The Setup
After 40 years of making people laugh, Brian Regan’s time has come.
by Bill Donahue

Brian Regan is having “a moment.” He has his own Netflix series, Stand Up and Away! with Brian Regan, which is co-executive produced by none other than Jerry Seinfeld.
In addition to the Netflix series, Regan has earned accolades for his role as Mugsy, a recovering addict who struggles to reconnect with his estranged family, on a show called Loudermilk. The series is directed by recent Oscar winner Peter Farrelly, the creative force behind the 2018 Academy Award for Best Picture, Green Book
“Peter Farrelly is the most honest guy I’ve worked with in show business,” Regan says. “After he told me he was working on a new project he thought I would be good for, he said he’d get back to me in a few days, and he did. I thought: That’s not how show business works!” 
Newfound exposure aside, Regan hardly fits the definition of the term overnight success. In fact, he’s spent the last 40 years in show business, perfecting his craft as a standup comedian. During our interview with Regan, he talked about the “perfect” level of fame, the difference between acting and standup, and his lifelong quest to answer one burning question: “What makes a joke funny?”
Congratulations on Stand Up and Away! Has your life changed as a result of having your own Netflix series? 
Not really. I think if you were to do a nationwide poll, 98 percent of people would not know who I am. Every once in a while I get recognized, but overall there hasn’t been a major shift. … If I look at this level of success, it’s sort of perfect. I have friends who have gotten on sitcoms, who are stars, and I see what they have to deal with. It’s hard for them to be out in public, and it’s hard for them to have quiet time. I have the best of both worlds, where I have enough of a following that I can play in theaters, but when a show’s over I can go a half-mile down the road and eat at a fast-food joint and no one will know who I am. 
You’ve been doing this for a long time, but Loudermilk and Stand Up and Away! have come just recently. Were these opportunities something you sought after, or did they just kind of find you? 
Years ago, I wanted a sitcom because I thought it represented a Super Bowl trophy of sorts. l thought that, if you were good enough in your standup, you’d be awarded with a sitcom. … Later on I wanted a sitcom because I thought it would give me more fans for my standup. But I was playing in theaters without a sitcom, and I thought: I need a sitcom like I need a hole in the head. 
On the way, Loudermilk fell in my lap. … One of the first scenes I had to do [for Loudermilk] was one of the heaviest scenes, where I reconnect with my [character’s] 18-year-old daughter, who works in a homeless shelter. There were some funny things about it, but it was a real McCoy scene, and I had no idea if I could act. I muscled my way through it, and little by little I got more comfortable. 
Some performers say what they do is like wearing a mask, becoming someone else. Do you feel that way? 
My goal is not to put on a face but to make it look real. When I am on stage, I try to be me. I may go off on goofy tangents, but even when I’m playing Mugsy on Loudermilk I try to make it as real as possible even though it has nothing to do with my own life. 
When did you realize you had a knack for making people laugh? 
When I was young, my dad was very funny, my mom was funny, and my brothers and sisters were funny. Part of living in our home was being funny. … There’s a photo of me when I was, like, 12 years old, and I’m just sitting there with a tape recorder and a smile on my face, with buck teeth and big goofy glasses. I used to do these fake interviews with completely made-up people, where I was the interviewer and the interviewee, and I would play them back for my family. Looking back on it now, they say, “That’s just goofy Brian and the silly stuff he did.”
When you first started doing standup, what about the experience suggested, “This is what I’m meant to do”? 
It goes back to me with the tape recorder. I just love the connection of making people laugh. A human brain can think of something twisty and pick the right words to share it. Sometimes they don’t work. If it worked all of the time, then it wouldn’t be fascinating. You can spend years trying to figure out the formula to what makes this work. It’s a lifelong quest. 
Photograph courtesy of Friedman Bergman
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, August 2019.