"Clearly I’m a comedian and I know that there’s a thing called comedy clubs and stuff like that, but it just seems odd that people would walk into a building and go, ‘We’re going to sit in chairs and laugh.’ And they’re not even really interested in what they’re going to be laughing about. ‘We’re just going to go there and we’re just going to laugh.’ It would be like a club where, ‘We’re going to go to this place and cry.’ ‘What are you going to cry about?’ ‘I don’t know. I just feel like crying.’ I don’t think anyone would ever do that."
– Brian Regan
Brian Regan: Good morning, this is Brian Regan calling for George MacPherson.
Guy MacPherson: No, it’s Guy MacPherson.
BR: Guy MacPherson?!
GM: You got it.
BR: I apologize, man! They wrote ‘George’ on my itinerary sheet and I apologize.
GM: Aw, man, you can’t get good help.
BR: (laughs) Man, I just woke up. My first sip of coffee and I’ve made a mistake already. I feel bad.
GM: Oh good. I’m glad you just woke up, too.
BR: But happy to talk to you, Guy.
GM: We’ve done this a few times now. You’re becoming such a regular to Vancouver.
BR: Well, I enjoy coming back. It’s a beautiful city.
GM: Not that you do anything when you’re here, right?
BR: Well, I don’t get a lot of opportunities to do much but from looking out the hotel room window, it sure looks beautiful out there.
GM: Do you ever travel for pleasure? Or do you travel so much in work that you don’t bother?
BR: Oh, wow. Good question. Usually we might attach a few days onto a work week or something. I had a couple of shows in Hawaii this year. I’d never done that before. And I stayed, like, five days after that to just enjoy it. So that was really cool.
GM: I’m glad you said ‘good question’ because after talking to you a few times, I run out of questions.
BR: We’ll get into some real introspective stuff, I guess, right? The meaning of life, and things like that.
GM: You’re going to be here one day before Doug Stanhope. Are you familiar with him?
GM: You’re the anti-Doug Stanhope in every single way, right down to interviews. His manager asked if I could make it as late in the day as possible. I said I could do 2 o’clock and he got back to me: ‘How about 6:30?’
BR: (laughs) That’s hysterical. Yeah, I like to do them, knock them out, then start the day. But I guess we all go to the beat of a different drummer.
GM: It’s surprising you like to do them early considering your nickname used to be Rip.
BR: Yes. Yeah. Rip Van Winkle.
GM: When did you start to appreciate getting up?
BR: Well, yeah, I appreciate the need for it on given days, but I’ve never lost my love affair with slumber. My mom and dad have eight kids. My mom and dad are still around, fortunately, and my brothers and sisters are still around. We call it the Regan sleeping gene. We worship sleep. They used to say the sun never set on the [British Empire]; well the sun never rose on the Regan family. There was always a Regan asleep somewhere.
GM: Did you pass that on to your kids?
BR: Yes. Well, my son for sure. My daughter, she just woke up, which is a little unusual. Up until about a year ago, she and my son would just sleep until we woke them up. Now my daughter’s starting to realize there are things in the world that she wants to get up for and put clothes on for. So she might have only half of the Regan sleeping gene.
GM: Do you listen to much standup?
BR: You know, I go through periods. The only time I really listen to standup is on satellite radio. They have the comedy channel so it’s pretty convenient to put a station on. When I’m driving up to the supermarket or something like that, if I’ve got some time to kill, I might listen to some comedians here and there just to hear what some people are doing. But it’s more for work, just to hear what people are doing as opposed to being entertained by it. I don’t know how to put this, but if you enjoy comedy, from a comedian’s perspective you’re enjoying someone’s craft moreso than the surprise of the comedy. It’s like you’ll listen to somebody’s routine and go, ‘Wow, that was good. That was really well done. It was well put together. They came from an angle I had never really thought of. A good choice of words. The brevity was right on.’ And that sort of thing. Sometimes I miss when I was in college and I would laugh at my friends without looking at what they said through a microscope.
GM: I’m pretty much like that, too. People think I’m not enjoying something, but I am, only in my head.
BR: There was a club in New York City and the door man/manager would stand off to the side of the club, but he was under a light and I don’t think he realized that. And I don’t think I ever made that guy laugh in about twenty years! (laughs) Every time I’d look over, he’d have the most stoic expression. I’m like, ‘Wow, this is a comedy club and I just can’t seem to crack through that guy.’
GM: You kept going back hoping to one day make him laugh.
BR: Yeah. One day. One day I’m going to put a smile on his face. That’s my quest.
GM: I know you’re in your own comedy world, but do you feel the comedy resurgence?
BR: Uh, well, just this last week a person at a hotel – a room service person – knew I was a comedian and was all upset that the local comedy channel on the radio. He said, ‘They’re thinking of taking it off the air and everybody’s in an uproar.’ And I was like, Wow, I had never heard of such a thing. It was the funniest comedy radio station around and the fact that people are up in arms when their comedy is taken away… Now it’s like a 24-hour right. So yeah, there are people out there who are liking it in an increasing way. I’ve always found it weird that comedy… Comedy is not supposed to be a thing. To me, comedy is a how. You know, you make a movie with a comedic tone to it. But to come out and say, ‘It’s a comedy!’, like that’s the most important thing is you’re supposed to sit there and laugh, that almost feels like there’s supposed to be a story first, right? And you might laugh a lot during the story. But the fact comedy is a thing is kind of strange to me.
GM: Even in the standup form?
BR: Yeah. I mean, I’m splitting hairs here. Clearly I’m a comedian and I know that there’s a thing called comedy clubs and stuff like that, but it just seems odd that people would walk into a building and go, ‘We’re going to sit in chairs and laugh.’ And they’re not even really interested in what they’re going to be laughing about. (laughs) ‘We’re just going to go there and we’re just going to laugh.’ It would be like a club where, ‘We’re going to go to this place and cry.’ ‘What are you going to cry about?’ ‘I don’t know. I just feel like crying.’ I don’t think anyone would ever do that. ‘Well, we know great-grandpa Ed passed away and we’re probably going to cry at his funeral.’ But the comedy thing, it’s like people don’t even care what they’re laughing at. It’s just, ‘We just wanna laugh! We just want our bodies to shake!’
GM: There’s way more media coverage of comedy than when I started covering it. But I would imagine it’s a double-edged sword for the comics because more people are into it so there’s greater chance for them to perform and be seen, but on the other hand it’s harder to stand out because there are so many comics.
BR: Yeah, it’s sort of like an Amway salesman. You wanna get in early so all the other salesmen are working for you. They’re down below on the pyramid. I have been fortunate in that I got my big toe in the water a while ago so I’ve been able to develop a little bit of a following out there. I don’t know if it would be as easy now. If I wanted to get into comedy now, I don’t know how hard it would be to break through. But I’m not saying less people should do comedy. I love comedy and I think if somebody wants to gravitate that way, I applaud them. But it’s like anything in life; you’ve got to really want it, though, man. You’re gonna have to really go after it, and go through possibly some difficult periods.
GM: Did you go through those difficult periods?
BR: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It was only like once or twice my entire career where I looked into a mirror and said, ‘Am I out of my mind? Why don’t I stop?’ It was a fleeting moment and I didn’t. I remember a two-week period, almost three weeks out on the road, where all my shows were not good. In a row! Part of it was because I was new and green and was playing on different stages and not yet used to how to handle different atmospheres and environments. And part of it was just the luck of the draw. I wasn’t consistent yet. But after about two weeks in a row, you go, ‘Am I delusional? Why do I want to make a living making people laugh when clearly I don’t know how to do it?’ But then you have that good show and you’re back on track. You go, ‘Oh, okay, I know how to do it. It’s just a question of making it more consistent, I guess.’
GM: And figuring out what you did wrong in those other shows?
BR: Yeah. You know, thinking of the funny thoughts is only part of it. It’s figuring out how to be on stage and command a room and handle loud noises and people coming in late and there’s a blender going off. There’s just all kinds of stuff happening that, in addition to being a comedian, you’re like a master of ceremonies at a circus sometimes. And you have to learn how to do it. And until you start getting those skills, it can be a bumpy ride.
GM: I think it would prove you’re not delusional just by asking yourself if you’re delusional. Because there are some comics who do weak sets and think they did great. So you at least recognized when you needed work.
BR: (laughs) Well, I think so. In fact, I’m so used to being a comedian that it makes my off-stage world more awkward. I’m so conditioned to laughs equals success that if I’m just meeting people in a social situation and I don’t make them laugh at some point, I feel like I’m not connecting. I’ll throw something out there in a small talk conversation with some people who might not even know I’m a comedian and instead of getting a laugh, they’ll go, ‘Oh, really?’ Like they thought I was serious. A laugh to me is a very objective thing that you can check off. You can say they laughed therefore I communicated. But anything short of a laugh, you don’t know if you’re communicating with someone so it’s harder to trust human interaction without laughter.
GM: I know you don’t like to be a comedian 24/7 – you like being just a regular guy – but you’re saying even when you’re a regular guy, you’re still partly comedian because of that.
BR: Sometimes, yeah.
GM: You’re looking for the laugh.
BR: At times. Not constantly, but there are times when you’re just chatting with somebody and you throw something out there and if they don’t laugh, then you think they don’t get me on this level, so maybe they didn’t get anything I said.
GM: Are you in Vegas right now?
BR: Yeah. I’m actually holed up in a bathroom in my condo while workers are coming in. I’ve got some flooring issues. So it’s kind of hard to feel like king of my castle when I’m all wedged up inside a bathroom here. But yes, I’m at home.
GM: You’ve got a nice echo going anyway.
BR: Yeah, I want to feel like I’m on stage even in an interview situation.
GM: Right now I’m in the interior of British Columbia and every day it’s around 35. I’m wondering how people live here. And you’re in Vegas, where it’s probably 40, 45 degrees. I guess you never go outside.
BR: Uh, it’s pretty hot here. But I go out occasionally. But when I go out, it’s running to a car and then cranking it up and getting the AC on and then driving to a parking space and running into a building. I kind of avoid the heat. But occasionally I’ll go out and golf, oddly enough. If you live here, you go out very early as the sun’s coming up to avoid the brutal part of the heat. But it’s hard to avoid it altogether.
GM: Another reason to get up early. What’s a typical non-comedy day for you? Is it just driving around getting coffee with other comics?
BR: (laughs) Yeah, that’s what we do! And one day it happened to be filmed. I don’t know. Some people ask me, ‘Hey, what are you gonna do today?’ And then I feel like I’m grasping for answers, yet somehow I seem to fill it up. I’m very organized. I’ve heard other comedians say that they think comedians are very meticulous. I don’t know if it’s an across-the-board kinda thing, but I’m that way in my regular life. Like, this very interview: I keep track of it, I put my notes down, I put them in a computer, I have a data base. If I spend $2.45 on ice cream, that’s gonna be written down on a piece of paper. So it’s like there’s my life and then there’s a record of my life. So I only have time to live half my life because the other half I have to record!
GM: What kind of notes do you need for an interview?
BR: Oh, man, I keep track of my interviews. In fact, I don’t want to blame my assistant, but I keep track of past interviews so I can go back and see what was discussed and what wasn’t discussed. And for this interview, I have my itinerary sheet but I should have consulted what my assistant sent me. And she made the correction. She put, ‘Your first interview is with Guy-slash-George MacPherson of Georgia Straight. You’ve interviewed with him several times before. The media sheet and latest articles are attached.’ But she forgot to attach them. So I wasn’t able to read them. So I’m sort of like kicking myself. I’m going, I’m doing all this recording and all this record keeping so that I can review these things before and I didn’t even get to review it. So if I’m going over stories I’ve told you, I apologize.
GM: I went over them to make sure I didn’t ask you the same things. I guess that’s the confusion: the Georgia Straight and George.
BR: Aaah! You know, that makes sense.
GM: The Seinfeld thing was great.
BR: Thank you.
GM: Have you watched the whole series?
BR: I don’t know if he does them by year or whatever, but the first group he made – he made about 12 or 15 of them – I watched all of those. And then I’ve heard that he has a new batch of them coming out and I haven’t seen any of the new ones yet. I will probably check them out.
GM: You’re the first person I’ve spoken to since doing one. Can you answer some questions I have about it?
GM: When you’re in a coffee shop with Jerry Seinfeld, and people are just eating beside you as if it’s nothing special, are they told to act normally or do they not care?
BR: I believe they are prepped. Well, it’s a combination. That one was done in LA and people in LA are kind of used to not talking to celebrities and things like that. But I also believe – because they’re not all done in LA; some are done in New York and stuff like that – but I also believe, at least in the one we did, that the people are prepped. I think they’re just actual customers and stuff like that but I think they’re told, you know, that Seinfeld is coming in. In fact, our table had a reserved thing on it. The coffee shop was packed and we had a perfect table. Like, wow, what a great way to get coffee: Film it and you’re going to be guaranteed a table in LA, you know? So we walked in and sat down at a table that obviously had been chosen for lighting and video purposes and stuff like that. And so for the most part everyone knew to just kind of let us have our conversation. There was a film crew in there. But they’re not extras. These are actual customers but they were just, I guess, being courteous and chose not to come up. There was one woman, and I think she did make the thing, who complimented his shirt as she was walking out. An older woman. She was very pleasant. Other than that, everybody kind of left us be.
GM: Ah, I was wondering if there were small remote cameras all over the place or if there was a crew.
BR: Yeah, I mean it’s not an obtrusive film crew like they’re making a movie. There’s a person huddled down by the booth with a camera. You try not to look. There may have been a couple of cameras for cuts back and forth and that sort of thing. But it’s as unobtrusive as they can be in that atmosphere, I guess.
GM: I like the back and forth. Do those sorts of conversations, whether it’s that particular one or you’re just out with friends, give you ideas for bits in your act later or are they just their own thing?
BR: Sometimes they do. Sometimes when you’re with a comedian, hanging out with a comedian friend, and you come up with something funny, there’s this moment where the two of you are looking at each other like, ‘Who owns this?’ Usually a discussion will be had around it. And usually it’s the person who had the original thought or idea. You say, ‘Hey, that’s yours.’ And then the stuff that went back and forth goes with the idea, which would be to the person who came up with the original idea. But yeah, there are times when things pop up, you know? And you find yourself, too, sometimes having a conversation and you think of something and you go, ‘I don’t want to do this now because I don’t want there to be any confusion as to whose this is. So I’m just going to store it in my comedy brain and write it down later.’ It’s weird, ownership of material and stuff like that. I remember being on the road years ago and I had this joke about Pop-a-matic games, you know with the dice and the bubble? I was working five nights in a comedy club and after three nights I had done the joke and then the fourth night the comedian in front of me does a Pop-a-matic dice bubble joke. It was different from mine but it sure is an obscure topic to bring up and it’s hard for me to bring it up after that, you know? I talked to him afterwards and he said, ‘Aw, no, no. My joke’s completely different from your joke. Because I heard your joke and my joke’s different.’ I remember thinking, ‘It’s different enough for you to do next week with another comedian! You don’t have to do it right in front of me! You’re kind of trampling my topic here.’ Anyway, so there are some moments like that where it gets a little murky as to who can do what and when and where.
GM: It’s just comedy etiquette, right?
GM: You need a Miss Manners of comedy.
BR: Mm-hmm. We should have our own Amy Vanderbilt.
GM: You know when Seinfeld tours, he doesn’t do interviews. Do you ever consider that?
BR: Well, I have backed off on radio interviews because, I don’t know, there’s different skill levels and it’s hard for me signing up for a comedy team when I don’t get to rehearse with the other person. As far as the actual performance, I like doing that by myself and it’s hard sometimes when you’re trying to do a bit and the person on the other line doesn’t know whether you’re in the middle of a bit or not and they might jump on you right before the punchline. It just gets a little challenging sometimes. So I understand some people backing away from interviews occasionally.
GM: Put in a good word for me next time you speak to Jerry.
BR: You got it.
GM: You’re guesting on more podcasts, which is great. Are comics better interviewers?
BR: I think because they’re a comedian, they’re going to ask questions that might come from a perspective of someone who’s stood on the stage. As long as you have a kinship, a camaraderie with other comedians, those interviews can be fun. But that doesn’t mean that somebody who doesn’t do comedy can’t also give a great interview. But there’s just, I guess, a comfort level, you know, of being with somebody who you know has been on the stage. It’s sort of like watching football on TV and the sports analysts have been on the field. You have that little extra feeling of, I know they know what they’re talking about because they’ve been out there.
GM: Unless it’s Rush Limbaugh or Dennis Miller.
BR: (laughs) I actually enjoyed the Dennis Miller experiment, if you will. I like when people take chances in anything, whether it’s show biz or sports or whatever. And I thought that was a gamble that they took. It was a gamble that he took and it was a gamble that the network took to put him on there. And it didn’t quite work but it’s easy after the fact to go, ‘Why did they do that?!’ Well, you don’t know if it’s going to be successful unless you try.
GM: You’re playing a different venue in Vancouver this time. You were here last year. Is this a new act or do you just change venues and hope for a different crowd?
BR: I forget. They told me the reasoning for going to the other venue. I don’t know what the deal was. I don’t want to speak incorrectly. But I just gradually turn the material over and hopefully when people come out, they’re gonna go, ‘Hey, a lot of that stuff is new from last time.’ I made the mistake years ago. I had two hours of material and I said I can do two different shows. So I split it into two different shows and I would go to a club for a month and I would have a calendar on the table. And I called the two shows The Idiot and The Oddity. It was two completely different hours of material. And it worked great for a while. People would come out, see a show and the emcee would go, ‘Hey, if you liked what you saw, he’s got another hour of material. Tonight was The Idiot. So come back and see The Oddity. Check your calendar and you can come back and see that.’ So people would come back. I was like, Wow, I got a good thing going here. And then at the end of the month, people were coming up to me and saying, ‘Well, we saw The Idiot and The Oddity. Next time we come back, are you going to have two completely new hours?’ And then I’m like, ‘Geez!’ I realized once you title something, it’s something people can check off and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Now I just like the philosophy of gradually turning the material over. And if somebody hears a bit that was in the previous time they were here, that’s okay. But you’re also going to hear a bunch of stuff you didn’t hear.
GM: You probably have four hours of material now, at least.
BR: Well, I don’t know, I’ve got five one-hour things recorded and doing another hour of stuff now, so that’s six. Plus stuff that comes and goes over the years. But I’m less bored if I’m doing stuff that is not as overly done. I get bored with stuff if I keep doing it over and over again. I gotta move on.
GM: When the audience calls out at the end for their favourite bit from the past, do you ever just forget them?
BR: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. And it can be embarrassing, you know? One time somebody yelled, ‘Strong man competitions!’ And I couldn’t remember the bit. I just remembered little bits and pieces of it. And sometimes you go for it. You figure, ‘Oh, I’ll start it and I’ll remember as I’m doing it.’ But on that particular one, I didn’t remember the funny part! All I remembered was that these guys were screaming in the bit. So I’m on stage going, ‘You ever see these strong mans, they’re lifting stuff, Aaaahh!’ And I’m thinking all I’m doing is screaming on stage. I haven’t said anything funny. And I did about 45 seconds worth of screaming and I just kind of stopped and said, ‘Alright, any other requests?’ I hope somebody doesn’t request another bit where I just yell! (laughs)
GM: Was that the original bit or did you forget the words?
BR: I had forgotten the set-up. There was something that led up to the screaming. And all I was doing was the screaming. And I’m like, This isn’t comedy; this is just a madman on stage screaming at the top of his lungs. The audience was nice; they were chuckling but I’m thinking this is absurd, man.
GM: I heard David Cassidy say he was once playing with John Lennon at his house. They were playing an old Beatles song that Cassidy grew up listening to and Lennon had to ask him how it went.
BR: (laughs) That’s cool.
GM: Okay, I better let you go. Get out of the bathroom.
BR: Alright, Guy. Thanks for the interview, man.