About halfway through Nunchucks and Flamethrowers—Brian Regan’s new Netflix special, aptly named to reflect the enthusiasm and Spielbergian sense of wonder he brings to it—he makes a point of comparison between himself and his father, specifically about their relationship with jokes. “I like everybody in the lasso.”
Which is exactly the thing about Brian Regan. No one is ever left out of a Brian Regan joke. His giddy, clean, observational style ensures this, and it’s what has given him a great deal of crossover appeal over the last 20 years. On full display here, it’s actually incredibly refreshing to see a nearly 60-year-old male comedian who isn’t doggedly insisting that comedy has to come at someone else’s expense. There is no anti-PC, telling-it-like-it-is, a-table-in-a-comedy-club-only-cares-if-you’re-funny bullshit here.
Regan’s populism can still back him into a corner in regards to his audience, however. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more afraid to bring up a subject in my life,” he says after mentioning the president (and receiving a mix of nervous laughter and a few “whoo”s in return). Regan does not want to deal with the social repercussions of talking about politics, which is a fairly privileged priority his audience seems to share. “I just want to play horseshoes,” he says. “I don’t want to be yelled at.” The palpable sigh of relief from the crowd when they realize their host also doesn’t want to deal with people’s legitimate anger is kind of gross. This isn’t to say that Regan is responsible for everything his audience thinks, but at these moments (and they pop up throughout the special) when Regan starts to address a topic that might rankle and immediately sweeps it under the rug to get to some more agreeable angle on it, we’re left with a bad taste in our mouth—the tail appears to be wagging the dog. “No matter what a president does,” he says, “someone’s going to be unhappy.” Okay, Brian—you brought it up! It’s a laissez-faire attitude that seems to keep getting us into trouble, so it’s disappointing to see it pop up again here.
Otherwise, Nunchucks and Flamethrowers sticks to Regan’s strengths. He’s both a master craftsman and a comic who still carries himself with an endearing bit of believable anxiety at being up there in front of all those people. Bits that start off as if told by an unusually charming dad (i.e. what if someone thought “facetime” was called “spacetime”) generally deepen and widen into something more interesting and specific, and Regan is, as always, excellent at detailing a premise to its extremes before tying it back up in a little bow. The silliness is occasionally a little old-fashioned and occasionally inspired. “People tell me TV adds 10 pounds,” Regan says. “I didn’t believe it until I was watching this nature show about ants and I was like WOW!”
I don’t think Regan lets his boy scout reputation reduce him (this special ends with a bit about him peeing all over his brothers). And I believe that his conciliatory tone when bringing up serious realities comes from a genuine desire for everyone to just drop it and get along. But, as we’re slowly coming around to realizing, it’s not that simple anymore, and it never really was.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and actor. Follow him at @grahamtechler.