When Steve Jobs ran Apple he always found a way to give people what they didn’t know they wanted. Brian Regan is a lot like Jobs — rather than read a room and calibrate his set to it, he goes with what he finds funny and lets the crowd come to him. It’s a strategy that’s elevated him into the top echelon of comics.
“I have always tried to be careful not to try to figure out what the audience wants; I don’t think that is what performers are supposed to do,” Regan said in a recent phone interview. “It’s a dangerous line to cross. It means you are no longer being interesting, you’re just placating.”
Regan also walks a comedic tightrope in his act; he manages to keep everyone believing he’s on their side. In a joke about guns, one of the most polarizing topics of all, he’s the only attendee at a convention for people in the middle on the issue, a lonely man in an empty ballroom.
“There’s a visual of me just standing there really awkwardly drinking ginger ale looking around … you can be on either side of that and still enjoy it,” he said, noting that some hardliners won’t give in. “I can’t please everybody, so I have to just please myself comedically and hope people will want to come along for the ride.”
One of the labels that’s stuck to Regan for years is that he works clean, which is a bit unfair. For example, his bit about theme parks from a 2008 special culminates with a joke about an attraction called “JFK: The Ride” — dark stuff, even if there aren’t any four-letter words.
Asked for an elevator-pitch description of his act, Regan said, “If I had to put it in a handful of words: I try to find the peculiar in the mundane.”
It’s tough to describe, he continued.
“Somebody once said talking about comedy is like dancing about architecture. I used to have a joke answer when every once in a blue moon somebody asked me that question. I’d say, just to be absurd, ‘My comedy is Kierkegaardian with Machiavellian undertones.’ And a writer one time said, ‘Oh, I can kind of see that.’ I was like, ‘Oh no! Now what do I do?’ How do I explain that I was being ridiculous?”
His role on the Peter Farrelly-directed series Loudermilk, now shooting its third season, provides him with the rare chance to work blue.
“It’s interesting for me on two fronts: I get to act, which I never really got to do in my career, and it’s not clean,” he said.
The latter is OK because it’s not his act.
“I’m serving their creative vision. … I make a clear line between the comedy I create and the comedy that somebody else created,” he said.
Stand Up and Away, his most recent Netflix project, was a four-episode series that blended standup, sketches and audience Q&A. With an eye toward newer fans, Regan revived some older material for it, something he normally eschews.
“Once I’m done with a bit, I kind of move on,” he said. “But then I thought, people still like these and there are probably a lot of people out there who have never heard them before. I thought it would be a way to showcase them, but in a new way.”
Echoing his sold-out 2013 Red Rocks concert, Regan will film his next special at Tuacahn Center for the Arts, a Utah amphitheater built into a rocky box canyon.
“A lot of comedians don’t like to perform outdoors. … I’ve always liked it,” he said. “I think my comedy is theatrical enough; I can get away with it. Maybe some other comedians are more heavy on the spoken word without acting things out [and] for them, it’s more challenging. I just found it to be an amazing experience.”
— Michael Witthaus
When: Saturday, September 28, 8 p.m.
Where: Casino Ballroom, 169 Ocean Blvd., Hampton Beach
Tickets: $27-@57 at casinoballroom.com