He even tried prop comedy at one point, but moved away from it when he realized he was a terrible prop comic. “I would open up this bag and I had like three or four props,” he said. “I had props for things I didn’t even need props for.” He remembered using a product called No-Salt as a prop. “I had it in the bag and I’d say hey guys have you seen this? And then I pulled it out and showed it to them. Like that was really necessary? All I had to do is say ‘hey have you seen this product called no salt.’ I didn’t need to hold it up for them. ‘Oh now we see what you were talking about. Go ahead with your joke. Now that we’ve visually accepted it.‘ Then I realized, maybe words will be enough.”
It seems like that there is nothing Brian can’t turn into a funny story. Even though his fans all have favorite bits they like to hear again and again, he’s notorious for being able to create what seems like a constant churn of new material. I asked him about his gift for finding something funny in just about everything. He said that sometimes he can, and sometimes he can’t. “There are times when I don’t feel particularly funny. My brain will have this internal conversation. I’ll say to myself how in the world do you think you’re a stand up comedian when you haven’t had a funny though in three days. But that’s what happens, sometimes your brain is working in that direction and sometimes it isn’t.”
Brian might not feel funny every day of the year, but there’s no doubt he’ll be hilarious on Saturday night at Radio City Music Hall. I asked him what he’ll do to prepare for the show on Saturday. He said nothing.
“I like to do nothing. The last thing I’m doing before that special is the Today show the day before, Friday morning and I told my manager and publicist –who both are excellent– I said after that I’m not doing anything for two days until that special. I just want to relax. I told somebody I wanted to rest and sleep. ‘Rest and sleep?’ I said yeah. Well sometimes the resting gets you tired and you need to go to sleep after that. And then you wake up after a good sleep and the first thing you want to do is rest. So I’m resting and sleeping right up until the special.”
Watch Brian Regan Saturday night on Comedy Central LIVE at 9pm. There are still a few tickets available- and it should be a pretty exciting night to be in the New York.