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Despite staleness of some jokes, Regan’s material is still funny

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Friday night at the Mansfield Center for the Performing Arts Theater, Brian Regan returned to entertain a near sell-out crowd in Great Falls.

Brian Regan performed Friday at the Mansfield Center for the Perfroming Arts Theater in Great Falls.
Brian Regan performed Friday at the Mansfield Center for the Performing Arts Theater in Great Falls.

In an interview with the Great Falls Tribune, Regan said that sometimes when he’s on tour he experiments with jokes that are still being tweaked, saying that it’s kind of like “taking the brownies out of the oven before they’re ready.”

Having watched Friday’s show, however, it seems that Regan’s real issue is that many of his jokes have been burned to a crisp.

Which, isn’t to say they aren’t still funny, because they are. The fact that he’s made a career out of doing clean comedy should be commended as well because there aren’t many left out there.

But, being clean doesn’t mean you can’t also be a bit more current.

Perhaps the reason why things seemed a bit stale, too, is that Regan said he was gearing up for another Comedy Central special in an interview with the newspaper in Baton Rouge, La.

The specials, usually, are where stand-ups release most of their new material to the world. They try things out on the road, discover what works and what doesn’t, and keep all the good stuff in for the special.

The last recorded material Regan released was in 2010, so essentially he’s been touring with nearly that same material since then. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Brian Regan show in October, after his new special comes out, is much different than a Brian Regan show in February.

Which, for the most part is OK. For instance, the crowd on Friday was hanging on his every word, laughing at almost everything (he did make a comment about one of his new jokes falling flat, which it did. You could argue it was perhaps one of the highlights of the set) but I couldn’t help thinking that I had heard many of those jokes before.

Comedy is unique in that way.

When you pay $45 to see REO Speedwagon, you expect them to play “Keep on Lovin’ You,” and everyone cheers when they play it.

With comedians, however, jokes start losing their novelty, and over time, their humor, the more you hear them.

Regan is still a talented funnyman who has a good grasp on what works and how to keep an audience engaged.

However, some of his jokes in his routine are at least three years old, if not older. He’s strayed a bit from the “dumb-guy” jokes, which to be honest maybe that change in tone has taken him a bit longer to complete.

In a way, I can appreciate a comic who doesn’t want to settle on dumb humor, but on the other hand if that’s the tone you’ve established your fan base with, it can be a difficult one to break from.

Which, to be clear, is on a different plane from material. Material is the type of things a comic talks about, tone is the way in which it’s delivered. One should constantly be changing, the other can change, but it should be more consistent than what you say.

And maybe in a way that was the main issue I had with Regan’s set. His material was more consistent than his tone.

Which isn’t to say that all of Regan’s show was filled with retreads. He ventured a bit into politics and a bit into history, and a bit more into topics he’s explored before such as dating and the NFL.

His delivery was strong and even when he was thrown off track after someone’s cell phone rang while he was talking, he eventually found his way back to the routine.

I’d argue that the best parts of the show were when he WAS thrown off his routine because it was then that he was ripped from the familiar.

In fact, after receiving a standing ovation, Regan returned to perform some more. The beginning of the encore was all off-the-cuff material as he started talking about Great Falls, the weather here, and his experience with trying to get here.

“I told my travel agent I needed to get to Great Falls and she told me, ‘hold on I’ll have to get back to you on that,'” he said. “I told her ‘there’s people that live there, how do they get there?’ She said ‘maybe they’ve just always been there.'”

Before that, though, about midway through the set, in fact, I started to wonder what was new and what wasn’t. Much of it I could recognize from the various YouTube clips, stand-up specials and other places where I’ve seen his material.

To some that might not be a problem because as long as people are laughing, it means they’re enjoying the set. To me, though, when I see a comic, I want to be able to say I saw things that I had never seen before, and laugh at ideas presented in ways I’ve never considered before.

Several years ago I interviewed Ron White about this very topic. He said he thought that the worst thing that an audience can do is applaud at his jokes. He said applause means that they’re not laughing and they’re not laughing, in part, because they’ve heard what he’s said before.

White said he’s always tweaking, fixing, changing, updating his material when on the road. I’m sure Regan does too, as does any self-respecting comic.

In one way, I suppose Regan isn’t that type of “cerebral” comic that makes you laugh and think about what you’re laughing about and later on after you got home you might think about why you were laughing.

But, there was a time not long ago when he was. Maybe he’ll get there again. I hope he comes back when he does.

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