A college education can be very important in deciding your life's direction, because it helps you figure out what you're good at doing.
Or, as in Brian Regan's case, what you're not so good at doing.
"My nickname in college was 'Rip,' for Rip Van Winkle," Regan offered in a recent telephone interview. "I literally couldn't get up in the morning, so everybody called me Rip. It was like a running gag: 'Where's Rip?' 'He's probably sleeping.' I remember having these early, like 7 a.m., classes that I just couldn't get to. I remember thinking, 'If this world requires you to get up and be at places before the sun comes up, I don't think I can handle it.'
"And then a comedian came to perform at my college, and his show started at 8 p.m., and I thought, 'Wow, you can wake up in the afternoon and do this.' It was a very comforting feeling."
That was a long, long time ago, of course, and in the 30-plus years that followed his moment of slow-awakening inspiration, Regan has become one of the most accomplished and hard-working standup comedians on the planet.
A native of Miami, Fla., Regan admits that his college-aged shift into comedy was also prompted by something he actually learned in one of his classes.
"One of the first moments that I realized I wanted to do this for a living was when I was taking a speech class in college," he recalled. "I tried to make my speeches funny, just so I wouldn't be bored, and I ended up killing in front of a class of 35 students and the teacher at the back of the room.
"It was an experience I had never had before, and I remember walking back to the dorm, feeling like I was walking on a cloud -- I thought, 'I never feel like this when I'm walking back to the dorm after biology class.' And I started to realize that whatever that was, I wanted more of it. And that was it. That's how it started."
Clearly, it was a lesson well learned. Starting out in a local Miami club at which the open-mike performers were relegated to spots after the headliner had finished and most of the crowd had gone home, Regan began the workmanlike process of building an act, and then a following, and then a career.
This week, Regan, 56, starts the second leg of his current 79-city North American tour with a series of Canadian stops that includes a show on Sunday, Aug. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre (tickets are $56 at Ticketmaster).
Known for his sarcastic, energetically physical and often self-deprecating style as well as his refreshingly clean style of humour, Regan is one of those rare few performers who are described as "a comedian's comedian" because they are so widely admired by their peers.
Among Regan's biggest fans are Marc Maron, host of the definitive comedy podcast WTF, late-night host David Letterman (Regan has performed on The Late Show 26 times, more than any other comedian), and longtime friend Jerry Seinfeld, who chose Regan as one of the first ride-along guests for his hugely popular online series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
"That was a huge honour," said Regan. "When he first started to do this, I don't think he had a second season or a third season in mind. The way Jerry Seinfeld described it to me was that he had about 10 or 15 comedians that he wanted to do this with, so to be included was a big thing.
"He's always been very kind to me, and he's always said very nice things about my comedy, going way back to before he had his TV show. It's been a big deal to me that he's always kind of been in my corner, comedy-wise, and when he decided he was going to do (Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee) and said he wanted me to be one of them, it was definitely an honour. I think everybody else he's done has been a name that people know; I might be the only one where the average Joe Blow would have no idea who I am.
"I felt like I was being knighted or something. It was really nice."
Perhaps Seinfeld's appreciaton of Regan's humour is rooted in their shared preference for not relying on profanity to punctuate their material. On that topic -- choosing clean-scrubbed over blue-hued -- Regan said it's really more a matter of personal taste than any kind of strategic career decision.
"For the most part, it's just how I think comedically," he says. "I enjoy trying to get laughter out of everyday things. I'm not the kind of guy who likes to do hurtful comedy -- I like the people I'm with to laugh, too; I don't want anybody to be the butt of the joke. If there's 10 people around, I don't want to be, 'Hey, nine of us are going to laugh at you and your stupid face.' I want all 10 to be laughing.
"Something that's really interesting to me is that I have this tape -- a guy I went to college with gave it to me -- that we made when I was a freshman in college, before I had taken that speech class and got into comedy. It's just a tape of the two of us goofing around in our dorm room ... one of those fake-interview things, where he keeps trying to turn it in a dirty, filthy direction and I keep spinning back in more of an off-the-wall, clean direction.
"I listened to it after I'd been doing comedy for 15 or 20 years, and it was very interesting, because I thought, 'Wow, that was my instinct, even before I was a comedian.' It shows that even back then, I was doing what I love. I'm kind of proud of that."
You can sample some of Brian Regan's comedy at http://brianregan.com/clips-pics/ .