Profiles: The Daily Show’s Chris Regan

In the very first Profiles we talked to Joe Lawson, who penned the very memorable GEICO “Tiny House” commercial. In this second installment, wherein we chat with people we believe to have a developed sense of humor, we talk to Chris Regan, veteran writer on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.
Banterist: Describe a typical day as a writer for The Daily Show, incorporating a few subtle references to Harrison Ford films.
Chris: We get together in the AM, read the papers and watch television. After we decide what stories we will cover, we divvy them up amongst writers and go work on headlines, while a few other folk go to work on either desk pieces (sketches with the correspondents and Jon in the studio) or pitch in on field pieces. The afternoons are spent rewriting or working on stuff for the following day’s show. During rehearsal, we get together and take a look at Harrison Ford’s 1979 underrated WWII weepie, Hanover Street. We then all agree that Lesley-Anne Down was “radiant” and bemoan the fact she wasn’t a bigger star.
The cancellation of Arrested Development suggests there’s no audience for intelligent humor at prime time, yet Daily Show’s success suggests there’s an audience for intelligent humor in the late evening. What are smart people busy doing from 7-10 p.m. that they’re not doing at 11?
Well, a couple of million fans of intelligent humor watch The Daily Show, and that same couple of million people also seem to enjoy Arrested Development. Unfortunately, a couple of million viewers is aces on cable, a little less so on the networks.
As someone who values quality humor, are you angered by the popularity of Garfield?
(Chris shifts in his “Big Fat Hairy Deal” sweatshirt, proceeds to next question)
Good parody is far easier than good satire. How would you break that to Weird Al Yankovic during his wedding?
This is just a cheap attempt to lure surfers Googling “Chris Regan” + “Yankovic.” (Not uncommon!) I think it would be hard to find the time at Weird Al’s wedding to break that to him. He’d probably be busy with his Jericurl assistant, rebuffing his formal red hi-tops, making sure Emo Phillips has the wedding ring, etc.
What’s the funniest sketch you’ve ever seen?
That’s tough. It changes all the time. I recently caught the Monty Python “Nudge, Nudge” sketch again, which always makes me laugh. Just one joke, two guys talking, lame payoff, but boy is it funny. And I also purchased the “Best of Triumph the Insult Comic” DVD at a deep discount at a chain store. I enjoyed it so much, I feel I owe the folks at Conan some money.
The Bush administration has done wonders for satirical news industry – which is The Daily Show and The Onion. Do you think a Hillary Clinton administration would offer more or fewer opportunities? And if she’s elected, to which country would you flee?
Personally, I think there’s is an iciness to her that makes her difficult, the same kind of chill I got from Gore and Kerry. I think I supported Dean and Kucinich in the last election because they would have been easy to write to.
When our current president was re-elected, I fled to a quiet place deep inside myself. A place where I am king. I plan on staying there for the next couple of years.
Is there a particular piece of yours that you regret never made it on air, and why didn’t it make it?
There was a special that I and another writer worked on for Steve Carell and Nancy Walls that was supposed to be shot out in LA after they moved out there. It started with Steve, face down in a pool, dead, narrating a la Sunset Boulevard. As the special continued, we learned they were flat broke, squatting in Burt Reynolds’ house, and Steve was playing dead in the pool to escape the wrath of Burt Reynolds. We never got to shoot it (or finish writing the script for that matter) because of a scheduling problem. We never even got far enough to be told “We can’t get Burt Reynolds.”
Where do you keep your Emmy?
I actually have four Emmys, dickwad. Do your research! Three are kept in a cabinet in my home, while the fourth is worn around my neck.
In a writer’s meeting, is there a particular way an idea is put to death? Is there an expression like “let’s backburner that” or some way they passive-aggressively kill something? Or are folks more direct, saying things like “That’s not funny, ass.” ?
We are a polite bunch. There is a general sense when something works and something doesn’t. If anyone ever gets vicious, it’s a playful vicious. It’s a nice place to work and I work with a bunch of real swells.
Give three examples of how you’d lead someone in a bar to ask what you do – so you can tell them you’re a writer on The Daily Show.
I don’t often hang out in taverns, but when I do, my Emmy necklace/locket usually starts the conversation ball rolling. There is also my eye-catching Daily Show snuffbox (a rather unpopular piece of SWAG one season). When that fails, I approach females with the classy “Do you have any Daily Show writer in you/Would you like some?” one-two punch.
I tend to believe a sense of humor is acquired over a lifetime, not from a $300 comedy class. Did you acquire a sense of humor over your lifetime, or did you take six weeks of ha-ha class and have a graduation show to prove to your friends that you’re hilarious?
Yeah, you need a comedy gene, but I think there are good comedy classes out there. I think the right class can sharpen the skills you already have, and anything that gives the typically lazy comedy a set of deadlines isn’t a bad thing. But I do believe a teacher has a responsibility to stop taking money from the students who could never live enough lifetimes to be funny.
In the same vein, do you think there are too many comedy troupes in New York? I ask because there’s a dive bar on 8th Avenue that doesn’t have one.
I guess this is the wrong time to promote my new troupe, “Fat Elvis.” We do a mixture of improv and sketch, to insure that there is no room for “humor.”
What advice could you offer an aspiring comedy writer who’s reading an interview about an accomplished comedy writer on a captivating website of original humor?
Set your alarm clock occasionally. Write something. There are a lot of writers out there who don’t write anything. And put together your stupid packet already. (if all that fails, figure out a way to be considered “cool.” It’s a good way to cut to the front of the line.)
What are three of the most tiresome things in comedy?
“Cool,” “Cool,” and “Cool.”
In a pinch, is there something you can count on to always provide material?
It might sound cornball, considering my job and all, but the newspaper is always a good place to start.
An aspiring actor told me he lived in Daily Show correspondent Mo Rocca’s building and was going to slip a headshot and resume under Mo Rocca’s door. I strongly recommended he not do that, because it would be an ultra-creepy aspiring actor thing to do, and violate Mo Rocca’s privacy. How do you think Mo Rocca would have reacted to an aspiring actor doing that?
The first thing the actor would have heard would have been a low growl, enough to terrify his as Mo dropped down from the ceiling. Rocca would then have ripped off his shirt and employed a dazzling and deadly mixture of the martial arts. The last thing this aspiring actor would have seen is Mo’s chest tattoo, the one with the daggers and the dragon.
What piece of yours, for Daily Show or otherwise, are you most proud of?
I used to work on a segment called “Produce Pete Steve Carell.” He was a produce expert with a terribly unhappy private life. It had no business being on The Daily Show, but it was a lot of fun.
If, back in the day, American Indians called a train an “iron horse” and whiskey “fire water” – what do you think they’d have called a craps table?
A Wampum Suck.
What one word do you think would enrage James Lipton?
The word “Closed” outside “Ye Olde Beard Dye Shoppe.” Seriously, that dude needs to stop dying his beard.
Anything else?
My troupe, “Fat Elvis,” is doing a bringer at The Blarney Stone on 8th Ave this Friday. We need to bring 125 people. Please come!
Chris’s blog, This Day In Mythstory is quite good.

Profiles: The Guy Who Wrote “Tiny House”

Introducing “Profiles”, wherein we ask several questions of people we believe to have a well-developed sense of humor.
Our first interviewee: Joe Lawson, the writer behind GEICO’s reality show spoof Tiny House. Joe left the dark side of advertising agency account service in order to pursue his dream of being on the creative side. He works for the Martin Agency, a not unsmall agency in Virginia.

“The marriage was built to last, but the house was built too small.”

The first time people see the TV spot for Tiny House they go through a series of emotions – shock, disbelief, anger, denial and finally, relief – after they realize that they’ve been had by yet another ad for GEICO.
Tiny House was recently praised in Slate as “one of the best ads on TV.” If you’ve had the television on for any period of time, you’ve probably seen it, and you’d probably agree.
Banterist: A lot of advertising people would kill to have something like Tiny House on their resume, yet they’re stuck with a portfolio of chicken flop for DayQuil and Monistat. Do you feel differently around those people when at big industry functions?
Joe: The most important thing is to avoid big industry functions. That way you’re not reminded of the transitory nature of goodness in advertising. Every once in a while, if you are lucky, you catch the tail of an opportunity and put something on TV that doesn’t annoy people, but most of the time 99% of us are producing crap.
Now that you’re an accomplished parodist, you’re in a position to introduce yourself to other accomplished parodists such as Weird Al Yankovic. Assuming you were forced to approach him, how would you introduce yourself?
Hi! I like your flip-flops! You are funny! (That’s how my two year-old daughter introduces herself to everyone and it works out great.)
A recent SLATE article by Seth Stevenson called Tiny House “the best ad on television.” Can you think of three situations where you might be inclined to play the “I wrote the best ad on television!” card?
“Look, we know the land was promised to you by God, but I wrote the best ad on television and I’m telling you, you have to take that shit back to Israel.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, did you write the best ad on television? Or was it me? That’s right. I wrote the best ad on television and I say we stay here until the Iraqi citizens can hold their own against the insurgency.”
“Am I the one who chose to live in Africa? No. I chose to write the best ad on television. Maybe when you write the best ad on television you can have steak, too.”
Likewise, having written the best ad on television must have piqued the interest of other agencies in acquiring you. Have you noticed your bosses following you to lunch or asking who you’re on the phone with?
Not at all. Advertising writers are becoming a commodity. If I left, another one would simply pop up in my place.
In my experience, every advertising copywriter is a frustrated screenwriter. Can you give me the log-line of the unfinished screenplay that’s undoubtedly on your desktop?
Actually, at the moment, it’s a short story about tiny Vikings.
Speaking of, Tiny House has undoubtedly motivated an aspiring-screenwriter to detour into advertising for a while. Do you have any advice for him or her?
“You’re going the wrong way.”
While at Nobu not long ago, I spotted Donald Trump and reality-show creator Mark Burnett dining. Should I have thanked them on your behalf or violently cursed at them on the world’s behalf?
Assuming you did neither, you did the right thing – you participated in your own life, something the average American has completely forgotten how to do. Burnett didn’t create unfulfilled lives, he just caters to the mass audience that has them.
Probably due to the preponderance of hacks in it, the advertising industry has been known to seize on a theme and do it to death. As soon as someone does handheld camera, everyone does handheld camera, as soon as someone does black & white with a touch of color, everyone does black & white with a touch of color. How many fake reality show ads do you expect to see in the next year?
If people want to take a stab at it, be my guest. I’m amazed Tiny House even ran. The networks were all over our asses about the fact that it looked so authentic. They were afraid the TV-viewing audience, you know, being dumb and all, would confuse it for actual programming, so we had trouble getting it through Legal. Obviously, that confusion was our intention, but the networks really, really care about the poor viewer, because, as you know, if someone confuses a commercial for actual programming then they…go up into the light. Just like in Logan’s Run.
There are many good creative types in the ad industry who are stifled by moronic clients. Is it hopeless for them, or is there some clever approach to get good spots past account executives named Vance?
The problem is, Vance isn’t smart enough or dumb enough. He’s right in the middle. If he were a fucking idiot, good spots would fill the airwaves. TV’s would be art museums. Problem is, Vance knows just enough to sniff out your hidden agenda. The only answer, and even this is low percentage, is tenacity. I presented Tiny House like eight times, never once changing it. You just keep presenting the stuff you want to do, the way you want to do it, and then one day you hopefully catch Vance off-guard because he had too much Smirnoff Ice the night before. Finally, if that doesn’t work, kill Vance. Seriously. Anyone who’s ever done anything half-decent in advertising has had to kill at least one guy. It’s standard practice.
I think if you are looking for creative fulfillment in advertising, you are on a slippery slope. You might find it for a while, but it won’t last. The longer you do it, the greater your tolerance becomes. Eventually you need a bigger and bigger creative fix to get the same buzz. My thinking is, if you’re going to invest that much time and thought and energy into trying to do something good, you should invest it in something you really care about, at least something you can call your own. Having said that, I’m sure there are people who really care about advertising and find it creatively fulfilling.
After watching ten minutes of Being Bobby Brown I was ready to join the Klan. Do you think that show is a simple abomination or a very clever stealth advertisement for racists?
Again, when I see shit like that, I don’t get mad at the network or the producers or the talent. I get mad at America. That show is not an abomination, it’s the American Dream. If keeping soldiers in Iraq allows me to get high as a kite and feed my dog lobster, then hell yes, I say we stay there as long as we can.
Following the London transit attacks, New York’s mayor implemented an ineffective, wholly cosmetic, knee-jerk subway bag search program that lacks a good tagline. Any ideas?
Just Open the Goddamn Bag.™
Look Mom No Bomb!™
Open the Bag or We Open Up Your Head. With Bullets. London-Style.™
Fuck You NYCLU.™
What one word do you think would enrage James Lipton?
Anything you’d like to add?
Thank you.