Most comedians work blue, not necessarily because they lack morality, but because it's easier to get a laugh that way. Going the other route is like trying to write words without vowels — it's possible, but taxing on the brain. Still, the best humorists can figure out how to do it. The trick, apparently, is to take things from everyday life and look at them sideways. It requires a mind that can leap instantly from the banal to the bizarre. Florida-born comedian Brian Regan specializes in "clean" stand-up, with jokes that range from social gaffes at dinner parties to frustrations with UPS. In one bit about foods and labels, he points to what could be a cranberry monopoly: "I don't know what's going on with cranberries, but they're getting in all the other juices."
It takes a shrewd mind to peruse the juice aisle in a supermarket and find a metaphor for laissez-faire economics. But Regan doesn't usually look for symbols in things, he just stumbles upon them. In fact, he said, it's easier to be funny when you leave your ego behind. (Jokes are never quite as good when they start on a legal pad.) Regan learned that early on, as the fourth of eight funny children. At his home dinner table, humor was more about delivery than anything else. "Everyone in my family is funny," Regan assured in a recent phone interview. "My oldest brother Mike is one of the funniest people I know. ... You could ask him a yes or no question, it wouldn't matter if he said 'yes' or 'no,' you would think it was funny."
That environment didn't exactly foster feelings of specialness, and it took Regan a long time to realize his own natural talent. He matriculated at Ohio's Heidelburg College to study accounting but wound up majoring in theater and playing on the school's football team. Four years spent oscillating between the jock crowd and the drama crowd taught Regan that he could entertain just about anyone. He would josh other football players on their way to the lunchroom and they would ask how his mind worked. Regan ultimately found favor with an acting coach who convinced him to quit the sport for good — not to pursue a career on Broadway, but to host shows at the Comic Strip in South Florida, while working as a dishwasher. It turned out to be an auspicious decision. Three decades later, he's become a prominent practitioner of absurdist, common-man humor. All without resorting to potty jokes. Brian Regan performs Friday, January 8, at Zellerbach Hall (UC Berkeley). 8 p.m., $38.50. BrianRegan.com