IT’S A DIFFICULT TASK, musical comedy. Among the many who try there are very few who are known for getting it just right while at the same time being able to capture and hone some sort of originality. With this in mind, we think it’s pretty safe to say that Reggie Watts has figured it out. Fuck, if he isn’t original who is?
After all, it can’t be easy stepping foot onstage with an empty plate.
Yet for some reason, where I’d find myself dripping with beads of sweat, Reggie feels just the opposite, excited for what’s about to transpire.
Maybe that’s why he does it and I’m writing about him.
To him, that feeling of the unknown makes room for a natural performance, something pure and filled with emotion.
Thankfully, I was able to take some time and speak with Reggie Watts about his material, his roots, and how working with Conan O’Brien might be the coolest thing ever.
The Smoking Jacket: You’re in the middle of “Comedy Bang Bang,” Season Two. How’s it going so far?
Reggie Watts: I think it’s going good. I don’t really have to do anything right now, so that’s good. [laughs]
TSJ: Have you noticed any changes in the two seasons?
RW: This season is definitely more intense. There was more time for writing and exploring ideas. Plus a higher budget, which helped. [laughs] But it’s a lot more intense and chaotic.
REGGIE WATTS ON CONAN
TSJ: It seems like an incredible show to work on.
RW: Absolutely! It’s a lot of work but the result is pretty incredible.
TSJ: Where did you start? Seattle?
RW: Yeah, for the most part. I really started in Montana growing up but Seattle was where a lot of things happened for me. I started as a musician.
TSJ: When did you begin incorporating comedy into your act?
RW: I think back in high school, honestly. I’ve always had a mix of comedy and music. But it just happened that in Seattle I focused more on music as opposed to comedy.
TSJ: Where did that interest in fusing the two come from?
RW: I think it came naturally from being a kid, you know? I never saw a difference between the two. They were just forms of expressions to me. I did music but would sometimes be hired to do solo shows and play piano. During those I’d just sing and improvise and do really dumb things with music. [laughs]
It was always a matter of decontextualizing the main thing that I’m doing. Sometimes I’d focus more on music; sometimes I’d focus more on comedy.
TSJ: Was there ever a want to just do one or the other?
RW: It was all pretty balanced for me. It’s always depended on what the gig was, you know? That’d determine the ratio of comedy versus music.
TSJ: Obviously you’ve got a very unique act. Did you find it hard finding an audience with it?
RW: It really wasn’t that hard. The great thing about having musical training is that music usually captivates people. So, if I could mix enough entertaining nonsense with music, music would always hook everybody…usually. [laughs] The mixture of the two keeps people interested.
TSJ: Is there anyone else that does what you do? Like I said before, it’s incredibly unique.
RW: There are a few people who kind of do the same thing. Some do that live producing aspect and the stream of consciousness-type style, and there are people who do funny songs, of course, but I consider what I do to be a very, very specific style. I don’t know how many people do that, but surely there are some that I don’t know about.
COMEDY BANG BANG
TSJ: That stream of consciousness, have you always been like that?
RW: I’ve always used that style in my act. I really like that. I just like making up stuff. [laughs] It’s always been that way since I was a kid. Music certainly helps. When you start improvising with people you arrive at different discoveries, which strengthens because of that improvisation.
“I think there’s much more room today for comedy to be strange, absurd, geeky, or nerdy.”
TSJ: When you go onstage do you have certain beats you know you want to hit? Maybe a skeleton or an outline of the act?
RW: Not really, no. I’m more interested in seeing what will happen from not knowing what to expect onstage than going on with a plan and executing it.
TSJ: That’s very cool. The improvisational type of stand up – stream of consciousness – has that become more popular over the years?
RW: I think some form of it has always existed. There have been slam poets, rappers on the street with freestyle, or even jazz musicians. The nature of improvisation has always been around. It just depends on what is being featured.
In terms of comedy, I think there’s much more room today for comedy to be strange, absurd, geeky, or nerdy. I’d say that started in the mid ’90s with “Kids in the Hall” or Upright Citizens Brigade or The State. That evolved and influenced stand up incredibly, which then allowed weird character-based stuff to mix is more written-stuff, which developed the alternative comedy scene. It’s just grown and grown.
The crazy thing is now those guys are mainstream, directing, acting in, and producing movies and television. It’s really cool!
IF YOU’RE FUCKING YOU’RE PROBABLY FUCKING
TSJ: If that scene hadn’t come about, do you think you’d be doing what you’re currently doing?
RW: I’d probably be doing some version of it. It’s definitely amazing that I got to grow up in a wonderful comedy scene with people either in New York or passing through New York. If that hadn’t happened I’m sure I’d be trying to figure out some one-man show.
TSJ: Has your act evolved with the comedy scene?
RW: I think just by the fact that every time I’m going onstage I’m trying to discover something new. I think that keeps it ever-evolving and interesting. But the way I look at it, it’s more about letting go of things than having things.
TSJ: How heavily does your act depend on the crowd?
RW: That’s always a factor. Everything is! The room, the lights, what I ate before going onstage, the set up in the room. All of it is real-time processing.
TSJ: A couple of years ago you had a huge break opening for Conan O’Brien on the Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour. How did you guys hook up?
RW: I had friends who were writing for Conan at the time. They were looking for an opener for the tour and I was mentioned. After he saw a coupe of my YouTube clips I think he really dug it and asked me to come onboard.
TSJ: That had to be an amazing experience.
RW: Oh my god, absolutely! It was really a one-of-a-kind experience. For sure! I’ve been on the show now about five or so times I think. Those people are the best. Probably in the universe…