Reggie Watts peeked his head from behind the curtains at Woolly Mammoth last night to signal the start of the show (which was the start of his all-the-way-through-Friday residency at the theatre). He proceeded to dance with and try to outrun the pursuing spotlight, a joke that evoked slapstick routines from the vaudeville circuit, but was given new breath by the hirsute comic-musician-performance artist. This is part of what makes Reggie Watts: Live in Concert so damn entertaining: We know the tropes and signs of vaudeville and other performance structures so well that he often doesn’t even need to use words to parody them. This subversion, coupled with jaw-dropping musicianship and a mercilessly sharp mind, makes his solo show one of the most innovative and hilarious live performances around today.
Watts’ last performance in DC at the Black Cat was excellent, but following three stand-up comics who have pretty standard performance techniques made it difficult to adjust to the disorienting nature of his set. Now, with a full 90-minutes of unshared stage time, Watts shines. He serves up a steamroller of a show that moves seamlessly between routines and offers little breathing room. He opened with a character who spoke in a droning, tangential monotone and talked as if he were presenting circuitry at a tech conference (he dissected every piece of equipment he had on stage) and later like he were speaking to a non-profit org (“We are raising money for awareness”). When he finally got behind the pedals for his signature beat-building musical comedy, he created a soulful loop with a seriously catchy hook that was so good you wonder why he doesn’t just stick to music. But he reminds you why: because he is insanely funny.
He arbitrarily stopped his song and without a moment’s hesitation he took form as a new character: A parody of a New York comic. After a rapid fire, non-sequitur monologue that geniusly described his move from New York to Brooklyn and poked fun at the Hasidic community, he moved to the piano where he sang a crooning, R&B ballad about spying on a girl using both night and thermal vision, replete with a pantomimed drum solo.
Between the subsequent tribal song and slow motion breakdown, it’s shocking to think that he is improvising all that he does. And even when Reggie relies on the rare, familiar gag– like performing large portions of his bit in utter silence, as if his mic were dead– he imbues it with surprise. His expression is so mystifying and his timing so impeccable and unpredictable, that each bit feels totally fresh and new. The closing number, a hip-hop jam with the chorus “DC’s got it going on,” drills home how special every performance he delivers is because each one is tailor-made for his audience and truly one-of-a-kind.
BONUS READING: our interview with REGGIE is here