If it weren't for his college football coach, comedian Brian Regan might have become an accountant.
Luckily for his fans, Regan was persuaded by his coach to switch his major from accounting to theater and communications before leaving college in 1980 to pursue a career that would highlight his comedic prowess rather than his bookkeeping ability.
Today, Regan is headlining a national Comedy Central-sponsored theater tour. At 8 p.m. tomorrow, fans can see him live at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.
But Regan wasn't always filling amphitheaters or concert halls. Just 10 credits shy of graduation from Ohio's Heidelberg College, Regan moved home to Miami, taking the confidence he gained from his speech class to the developing stand-up comedy scene in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. - an hour's drive from his family's house.
According to Regan, the speech class was where he found his niche.
"I had to make five-minute speeches regularly," he says. "I tried making them funny, so I usually had students laughing and my professor howling in the background."
However, Regan's confidence in the classroom didn't automatically carry into the spotlight like he had hoped. When he arrived at 5 p.m. in Fort Lauderdale on the day of his first audition, he and the other auditioning comedians randomly picked their performance times out of a hat. Regan picked "6." Unknown to him, a "6" was the best spot.
He discovered this when, "Everyone kept asking me to trade," he says, "I knew I had something I wanted to hang onto."
However, there was one problem - his performance wasn't for another six hours.
"I sat in a supermarket parking lot, working on my routine," he says. "I thought I'd be fine on stage since I had time to memorize every line."
Sadly, Regan wasn't as prepared as he thought. "When I got on stage, the lights hit me in the face, my heart was pumping, and there was feedback in the microphone - I just blanked," he says, "I just stood there with a scared look on my face for about 10 seconds. I forgot everything! It was like something out of the Twilight Zone."
Regan had no choice but to respond. But instead of haphazardly spewing out jokes off the top of his head, he did what any honest man would do.
He told the truth.
"I said that I forgot my lines - I got a laugh," he said. "Then I started making fun of myself, saying how stupid I was - I got another laugh."
Regan kept going for five minutes straight (the length of his set). The crowd loved his self-deprecating routine. Although the resulting performance wasn't what he had planned, Regan was well-received not only by the audience, but also by three professional stand-up comedians who were there.
Why were the opinions of only three pros important?
As Regan explains, to be a pro in 1980 or earlier was a big deal because the industry was considerably smaller and popular mostly in New York and in Los Angeles.
Regan stayed at the same club for a while, doing stand-up just about every night and often busing tables.
"I'd wait on people, sling trash and do anything else that was needed before they let me close the show," he says. "I'd wear the waiter uniform as part of my act."
After four years, Regan made his move to New York. At that point, he says, comedy clubs were opening everywhere. "I never got a '6' again, but I got more gigs," he says.
Now, since winning a K-ROCK Radio $10,000 prize for being the funniest man in New York, appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and signing a deal for two hourlong specials for Comedy Central, Regan has made his way out of many comedy clubs and into theaters, concert halls and amphitheaters. But he won't miss the smaller clubs because they are so full of distractions.
"Some guy will get a cheeseburger and you'll lose him for 10 minutes," he says. "He'll act like it's the most delicious thing he's ever tasted, and when he's done, he'll look back up at you and think, 'What else you got, clown?'"
Brian Regan performs at 8 tomorrow night at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. Tickets are $37.75. Call 410-547-SEAT or go to ticketmaster.com.