Q&A: Brian Regan's comedy Venn diagram

Since his first broad exposure in 1995 on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” Brian Regan has exploded onto the comedy scene. We chatted with him about his show Friday at the Peabody Opera House.

How did you get your start as a stand-up comedian? There were a number of things that influenced the decision. When I was in college, I had switched majors from economics to communication and theater arts, and one of my first classes in that new major was a speech class. I used to try to make my speeches funny, and when it worked, when I got the class laughing, I would walk back to the dorm on cloud nine. I remember thinking, “I don’t feel like this when I walk back from biology class.”

When you were a kid, did you ever think you would be a comedian? I didn’t think about it as a kid. I liked being funny and making people laugh, and that sort of thing, but growing up in Miami, Fla., it wasn’t on my radar that it could be something that I could be involved with. Hollywood was a billion miles away from where I lived, so I didn’t consider show business as an option. But what’s weird is, my elementary school, at our eighth-grade graduation, all of the classmates wrote this little paper and they listed everybody in the class, and they put next to their name what they thought they would be when they got older, and for me it said comedian and showman. So my classmates knew before I did.

What has been your favorite stand-up experience? Even though I was fortunate enough to do “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” which was truly a dream come true, I still have to say the most thrilling night of my career was the night I passed my audition at the Comic Strip Comedy Club in Fort Lauderdale (Fla.), because I knew I wanted to be a comedian, and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it.

And I auditioned five times, and on my fifth audition, the guy who ran the place came over and said he wanted to talk to me in the kitchen. And it almost puts tears in my eyes to this day how life-changing it was. I knew why he wanted to talk to me in the kitchen. I had just done a good set, and it changed my life. He said, “You passed your audition; you can perform here seven nights a week.” And I said to him, “I don’t know what other local comedians do, but would I be abusing the privilege if I performed every single night?” And he said, “Nobody’s ever asked me that question, but if you want to perform every single night, then you can perform every single night.”

So I performed every single night for, like, a year straight, and it wasn’t always in the best circumstances. They would put the locals on after the show, after the good comedians. But it made it, it made you good quick. You were either going to quit or you were going to figure out how to get these people laughing as they’re walking out the door.

Who are some of your influences? George Carlin, I just really loved how hard he worked at stand-up. The volume of material he came out with and the arc of his career, how he went from hippy-dippy weatherman to being more socially conscious in his comedy.

I like Steve Martin for the mixture of silly and smart. He had such a ridiculously silly kind of comedy, but it was smart. It came from a very smart brain, and I used to love watching Steve Martin.

How much of performance is for you and how much is for the audience? I don’t know what that math thing is — is it called a Venn diagram? My act is a Venn diagram between what I think is funny and what the audience thinks is funny. . I think of 100 things that are funny, the audience agrees with 50 of those things, those 50 become my act. But everything that I’m doing, I think is funny.

I always resist trying to figure out what the audience is going to think is funny. I think once you start crossing that line, you run the risk of being a button-pusher. It’s like, I’m not up there to push buttons and give you what you’re looking for; I’m up there to share with you what I think is funny. And I hope you agree. I hope you go, “Yeah, we agree with this.” But I’m not up there to go, “What do you like? Silly hats? Here’s a silly hat!”(tncms-asset)6a53673a-80db-5286-bed9-c9141d21e536"}}

Do you consider your material family friendly? It’s an interesting question. I would not describe it as family friendly. In fact, I kind of cringe at that description, even though it is family friendly. I also wouldn’t describe it as clean, even though it is clean. I feel like those descriptions are not accurate enough to convey what the comedy is. I think if somebody doesn’t know my comedy, and just hears that I’m clean, they’re going to wrap their head around something that I’m not. Or if somebody’s never heard my comedy and hears that, “Oh, he’s family friendly,” they’re going to wrap their head around something that I’m not.

When 8 p.m. March 4 • Where Peabody Opera House, 1400 Market Street • How much $39.50-$62 • More info 314-499-7600; Ticketmaster.com

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