The sun is barely up in Las Vegas and Brian Regan is chugging a cup of coffee while we speak to him from afar about his upcoming show at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center. For many people, 7 a.m. is way too early for thoughtful communication, much less a laugh or two, but Regan isn't most people. This renowned comedian, who has earned no less than 25 appearances to date on Letterman, seems at ease cracking jokes at sunrise and graciously laughing at mine, too. He has, after all, been creating laughter for a pretty long time.
"I guess I've been funny since I was a little kid," he says. "I always tried to make my friends at school laugh at lunch, and my brother and sister laugh, and I always tried to make my mom and dad laugh, too. I guess I think I've been funny for ever since I can remember."
But not everyone has always agreed. His first paid gig was in his college town of Tiffin, Ohio. His audience was a sea of children. "That was the first time I did stand-up and unfortunately it went horribly bad. I went out to the manager to thank him, and he brought me in his office and he gave me $10. I was probably 21."
Still, it was during those early years that Regan, originally from Miami, decided he was probably funny enough to earn a living doing stand-up. Instead of experiencing the kind of nervous meltdown many suffer through during the obligatory public speaking class, Regan relished it. "I'd do my five-minute speeches in front of a small class, and I remember the feeling when they laughed, and I remember walking back to my dorm and thinking, this isn't the way I feel after biology class!"
Now at age 55, Regan has come a long way. Having made several successful recordings, including a Comedy Central special and 2012's CD All By Myself, Regan has spent the past 20 years perfecting his craft. One could probably credit a lot of his mass appeal to the distinct comedic path he's chosen. You see, while many of his popular predecessors and current colleagues may need one heavy-duty bleeper if shown on live TV, Regan has chosen to keep it clean.
"I always worked mostly clean anyway," he says. "I used to have some dirty jokes but it was always only a very small percentage of my act. I decided at one point to just drop the little percentage — not because I'm clean, but because I'm anal. I don't want to be 95 percent something, so 100 percent clean it is."
He admits there's an ethical tug-of-war that happens at times, but essentially he knows what works best for himself first, but also for his audience. "I am capable of thinking things that might be considered blue or whatever, and there are times I think should I explore that onstage," he says. "But, you know, right now there's plenty of things to talk about that don't go in that direction and I choose not to, and I certainly have a bit of a following that like it that way. I still like to do clean comedy so I avoid other thoughts, but maybe one day down the road I'll change my opinion."
More than anything, he is proud that he can spend his time making his audiences feel something that is wonderfully pure. "When people laugh, it's an honest reaction — especially when people laugh hard," he says. "People can applaud when they didn't care for something that much and so it's nice to be onstage with a room full of people laughing. I feel like I can trust the reaction. When they're laughing, I think, man, they must like me."