The king of comedy

A critically acclaimed comedian who is approaching the peak of his career, Anna Burzlaff chats to Jarlath Regan about his rapid rise to comedic stardom

For most, the benefits of the Irish financial crisis are difficult to see, in particular when it comes to job loss.  For Jarlath Regan however, getting let go from his career (as a graphic designer) in 2006 was a true blessing in disguise; finally allowing him to embark wholeheartedly on a career in the standup industry. In the space of five years Regan’s achievements have mounted quick and fast, a finalist in the BBC Comedy Awards as well as a presenter on The Panel, Regan’s recessionary cloud certainly had a very thick silver lining.

“I never felt like I worked a day since [I began standup], it’s just been the thing that I wanted to do so it’s just been easy to have fun and enjoy it.”

No stranger to UCD, Regan impressively boasts auditor of the L&H as one of his many feats, and is quick to acknowledge the role of the college in his standup career.  Despite being the main face of UCD’s debating society, Regan soon discovered his skill lay mainly on the comedic side as opposed to the argumentative: “My preference was to try and entertain the crowd rather than try and convince them that I was right.”

After organising a series of lunch-time comedy gigs with comedians like Des Bishop and Jason Byrne in the college, Regan was left in little doubt as to what he wanted to do, saying that it was “just about getting a laugh and I just loved it”.

However the usual drone of parental expectations and obligations buzzed in the comedian’s ear a little too loudly to justify a total attempt to break into the standup world, particularly after having just recently completed a master’s degree at the Smurfit School.

“[I had] parents who just had spent so much money on my education that I was under pressure from them and myself to make use of it, and throwing it away would have looked like me saying: ‘Hey four years/five years of college and I’m gonna go up and tell jokes for a living’.” However it would only be a matter of favourable circumstance and some gentle spousal encouragement before standup became a full-time occupation for Regan.

With a constantly burgeoning market for comedians, the standup industry is undoubtedly growing at rapid rates.  This of course means increased competition in and focus on the comedic circuit. While for Regan financial worries took a less prominent role (within six months of hard work he was earning more than he was in his office job), as a young and eager performer criticism and assessment were difficult pills to swallow.

“I guess in the beginning I took it really hard, and I think most people do. That you think it’s a personal attack, particularly when you’re putting your personality on stage. It’s not just a joke it’s part of who you are, and yeah, that’s quite hard to take.”

Now that Regan has grown more comfortable and matured in standup, he has learned better how to deal with the somewhat negative criticism: “Now I’m earning a living through this, I’m doing something right and people are still coming to the shows, so I guess you can’t focus on the people that aren’t fans of it.”

Regan is certainly a far cry from some of the more bitter and satirical comedians such as Dylan Moran and the late Bill Hicks, in fact previously he himself classified his comedy as “positive standup” with “nothing negative, aggressive or cynical”.

While critics may pigeonhole him as a jolly Irishman, the 28-year-old performer is reassuring in the fact that it’s not all sunshine and roses. In fact, there may be a darker edge to Regan we are yet to see: “My standup may be positive but I’m pretty pissed off about a lot of things. I may find a positive conclusion, but there’s a fair bit of vitriol in the whole thing at the end of the day.”

With a proud legacy of Irish comedians behind him, Regan certainly has high expectations to reach. Yet when it comes to his aims, he is keeping his cards very close to his chest: “Ambitions and goals are things that are pretty delicate,” he says. “I think we all have them and we know how to handle them in our own head, but when you give them to other people they can break them.”

For the UCD Arts graduate, it is all about learning from experience and constantly trying to better your comedy. “If you can continue to be funnier on a year-to-year basis, I think things will work out okay.”

His top tips for getting into the industry? Write everything down, try it out, take your time and be aware that there are many more outlets for humour outside of standup.

Jarlath Regan is becoming a regular face on the Irish standup circuit. Despite criticisms of ineffectual material, since losing his day-job in early 2006, his work has won overwhelming favour both here and abroad. With upcoming festivals, and continuing work on The Rumour Room, not to mention having a newborn baby to contend with, Regan is sure to have his hands full in 2011.