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The fine art of acting dumb
Comedy star Brian Regan plays the Johnny Mercer Theater

THIS UPCOMING JAN. 10, 2009, longtime standup comic Brian Regan returns to Savannah for a headlining show at the Johnny Mercer Theater — almost two years to the day since the family-friendly entertainer’s last appearance in town.

That show (at the 1,100-seat Lucas Theatre for the Arts), his first-ever large-room performance in our area, was approximately three-quarters full and deemed a financial and critical success. By moving to a significantly larger venue, Regan’s work at attracting a crowd is certainly cut out for him (the Johnny Mercer holds around 2,500 folks), but it would appear that momentum is on the 42-year-old comedian’s side.

He’s currently riding a growing wave of popularity that has seen him transition from large comedy clubs to small and medium-sized theaters — something of a rarity in his chosen field. It’s a triumph for the Miami, Fl. native who got his start in standup at a small Ft. Lauderdale comedy club where he also flipped burgers and washed dishes.

After years spent on the NYC and L.A. comedy scenes, he now resides with his wife and children in a quiet suburb of Las Vegas. Regan makes clear in interviews that it’s not the town’s fabled bawdy nightlife and gambling that led him to put down roots in Sin City, it’s the nearby airport — a must for a touring performer such as himself.

His brand-new concert DVD, The Epitome of Hyperbole, hit stores only two days after premiering on the Comedy Central TV network as a one-hour live special. It showcases new material from the affable, loose-limbed Irish-American, known primarily for goofy observational jokes and routines that posit him as an exasperated everyman with a mild disdain for sophisticated tastes.


Here's a clip of Brian Regan live on the Letterman show a few year's back:


That’s by no means a pioneering stance for a U.S. comic to adopt, but it’s proven easy to digest by middle America as well as a small niche of hipsters. One of a relatively small number of modern day stand-ups who scrupulously avoid “working blue” (using profanity or discussing scatological or sexual situations), Regan’s exaggerated facial mannerisms, boisterous outbursts and occasional forays into silly walks and outsized physicality betray an (acknowledged) admiration for Steve Martin’s early persona.

In his heyday, Martin was a master at getting audiences to laugh at him instead of with him, all the while basking in their obvious adoration for someone so willing to act like a complete buffoon on stage.

That gift is not lost on Regan, who as recently as a 2007 told an interviewer (who’d asked if he ever tired of making fun of himself), “I try to make it clear to the audience it’s about acting dumb, not being dumb.”

At times in his latest batch of material, that knowing approach can sometimes seem forced, as is the case in extended riffs on his supposed inability to appreciate or even be aware of the world of fine art. It’s obvious that Regan does have a working knowledge of the art world that he’s pretending to be a rube in, which can leave some viewers feeling deceived rather than embraced.

So too can much of his material feel formulaic or even predictable — a double-edged testament to his eagerness to craft well-honed bits with distinct setups and payoffs. Regan admits as much in a bonus interview on his new DVD when he says that he prefers to deliver jokes that are constructed in a way that allows the audience members to meet him halfway — and essentially beat him to the punch-line. The crowd’s recognition of a shared experience he’s commenting on adds heft to his often lightweight concepts.

Occasionally, however, Regan’s timing and willingness to go for more base (yet not foul) humor allows him to hit one straight out of the park. At moments like that, he’s one of the most adept “clean” comedians working a room today, which is surely why no less a star than Jerry Seinfeld often taps him as an opening act.

Tickets for this ALL-AGES event are said to be moving briskly. cs

Brian Regan in Concert

When: 8 pm, Sat., Jan. 10

Where: Johnny Mercer Theater

Cost: $38.50 - $42.50 adv.