SOCIAL STUDIES: An Interview With Musical Funny Man Reggie Watts
by John Richards (@jrichards202)
Reggie Watts is a man who wears many hats, that is if they could fit over his giant afro. The singer/songwriter/musician/comic who TV Guide described as the “love child of Zach Galifianakis and Jack Black” has created a hilarious and innovative live show that perfectly straddles the fence between weird and brilliant. Did I mention that his show is almost entirely improvised? The son of a United States Air Force officer, Watts lived in Germany and Spain before relocating to Great Falls, Montana where piano, violin and drama classes would be the beginning of a career in the arts. Watts would move to Seattle after graduation and go on to play in several Seattle area bands before fronting the soul, rock and hip hop band Maktub. It was during this time that Watts started experimenting with looping machines and started improvising entire songs during his sets.
Watts’ solo career took off with the viral videos “What About Blowjobs?” and (my personal favorite) “Fuck Shit Stack” which led to an opening spot on the Conan O’Brien’s “Prohibited from Being Funny on Television” tour. The Couch Sessions caught up with Reggie Watts to discuss his second Comedy Central special, his recently launched spring tour and how Skrillex ruined dubstep.
The Couch Sessions: Comedy skits, stand-up and music: you don’t fit into one particular “box”. How would you describe a Reggie Watts show?
Reggie Watts: I would call it a multimedia, comedic performance.
The Couch Sessions: How did you develop your stage show?
Reggie Watts: It just kinda became what it is over time. Yeah, it’s just kinda been stuff that I would do in my basement or my bedroom as a little kid. (It’s) the same stuff I’m doing now so it was kinda already pre-developed.
The Couch Sessions: Did you go to an arts high school?
Reggie Watts: It was a public high school but they had a drama program, a speech and debate and drama program.
The Couch Sessions: What were some of your early influences, what inspired your act stage show to what it is today?
Reggie Watts: …definitely Monty Python, The Muppets, Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks movies, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin. Stand-up was really big back in the 80’s, like it kinda had a renaissance then. Paula Poundstone, Bobcat Goldthwait, Judy Tenuta, all those people, Billy Crystal, they all had an effect on my upbringing for sure.
The Couch Sessions: The majority of your show is improvised. Has any of your equipment ever malfunctioned during a show?
Reggie Watts: Yeah, definitely. Sometimes a sampler button doesn’t work, so I can’t stop the recording when I need to so it won’t loop right or something. Usually if that happens, I just kinda improvise with whatever it is; I try to solve the problem and try to keep it entertaining while I’m solving the problem. If it stops working I still have another sampler so I can still do the show, even if all the samplers stopped working I probably can still do something with the show.
The Couch Sessions: Do you think the audience knows or do you just have this down to a science?
Reggie Watts: Well, some people might know, like musicians or people who work with gear might know. Some people might not know because I always screw with things and make them feel like it’s broken or it’s not working anyways so it kinda ends up covering for something actually not working.
The Couch Sessions: Could you explain what a “Fuck Shit Stack” is?
Reggie Watts: [Laughs] I don’t know what it is…
The Couch Sessions: Before you answer that I have to tell you that “Fuck Shit Stack” was my theme song. My best friend and I would quote it constantly.
Reggie Watts: [Laughs] That’s awesome! Yeah, I really don’t know what it is, I was just thinking of a dumb chorus to the rest of the song you know? I was doing a song once in a while for shows; it just ended up being that was just the chorus, “Fuck Shit Stack”. I never really imagined what it is; I just got the words out and then let everyone else imagine what it is.
The Couch Sessions: Your second comedy special, Reggie Watts A Live in Central Park, recently premiered on Comedy Central. What was it like filming that?
Reggie Watts: It was fairly easy, in that it was a gig that was already scheduled to happen. So I thought, Central Park is kinda an iconic place, so why not do the special there. So the director, Duncan (Skiles), got his crew together and set it up to cover it. Then, I told him I wanted to do video sketches, you know, we had some big ideas but we kind of waited to the last minute so Duncan made an outline for some sketches that took place all over Central Park. We just kind of went for it, made it happen.
The Couch Sessions: Would you consider this performance the highlight of your career so far?
Reggie Watts: Gosh, I guess I would, I mean it’s definitely one of the highlights for sure, yeah for sure. It’s a trippy thing, when you play so many gigs, you don’t have a lot of time to look back on it. I remember other shows for other reasons, but that show was definitely dope.
The Couch Sessions: Did Skrillex really ruin dubstep?
Reggie Watts: [Laughs] I mean, it was kind of a joke, but I mean, kind of. It was a bunch of people really, like all things, you know house or techno, and there are always people who are going to capitalize on it. It’s kind of a natural thing, I don’t blame anybody or I don’t blame any art form for that happening. But definitely, Skrillex was all over the place, he’s like the face of it, whether he wanted to be or not. I was kind of joking but it’s also partially true [Laughs].
The Couch Sessions: Your latest comedy special just came out on cd/dvd, you just started your spring tour, what do you have coming up next?
Reggie Watts: I have the Comedy Bang Bang on IFC, that’s coming on June 8. After that just a lot of festivals and things of that nature. No projects planned, I’m going to be definitely working on some music projects but nothing definitive yet.