The comedian Brian Regan is a bit like gazpacho in that it doesn’t take much time to acquire a taste, but there’s still a breaking-in period. At his show on June 28 at the Hamilton Place Theatre, that was most definitely the case, as most of the audience seemed to have followed Regan for quite a while, laughing uproariously at all his jokes. It seemed as though his starter act, comedian Joe Zimmerman, was the funnier of the two, but this disparity can be attributed for a couple of different reasons.
One, Zimmerman was on for only 15 minutes, proving that brevity is the soul of wit. He has a decent amount of material to choose from, and the luxury of mining the best of it to pack into a chunk of time that’s easy to pay attention to. As well, his droll speaking style and deadpan manner of delivering jokes made his act particularly effective; the setup and delivery were orated in the same tone of voice, so the punchline itself wasn’t always easily spotted — suspense does play a large role in successful comedy, after all.
And two, he didn’t appear to be recovering from any health issues as Regan was — he introduced his set by apologizing for being sick, even saying he was coughing and hacking so much, he had had to cancel a show earlier that week — which took a weight of his shoulders. Performing live comedy is nerve-wracking enough without having to worry about feeling healthy enough to go onstage with energy and enthusiasm.
But Regan was the headliner that on that propless stage, and the nearly-full Hamilton Place Theatre knew it. They clapped and cheered enthusiastically when he strode onstage, they clapped and cheered enthusiastically when he mock-danced to flesh out a joke, and they clapped and cheered enthusiastically every time he delivered a punchline, regardless of whether or not it was actually and truly funny.
Regan’s timing was fairly spot on throughout his set, but one couldn’t help but have the feeling he was trying a little too hard. Instead of metaphorically leaning back and relying on the expertise he’s built up over the years, he seemed a tad too much as though he was trying to earn a promotion after a playing out a bridge contract. Particularly, his tendency to physically act out some of his jokes was a bit wearing; some comedians have a knack for physical comedy, while others should us it in sparing moderation.
That being said, Regan does have a clean-mouthed act that spans generations without reducing the humour to the lowest common denominator. He’s able to find something laughable in areas of life we can all relate to, from wondering how the army-invented walkie talkie ever got its name (“I’m walking and I’m talking — walkie talkie!”) to having people cut in front of you at an amusement park line. Some jokes felt completely flat, though, such as his schtick about trying to lose weight.
There was one particularly sweet moment when Regan thanked the general manager of the Hamilton Place Theatre for presenting him with a gift: a glass hammer, a nod to the city’s name. But true to form, he joked about not knowing if it was glass or rice, and figuring he’d have the answer after his set if he found a puddle of water. It was a gracious move to highlight the work of those behind the scene, especially when so many performers only address their onstage backers.
It’s not often it seems like the seasoned professional should be taking tips from the warmup act, but with Zimmerman’s excellent appearance, it might not hurt.