Brian Regan, My Mother, and Stickman.

by Ross Decker Sr

Shortly after my mother passed away I took my daughter Bethany to see Brian Regan at Caroline’s Comedy Club. Because it was so soon after my mother’s death, I wasn’t certain that we should go. We also though it might be dishonoring to my mother’s memory to go to a comedy show. But a friend of ours had contacted the General Manager, Greg Charles, and Greg graciously upgraded our seats and arranged a backstage meeting with Brian. So, we used that as the reason we shouldn’t stay home. We went backstage for the pictures and spent some time chatting. I told Brian what our situation was and how awkward Bethany and I felt as the show began. But, for me, Brian Regan is the funniest man in the world. It wasn’t long before we were laughing a cathartic laugh. It was a great night. I told Brian that he’d done a great thing for us, that what he did for a living sometimes transcended a joke and a laugh. He’d started us back on the path toward healing.

Recently, Liz and I  had the opportunity see Ron Bennington interview Brian Regan for Ron’s show, “Unmasked”, on Sirius Radio. The interview was done at the same Caroline’s Comedy Club and recorded for a later broadcast.

Ron’s a terrific interviewer. He doesn’t always stick to the well traveled path and often gets insightful and personal responses from his subjects. On this occasion, he even got Brian Regan to cry. Well, at least he caused him to get seriously choked up. Bennington was wondering about how the comedian went about interacting with fans. Although he eschews social media platforms, in person Regan is very accessible. Regan told a story of meeting a guy from a comedy club who asked Brian if he would say hello to his brother. The brother wasn’t there so the man had Brian speak to him on the phone. Rather than just say a brief hello, Regan engaged the brother in conversation, asking how he was doing in school. The guy wasn’t doing well there. He was cutting classes and thinking about dropping out. Regan told him to stay in school, to strive to do well and get good marks. A year later, at the same club, he spoke to the man again. The man reminded Brian about the phone call, telling him that the brother had applied himself to school and was now getting straight A’s. What made the difference? Why had he made such a stunning turnaround? Brian choked up as he told us. “Brian Regan told me to.”

While at college, Brian started drawing a cartoon superhero character called Stick Man. And, because Stick Man came from the mind of Brian Regan, he was flawed. He was a superhero with super powers, but he consistently came up a little short. For instance, if four people jumped from the roof of a burning building, Stick Man would save only three. The fourth would splatter on the sidewalk.  Now, he had done his best. He’d done a good thing. But, in the end, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t everything. Regan thought that he might be able to syndicate Stick Man. He gathered all his work and sent it off.  The answer was no. he got the rejection letter. And he never tried to syndicate it again! It never occurred  to him that this rejection represented the opinion of only one person. He took it as a total and final rejection of his work. He accepted the end of his dream.

Of course, talking about that with Liz turned the conversation to my mother. She’d had a tremendously difficult life. Though she survived, her dreams did not. Her life had been horrible. Her childhood alone was one that would crush anyone’s dreams. She grew up in an orphanage, And that was when things got better. Prior to that, she and her twin sister were passed around among relatives for short stays. No one wanted them. And no one felt compelled to pretend they did.  At one house they were fed only orange marmalade sandwiches. Their health deteriorated so badly that both girls were hospitalized, Their dreams then were that one day their parents would come for them. That day never came.

I remember sitting with her at a church meeting. It was one of those times where the conversation went around the table and each person spoke their names and their interests. When it came to my mother, she said, in all honesty that she had no interests. The pastor pushed further, asking about hobbies. Surely she had a hobby. No. My mother remained steadfast. “Nothing in this life interests me at all,” she told him.

Our relationship had always been rocky. My mother and I rarely got along. I knew she was broken. But, I also knew that the kids weren’t expected to fix the parents. When I got older, I tried. But, like Stick Man. I couldn’t do it well enough. The breaking had come when she was small and she wore the scars like armor now. Armor that simultaneously protected and wounded anew..Often I looked at her with disdain. That day I looked at her with compassion.

How different her life may have been had someone spoken to her when she was a young woman and encouraged her to keep trying. Someone who might have told her that one person’s rejection. ten people’s rejection, didn’t mean she was crushed. She needed to know that. But, she never did.

The obvious point of all this is that we each need to walk through this world with an eye for the broken. We need to be a superhero for someone even if we are an imperfect one like Stick Man.

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