Reggie Watts | Mad Talent

Reggie Watts is absurd. Most people who see his hybrid act (which combines improvised, one-man-show music with Monty Python-esque, Dadaist humour, and social commentary) are left wide-eyed, but also smiling. He's that afro'ed, sweater-wearing man with the 10 octave range your friend was trying to tell you about, who went on Conan, Ted Talks, and Letterman, with nothing prepared, spoke in accents, and then created an incredible-yet hilarious song in front of your very eyes. Given that Mr. Watts is so impossible to place into a genre, it makes sense that he's just spent the summer opening for the impossible to open for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. We asked Kevvy Mental to speak to him on behalf of ION.

A big part of your live show is to take people's assumptions of you based on how you look and speak, and switch it on them. So, how did Nick Cave's crowds react to you.
They were cool. I leaned more into the music aspect of it. I didn't really have too many problems. They seemed (ponders)…maybe they were lying (laughs). They were Canadian audiences, which tend to be little more open, I guess. It was good, though. I loved it.

I’d assume that early on, based on the absurdity of your show, your act would have gone over people's heads some times.How did you handle that?

I kind of like that, because it's my job to find out how to get back on track with them. I enjoy that challenge. Sometimes it would get tense and I'd wonder if I was gonna get killed. But most of the time I just try to adjust, and adjust the audience. I like to interface with them. 

With your mother being French, You grew up with parents who speak different languages. Did you start mimicking voices at an early age because of that?
It definitely had an influence, hearing different languages growing up, for sure.

In school, did your teachers find that charming or irritating?
(Laughs) Sometimes they found it charming, and other times, very irritating. Some of them could recognize I had talent, and some of them just wanted to teach. 

Your live act is largely improvised. What about your recordings?
In the case of Fuck, Shit, Stack (and What About Blowjobs), it was created on stage. I would do it at different shows, and it would get slightly refined, and by the time I recorded it I had it pretty much down. By then, it was still improvising but it had a stronger structure.

And what about the Key and Peele theme song?
They asked me to do that when I was in London at the time. I tried something that was a little bit more produced, and they were like "can you do something that's a little more…you?” They weren't quite vibing on that, so I sent them four improvisations, and I was pretty high when I did them… (laughs)…on marijuana.

I’ve heard of that stuff.
Right. When I'm in a state like that, it allows me to stop thinking of the parameters, and do something fluidly. I sent them four examples, and they liked the one you hear now—I didn’t change anything.
Musically, comedically, and with the plays you've created, you are inspired by Situationism. Do you take influence from any visual artists?
Not super totally? (both laugh) I would say…no. 

You've said before that in today's popular music, there's not much originality going on, and it's mostly people recycling old ideas. Do you view this as a bad thing?
I don't think of it as a bad thing. It's just a state of how things are. And, that's okay. I don't want to discourage people, I just think it's a reality. It's something that's controllable if there's an awareness, and if people strive for more creative things that they feel, instead of pastiche. I want to encourage that a little bit more, and provide more options for people creatively, rather than what's hot right now.

So, it's not hopeless?
I don't think it's hopeless. There's always a way. There's always people doing really great things, but they're just not celebrated as much.

Is there anyone people should know about?
I’ve been on Emory House for a few years now.

What was your first record you ever owned?
I think it was Elvis Presley’s greatest hits.

Your TED Talks appearance—would you say that's your widest reaching appearance?
Yeah, and it's a little surprising at times. The demographics are crazy. A lot of people who I never thought would watch TED Talks, do, which is what TED is trying to be. It's nice to see a cross section of humanity represented.

In 2006, you won the Andy Kauffman artist award. It seems like he's influential for you?
Definitely. He's an incredible force, and provides inspiration for many of my fellow comedians. Kristen Schaal's a big influence on me, too. Winning the award was nice because I got to spend time with his father. He told me stories about how he was as a kid. It was insight into the kind of person that he was. He was very generous, even though he did things that were agitating. He was very much a Situationist, very provoking, but provoking for a good reason.

The similarity I see between the two of you is that you're confrontational, but not in a traditional sense. Would you describe your style as confrontational?
It might be confrontational, but not outwardly. There are moments of the show where I'll say some highly opinionated things that are divisive of the audience.

You are basically able to say anything because you're so likeable.
(laughs) Yeah, that can come in handy, I suppose.

Lastly, your pink nail polish game is top-shelf. Is there a specific brand you can recommend to people?
Essie. And, the colour pink. 

"Reggie Watts' beats defy boxes. Unplug your logic board and watch as he blends poetry and crosses musical genres in this larger-than-life performance." – TED Talks

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