Murat Theatre, 502 N. New Jersey St.
Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Politicians are smart, according to comedian Brian Regan.
"They certainly know how to not answer questions," he said. "They have tricks that no one ever seems to call them on. 'Sorry, I'm not taking questions today.' I wish I would have known that was an option when I was a kid in school. 'Brian, how do you find the square root of a fraction?' 'I'm sorry. I'm not taking questions today.'"
Lucky for us, Regan is taking questions.
Regan, who graduated from comedy clubs to theaters three years ago, worked out a schedule that allows him to be home in Las Vegas, Nev., with his wife and children (their son is 9, their daughter 4) 10 of every 14 days. Every other Thursday through Sunday, he hits the road.
"I go out and put out comedy fires," he said. "People need to laugh in Des Moines? I'm on my way."
Here's what else he said.
NUVO: You're sarcastic as hell, yet you use absolutely no profanity. How do you do that?
Regan: It is kind of a weird tightrope to walk — not using four-letter words but having a little bite to what you're doing. But I like it. That's what I like to accomplish. I appreciate you noticing that.
NUVO: I take it that's something you've consciously tried to do.
Regan: Yes and no. Lately, yes. When I first started, I didn't have any goals in terms of working clean. I just did whatever I thought of. I was always 90-95 percent clean, even at the outset. But then, when I would happen to have a show where I wouldn't curse or have any sexual references, I noticed when people came up after shows, the comments were so different than when I happened to have a few four-letter-word jokes.
So I thought if I'm that close, why not go 100 percent clean and see what happens? I've been happy with that choice.
NUVO: How has having children changed your comedy?
Regan: I have two jokes about being married. I have one or two jokes about being a dad. But I don't like to go too far in any direction because then I feel like I'm factioning off my audience. I've always tried to come off like an everyday Joe doing everyday things that everybody can relate to. If my comedy gets too specific, I don't want people who aren't married or aren't parents to go, "I don't relate to this that much." I do just enough so there's a little autobiographical stuff in there. But I don't like to go too far in that direction.
NUVO: When you started, was there any doubt that comedy was what you were going to do as a career?
Regan: Oh, yeah. Big time. I knew I had this burning desire to do it. The club I started at [in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.], they would let local comedians who passed auditions go on every single night. But they would make it clear that you were not one of the professionals. They would let you go on at the end of the show. I've never seen this anywhere else. The guy who ran the club wanted to make it clear to the audience that these weren't the people you were paying for. So the emcee would go on stage and say, "That's it for our show. We hope you had a good time. Thank you for coming. Oh, by the way, we have some local comedians who are just getting started. They're going to come up and do a few minutes each. If you want to hang around and listen, great. But if you've gotta go, that's fine." They made it so clear that there was this big line between what you had just seen and what you're about to see. I would do that every single night for about a year before I was able to move up to where I could open the show. It was a great training ground because more often than not, you'd go down in flames. You would have some people hang out, but they already had a big question mark over their heads. "They told us not to worry about watching these guys. What's that all about?"
NUVO: How do you come out of that without a huge complex? "Here's a guy, he's not very good, ladies and gentlemen ..."
Regan: I had developed a whole routine about people walking out during my show. I had to because I would get on stage and people were leaving. I had to have jokes about people putting on their jackets and people leaving and tables empty. I developed a little self-deprecating thing. Then, when I got good enough to open the show, I was thrown because nobody was leaving. I had to work on an act for people who were actually paying attention. That was hard.
NUVO: You have a joke where you say you feel sorry for Arab-Americans who want to get into crop-dusting, which is a hilarious line. Not to dissect the joke too much, but how did you think of that?
Regan: It was soon after Sept. 11 when everybody was on red alert. I was watching on the news that they were concerned with terrorists using crop-dusting as a way to spread bad stuff. Then I had seen where there were Arab-Americans who wanted to get into crop-dusting. They were just normal people, but they had to go through all kinds of FBI rigmarole. I thought it was funny — you wouldn't think of an Arab-American wanting to get into that field at all. One of the things I like about the joke is that it makes us question our own reaction to the terrorists. People laugh, but then they're like, "What am I laughing at? Am I laughing at my own prejudices?"
NUVO: Did the joke come to you instantly?
Regan: I don't recall, but usually jokes are instantaneous in terms of creative spark. I've learned that I can't sit down with a blank piece of paper and create comedy because nothing comes out. I'll see something on TV or experience something and it's like a light bulb. I can't explain where I'll go, if you twist it like this or look at it that way, it feels funny. Then I'll write it down and try to work on it.
NUVO: How did you make the leap from clubs to theaters without having a TV show or doing a film?
Regan: I don't know. I was lucky enough to open for Jerry Seinfeld a few times. I opened for him the first year his TV show was out and then the third year his show was out and then after the show was done. I saw him playing in these theaters with these fantastic crowds and that instantly became my goal. But I thought I would have to get a TV show to play in theaters. Along the way, I guess I refused to go away. So little by little, I got a little bit more of a following. Then a little bit more, a little bit more, a little bit more. It started to get to the point where I was filling up these comedy clubs. I remember having a conversation with my manager, saying, "I want to try playing a theater and seeing if people will come." I picked a city [St. Louis] where I knew I had a following and a lot of radio connections where I could really plug it. It worked great. Ever since then, we just moved over into the theater world.
NUVO: You're to the point where your jokes are almost like favorite songs and people will shout out for them. Do you like that?
Regan: I'm very careful to not become a caricature of myself. I don't want to be a greatest-hits type of performer. I'll do an encore where I'll come back out and then, at that moment, my fans are starting to realize that that's when they can yell things out. Then I'm happy to do some of the older stuff. I do 65-70 minutes on stage, and that's the show I want to do. Then I go out at the end and do maybe 10 minutes of older stuff. I try to reward the fans who've seen me over the years with the newer stuff. But I've learned to start liking doing the older stuff. As long as it's not the majority of my act, I'm fine.
NUVO: Is doing an encore weird?
Regan: When I was in comedy clubs, I had this attitude that I never wanted it to be fake or forced or anything like that. The reason I do them now is I want to make a clear line between the show I was there to give and the older stuff. So I like that clear delineation. When I first did it, the crowd was making it clear that they wouldn't mind if I came back out. So it makes me feel good that they would want to hear some more.