Brian Regan is one of the most popular comedians touring today. And he is also one those comics that can’t be stopped. By anything. Not even by a pandemic. And as everything was shutting down last year, as soon as there was a way to perform again – safely -, Regan was back at it on the road again. And just as before, his rigorous touring schedule is back precisely where it was previously. The result of all of this is his latest Netflix special, On The Rocks.
The first takeaway when you watch it is you feel as if nothing has changed. While it isn’t the first special to be released after COVID, it is the first special that manages to bring you back to another time entirely. Filmed outdoors in Utah back in October, the crowd is just as enthusiastic as ever. And if Regan hadn’t made his one and only mention of COVID at the start of the special, you would be forgiven for thinking that the special was filmed pre-March 2020. It feels like you’re in a time machine, while also giving hope for how specials will be able to look again in the future.
And as for the material itself, it is pure Brian Regan that we’ve come to know over the years. In the special, he touches on his new look, how his OCD causes him to organize his bookshelf, disagreeing with conversations he’s overhearing while at a party, and why people who work in an orchestra pit are always so dressed up when you can’t see them.
We recently spoke to Regan about his new special, filming it amid the pandemic, how eager people still are to come out and laugh, how he approaches OCD in his new special, and the biggest thing that he took away from 2020.
First thing I want to ask is how long did you have this one in the works? Because I imagine a lot had changed since you first started planning it.
Yeah. Well I had it in the works since the previous special. I was fortunate enough to have a two one hour deal with Netflix. So I knew that after the first one I was going to be doing another one. So as soon as I record an hour with a special, I start that process of thinking of the new hour. In fact I’m doing that now. Hopefully I’ll get another special somewhere. (Laughs). So right when I record something, I start moving away from it and start replenishing if you will.
Did plans change at all of how you would film it due to COVID?
Yes and no. I had wanted to do an outdoor special even before the pandemic. So the original shoot date was for May of last year at the venue where we ultimately shot it at. And it’s an outdoor amphitheater. And then when COVID hit the planet and got the planet sick, that got punted. They couldn’t do the show at that time. So they punted it from May until October, which is when we did shoot it. And even getting closer and closer to October, there was no guarantee that it was going to happen. Because half the shows that I was supposed to do was getting cancelled. So it’s very fortunate, at least in terms of the comedy special, that it didn’t get cancelled a second time and we were able to knock it out.
Can you feel when you have a good crowd when you’re taping a special? Can you feel that energy?
Uh yeah. I mean human beings are living organisms and they give off energy. When you hit a stage, every audience has a different energy level. And sometimes you’re bringing them up. Sometimes an audience needs to be brought up to a better energy level. But the one that we shot in front of was already pretty pumped. They knew that it was a Netflix taping and so they were ready to be a good audience. And so I was fortunate that I caught a good wave with that crowd.
And you open the show by addressing the gray hair right at the bat. Was that something you figured out that you had to address once you started touring again?
Well I spent like three months doing comedy clubs in different venues prior to October, prepping for it. And that was the first time before that three months that I was performing with gray hair. And so I realized very quickly from those shows that I had to get that out of the way before I talked about anything else, otherwise they would all start talking amongst themselves about my gray hair. (Laughs). If there’s a ballon, you need to pop so. So you get onstage and I realized that I just needed to get it out of the way every show. Like “Okay. I get it. I have gray hair. Let’s talk about the pink elephant…” I know that’s a weird analogy to say gray hair equals pink elephant but “Let’s get the pink elephant out of the way.” The gray elephant, I should say.
Tell me a little about filming the special itself. Because with all the specials that have been shot during COVID, yours looks and feels like it’s from a time before. How much kind of thought goes into that aesthetic?
I know there are many comedians – and musicians and all kinds of entertainers – who are doing pandemic oriented shows where that’s part of the premise, if you will. That we have to do this in a new way because of the pandemic. And I figured that stuff has already been explored by plenty of comedians. And I wanted to just do as normal of a stand-up special as I could under extraneous circumstances. So I didn’t want it to be “Here’s a comedy special from the COVID era”. I wanted it to be “Here’s a comedy special that hopefully you can laugh at 10 years from now.”
And do you feel like, because of what everyone has been through, that audiences appreciate the experience all the more and are more eager to laugh? Is there a vibe change at all?
Uh I think people always want to laugh. But there is a different kind of laugh energy if you will after people have been away from it for a while. It’s like a cathartic thing to be able to do something that you haven’t done in a long time. Going back to 9/11, the first show that I did after 9/11, I remember driving to a comedy club thinking “This is weird that they’re even going to be trying to do a comedy show with what’s going on in the world.” And I got onstage – the place was packed. Not that it was packed because of me. The place was packed because people wanted to have at least one foot on normalcy, even while chaos is going on in the world.
But anyway, I remember that show. I remember like killing. And I don’t think it was because I was so funny. I just think the audience was like “We want to have some sense of normalcy in the midst of disaster.” And so I sort of feel the same way with the COVID thing. People understand that times are trying and we have difficult circumstances. But they still want to laugh. So it feels good to get onstage in front of people who are ready to laugh.
And describe going back on the road for the first time after COVID. Were you able to pick your material right back up where you left it? Or was there an adjustment made at all?
You know everybody does a different kind of comedy. But my kind of comedy is I just talk about anything and everything. And I really didn’t feel like I had to adjust. The things I talk about still exist in the world, like human behavior and goofy things in the news and this that and the other. So no, I didn’t feel like I needed to make an adjustment. I didn’t feel like I needed to go up and do 10-15 minutes of pandemic jokes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that for people that want to do that. That’s great. Talk about whatever you want to talk about. But I wanted it to be “This was the kind of comedy that existed before this COVID hit.”
Like with a lot of comedy, there seems to be a big relatability factor with a lot of what you do. For this special, the thing that sort of stands out is the OCD bit about organizing books. Is that the sort of thing that people will come up to you and say “I can definitely relate with that”?
Yeah. I’ve had people come up, especially about that bit in particular. I try to be careful with the subject. First of all, I think you can laugh at anything, you know what I mean?Nothing is off limits in terms of what you can laugh at or laugh about. It depends on the perspective that you’re putting towards it. I know there are people with OCD that have it in a very debilitating way. And it’s a constant battle for them. It’s a spectrum oriented thing. There’s people that have it a lot worse than me. So I try to be careful to make sure that I’m not coming off like I’m making light of it. But it is something that I deal with as a person and I have a very mild version of it if you will. So to me it’s fair game to talk about because it’s true to me. And I’d like to think that people number one laugh at it but number two realize that hey, this is a thing that people have and it’s okay to be light hearted about it and have some fun with it.
Exactly. It doesn’t feel like you’re attacking anyone with the bit when people are laughing at it.
I think there’s laugh at comedy and laugh with comedy. And those are two different kinds of humor. Laughing at, I’ve never been a big fan of. “Hey, look at the weird person over in the corner and let’s laugh at that person.” I don’t like victim oriented comedy. But laugh with means that person’s included in the humor. In a good way. It’s like “Hey, let’s all laugh at ourselves as opposed to laughing at”. So I don’t know. I typically gravitate towards laugh with comedy as opposed to laugh at comedy.
And you touch on social media in the special. But I’ve noticed over the years, aside from professional purposes like announcements, you’re not someone who engages in it as much. Is that a conscious decision?
Well, yeah. A couple of years ago I was doing these videos that I would put out each day. Because every day is a thing. Like a couple days ago was National Pizza Day. And it could be National Be Nice To Your Mailman Day. Every day is something. And these are actual days that are proclaimed or whatever. So I was making these videos about that. But I stopped doing those a couple of years ago.
And now I just kind of use social media just to promo my shows and my dates. I find that a lot of people have used social media to throw political fireballs at each other. I don’t like to do that. I don’t enjoy that war. And so I’ve kind of bowed out, if you will. At least from that perspective.
And as you’re on the road testing out your next hour, are there any cities that you find are really helpful or responsive to trying out new material?
I mean every city has its own personality. Every part of the country has its own personality. But there’s also a sameness to people. I know that sounds contradictory. But even though somebody from Boston might be a little bit different than somebody from San Francisco, oftentimes they will laugh at the same things. So I enjoy performing in all four corners of our country. I do a lot of shows up in Canada as well. I’d like to even explore pushing myself out there even more internationally. I’d like to try Australia and New Zealand and that sort of thing. I haven’t done it yet.
But I like to do the kind of comedy that can travel. There are people that do a lot of geographical kinds of jokes. And that might work in one region. But I like to do the stuff that will work hopefully everywhere.
Exactly. Your comedy is so universal in that sense.
Right. I’d hate for somebody to watch my thing and go “Why would I laugh at this guy? I’m from Mississippi.” (Laughs). Hm Hey, you’re welcome to laugh!
And the last thing I want to ask that I’ve been asking a number of comics is, after all is said and done, what is the biggest thing you can take away as a comedian from what we’ve been through the last year?
It’s interesting how, I don’t know, it felt like the world stopped in a way. But it didn’t. Life as we knew it stopped for a while, or at least slowed down dramatically. I guess it was like a bear in hibernation. Winter is over, he comes back out, and he gets back at it. It’s intriguing to me that, despite this incredible slow down in the world, flowers still bloom, people still travel, people still work, people still laugh. The world keeps spinning and life goes on.
Brian Regan: On The Rocks is streaming on Netflix now.