This interview originally ran on August 23, 2011. Since Reggie is coming to D.C. this weekend as part of Tour de Fat, we’re re-running it. Once again, Reggie Watts is coming to D.C. THIS SATURDAY! -ed.
Reggie Watts is a Meme. No really, look it up. He’s not just a big-haired hilarious comedian and beatboxer and free-associating goofy genius who Conan has on whenever he can and who wows every possible kind of crowd from a stuffy art gallery to a stoned morass of hippies at Bonnaroo. He is also a psychical living walking-around meme. Every now and then his picture or a cartoon of his personage will pop up on 4chan or Reddit or Canv.as with no particular explanation–as if the poster just wanted to say, “Hey world: this exists!” And yet unlike a lot of other brilliant stream-of-consciousness avant garde comic improvisers that have been poked up into the mainstream consciousness Reggie always seems…relaxed. Whether he’s making up a dub song about handbags on live(ish) TV or roaring at an audience as an bonefide rock singer in his long time band Maktub (still not defunct as far as I know) Reggie just don’t give too much of a fuck.
This, more than the hair or the pure originality of his stage show or the singularity of his weirdness in the current comedy climate, this Total Chillax of his personality is what makes him so very special. That and the fact that peoples are Tumblring about him even meanwhile insofaras he is Tumblring about himself. Because he is a Meme.
On the occasion of his return to DC (many of us at BYT haven’t seen him since he first came down for the Bentzen Ball a few years ago), we spoke to Reggie about being super-recognizable, his favorite nonsense words, his least favorite stages to play, and a bunch of other stuff that he totally was laconic about. The flip side of being totally relaxed all the time is you don’t get the most effusive answers to interview questions it seems (particularly when the interviewer is gushing like a giant dork) but that’s a small price to pay for having an amazing figure like this dude on the scene. Go see him now before he becomes completely subsumed by the universe and is lifted into the stratosphere by a crowd of singing afro-robot-angels! By which I mean they will make a t-shirt with that on it, and you will buy one.
BYT: First of all I think a lot of folks around here remember when you came down to do Bentzen Ball in 2009 and crowds didn’t necessarily know who you were and you just blew everyone away–everyone was talking about your shows in particular.
Reggie Watts: Yeah I remember that. The show I mean. That was fun.
BYT: Sure….Then right after that was when you blew up–I started seeing your videos get circulated everywhere online and then soon afterwards Conan brought you around as the opening act of his tour and so forth. Now you’re a national phenomenon–that must be weird given how recognizeable you are as yourself at all times.
RW: Yeah I did get a little more recognition after that I suppose. (Phone Beeps) Hold on a second it’s my mom. (Goes away, comes back)
BYT: How is your mom by the way?
RW: She seems to be pretty good.
BYT: That’s good. We’re jumping right to the hard questions here. So I ran into you at Bonnaroo in 2010. You seemed pretty comfortable in front of a bunch of drugged out, sun-burned rock fans. But there must be some places you’ve played that didn’t go over well–what’s the worst type of environment for what you do?
RW: I guess the only kind of stage I wouldn’t want to be on is like a big outdoor stage in some horrible fairgrounds. I have done that but I don’t want to make a habit of it.
BYT: Some comedians seem to freak out whenever a room isn’t exactly like a comedy club. Is it years of being a rock performer that makes you more comfortable in any space?
RW: For sure. I do like any kind of stage as long as its not some weird situation where it’s hard to get people’s attention. I’ll play almost anywhere.
BYT: Your improvisation sometimes seems to be founded on deconstructing language, exploring what is intrinsically silly about certain words or phrases without any context–were you the kind of kid who would say a word over and over again until it lost all meaning? Yoghurt Yoghurt Yoghurt Yoghurt…
RW: Absolutely! I used to fuck around with that a lot.
BYT: Are there certain words that you return to over and over again just based on sounds in your act? For it’s the combination “Chinese Food.” Something about that is just poetic.
RW: Consortium. Is a funny word. Most breakfast foods or pasty items are pretty fun to say.
BYT: As well as just saying the words Pastry Items.
RW: Yeah. Or small furry animals, any of those. Ferrets. Weasels. They are funny animals as well as funny words.
BYT: You speak several languages in addition to English right? Do you think that played any role in developing your wordscape style?
BYT: I just came up with that. I think it’s accurate.
RW: That is awesome. What is the question though? I stopped listening after wordscapes.
BYT: Did you fluency in other language influence your early improvisational style? Or were you interested in language formally as well as music ever–did you do spoken word poetry or other kinds of creative writing stuff?
RW: Nope, never really was a writer. Even when I had to write lyrics to a song it wasn’t my favorite. I just like listening to language and repeating in back in my own dumb way.
BYT: You did the theme song to one of my favorite podcasts, Comedy Bang Bang. It sounded on the episode where you came up with three options for the song, it was like you just busted them out off the top of your head without even practicing them first, is that right?
RW: Yeah, I came up with them there in the studio. I just improvised them live on the podcast and everyone voted for their favorites.
BYT: Because you can sort of perform anywhere there must be some occasions when people surprise you with requests…GO DO YOUR THING NOW NO PREPARATION GO GO GO! Does that get weird?
RW: No, as long as it’s not too much of a forceful situation. On a radio or a TV show I know I’m there to perform so if someone asks me at the last minute to do something it’s not a big deal. It depends on the context.
BYT: But unlike Mick Jagger or, say, Demetri Martin–nobody’s going to stop them on the street or in a bar and go: “Do that thing you do, perform right here!”
RW: Oh yeah, but if people do that though I usually just say: No.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJfZTr8zMsc
BYT: Recently there was this video going around of your song being rapped by some My Little Ponies. This wasn’t surprising to me because I always see your image getting posted randomly to sites like 4Chan or Canv.as or Reddit, just as an image with no explanation. Are you aware of sites like that or do you stay away from the cauldron?
RW: Well. I mean, I love cauldrons. I do have google alerts so if something comes up I cheek it out. I’m not so Youtube crazy…if someone wants to show me something I will check it out or if I want to check something out quickly I will. But I never go through Youtube looking for “What’s the Hot Video right now” or anything. If I’m online it’s usually either for research or if a friend of mine sends me a link.
BYT: Well keep an eye out because I expect you’ll see more and more random images of you pop up on your google alert. You just have an eminently Photoshopabble visage.
BYT: No, thank you! Thanks for talking to me sir.
RW: No problem.