Howdy do, everyone, Papa Vinyard here.
Reggie Watts has made a name for himself as a comedian and as a musician, but it would be hard to peg him down as either. His efforts involve going on stage with nothing more than a keyboard and a voice modulator, and somehow doing something that could easily be described as a concert, if all of his work didn't seem so gleefully satirical. He's been touring for about 10 years, and his act has refined itself into something that is strikingly original, completely absurd, and consistently very funny. There's no one else like him in mainstream comedy right now, and through his output of albums, TV appearances, theater work, and, most recently, his work on JASH and COMEDY BANG! BANG!, he's more prolific than ever. Mr. Watts was nice enough to give me some time to talk about those latter projects and some of his videos, as well as his latest special, WHY SHIT SO CRAZY, currently streaming on Netflix.
VINYARD: Hi, Reggie, this is Vincent with Ain't it Cool News, how're you doing?
REGGIE: Good morning, I'm good.
VINYARD: Good afternoon, if you're on the east coast. (Reggie resides in Williamsburg, Brooklyn)
REGGIE: Yeah, yes.
VINYARD: Nice morning over here in Irvine.
VINYARD: First question for you: Are we fucking? (I'm making reference to a video of his where this question is prominently posed)
REGGIE: Well, it depends on your definition of what "fucking" is. (Laughs) If "fucking" is fucking, then that's what we're doing.
VINYARD: Well if we're fucking, then I'd say that we're fucking.
REGGIE: Well yeah, if we're fucking, then we're probably fucking, most likely.
REGGIE: Not to say for certain, but…
VINYARD: Seems that way.
REGGIE: It does seem that way.
VINYARD: How would you describe your style to someone who had no idea who the hell you were?
REGGIE: I would say that I'm an "absurdist comedic performer".
VINYARD: (pause) Okay! At the intro of your most recent special (entitled WHY SHIT SO CRAZY), you're beckoned by God to do the special. Do you feel that's kind of how your career went down, like you were destined for this? Or did you kind of will your career into fruition?
REGGIE: I mean, it's kind of a mixture of both. A lot of it's just doing it, just continually doing it, and trying to get on stage as much as possible, and making videos, and all that stuff, that kinda leads you into different pockets of reality I think. I mean, some of it's definitely visualizing or intuitively feeling where you'd like to go, or feeling like "I need to perform!" So it's definitely a mixture.
VINYARD: Did you always wanna do what you do?
REGGIE: Um, yeah, for the most part, yeah. There are definitely things I'd like to try that I've not, really. But that goes along with how I got to where I am now, so that's just me in a process of...in another version of that process.
VINYARD: What would you like to try that you haven't attempted yet?
REGGIE: Making some new…new, um, just some video ideas, and concepts. Just some experimental video things. Yeah, mainly.
VINYARD: Is that kind of what led you to get JASH going?
REGGIE: Yeah, JASH is definitely a part of it. Being able to, you know, do these…to actualize some of these dumb ideas that I have. Yeah, for sure. Although specific…a little bit more specific to comedy.
VINYARD: What exactly is JASH, and what does the word "JASH" mean, specifically? How did that come together?
REGGIE: JASH, I remember we were throwing around a bunch of names for the site, and I remember…yeah, I remember we were throwing around a bunch of names and then, um, I think it was me, or I think it was someone…but I just thought "Josh" was great, 'cause, you know, "just joshing", was great. But then "JOSH" was owned by somebody, and it was like a million dollars to buy it, so we were like "fuck that". But then "JASH" was available, and so we all kinda decided that "JASH" was great. It was one name, it was kinda like someone from the midwest saying "Josh". So…yeah, we went with "JASH."
VINYARD: How did you, (Michael) Cera, Tim & Eric, Sarah Silverman, how did you guys get together?
REGGIE: We've known each other from around the scene, and Daniel Kellison, who created THE MAN SHOW, this TV producer guy, he got involved with Google and Youtube, and talked to Cera about creating an original content channel. And, um, I think Sarah had a huge hand in selecting people to, you know, form a coalition with, and Tim & Eric was friends of hers, and I knew her, and I guess Michael Cera came into the picture, and yeah, that was kinda the team.
VINYARD: Would you guys ever consider collaborating on any videos?
REGGIE: We collaborated on the first video, the kind of "JASH coming out" video (located here). We haven't done anything since then, but I hope we do. They're awesome people to work with.
VINYARD: You don't think it's a clash of style, or anything, It just hasn't come up?
REGGIE: I don't necessarily think it's a clash of style. I think that Tim & Eric are pretty adaptable when they're working with other people. But they're also a little bit more directorial. And Michael Cera is an actor, and additionally writes- he's a writer as well. But he's also got experience as just an actor, so he can kind of flux between being creative or writing- writing or being interpretive as an actor. And Sarah Silverman is the also the same way; she's a stand-up comedian first, but she's also an actor. So she's adaptable as well, and contributes amazing ideas, and I kind of am super-malleable. So everybody kind of works well together, I think.
VINYARD: WHY SHIT SO CRAZY has a bunch of New York jokes. What's your favorite part about living in New York?
REGGIE: I like…I like the people you can run into randomly, or, you know, being able to say "I wanna go into town and get something," and you can, at at any hour. I like that it's available at almost every hour of the day.
VINYARD: How do you translate the video editing aspect of your live act to your- rather of your special to your live act? How does that work when you go on tour?
REGGIE: Um…you mean…say that again?
VINYARD: On WHY SHIT SO CRAZY there's a bunch of editing tricks.
VINYARD: Is there a screen in your live act? Or is this only done for the special?
REGGIE: No it's just for the special.
VINYARD: How much is you, and how much is (director) Duncan Skiles?
REGGIE: A lot of it's Duncan Skiles and his editors, you know Waverly Films was WHY SHIT SO CRAZY and I think it was Ghost Robot, I think, for LIVE IN CENTRAL PARK. I mean, Duncan's a great editor, and he's a great director, so he has a lot to do with it. He also understands my style very well. He understands that the things I'm doing live, are essentially- some of the transitions I'm doing live are video edits. So the video editing is a more literal version of what I do on stage. I don't really change anything, I just keep doing my live show how I normally do, there's no consideration made for the specials, at all. They're kinda their own thing.
VINYARD: In your songs, you kinda start spitting gibberish that sounds kinda vaguely musical. How much of contemporary music do you perceive as just being that, just being posing and form with no actual content behind it?
REGGIE: I always enjoy the idea of the sh-…kind of the structure of something, but what's inside of the structure doesn't neccessarily have to make any sense at all. If it feels like the cadence of how a person giving a lecture speaks, then I'll use that cadence, and that vocal tonality, but what I'm talking about is a bunch of nonsense. Or if I'm singing, some times I feel like saying words, sometimes I feel like just using gibberish that sounds French, or Spanish, or something like that.
VINYARD: How'd you hook up with Scott Aukerman (The host of COMEDY BANG! BANG!)?
REGGIE: I was doing shows in…L.A., and I was doing "See You Next Tuesday", which- I don't know if that still exists anymore, but at UCB (Upright Citizen's Brigade) theater, and he was one of the guys who had his own show, "Comedy Death Ray", at the time. He was rockin' that show, which was a Friday night, and it was kinda the flagship night at UCB. See You Next Tuesday was kinda like the night you would do before you'd get to do Comedy Death Ray. So I was doing that, and then he saw me, and invited me on his show, and he asked me to do a theme song for the show, and so I did that. He had the podcast going at the same time as well, so he used that theme song, and sometimes I'd come on the show and do some music or talk about stuff. It was kind of a casual, organic evolution.
VINYARD: Well I guess you guys already shot the second season of COMEDY BANG! BANG!, is that right?
REGGIE: That's correct, yeah.
VINYARD: So what can we look forward to?
REGGIE: You know, it's a pretty crazy show! Really well-produced, pretty intensely written. You can expect everything from it.
VINYARD: So it is mostly scripted; there's not much improvising going on that set.
REGGIE: There's quite a bit of improvising. The guests have a lot of improvising while they're sitting on the couch answering questions, that's all improvised. The bits are written, sometimes the lines are set exactly- like when certain- I've had times, you know some of the takes people are allowed to be a little looser with it, so they might use that instead of the written stuff. I'd say it's 30% improvised.
VINYARD: You have a segment called "Reggie Makes Music". Who would your favorite guest be on that? Who would you most like to "make music" with?
REGGIE: That I haven't already?
VINYARD: That you haven't already.
REGGIE: I don't know. It's hard to say, 'cause a lot of the guests we have are actors, so it's not really musicians. Yeah, I don't know, I don't know, I don't really have a- I can't really think of anyone that I'm dying to do a track with.
VINYARD: What music are you really into?
REGGIE: I'm into everything. I like electronic music, I like techno, I like [indecipherable] music, I like ambient music, I like some indie rock stuff, like singer-songwriter stuff, and classical music, and classic rock, and 80's music, [indecipherable]. and industrial, hardcore…pretty much anything.
VINYARD: Just not Skrilex.
REGGIE: Uh, you know, Skrillex is a nice guy. His music definitely helps end dubstep, for sure.
VINYARD: So you mentioned that sometimes you ramble in different languages in your act. Do you actually speak those fluently? What languages can you actually speak?
REGGIE: I can only speak French. But I can speak a lot of fake languages.
VINYARD: You make fun of 3-D in the special. What are your actual thoughts on 3-D?
REGGIE: (pause) You know, it's interesting. It's definitely not quite as gimmicky as it used to be. I think it can be cool if it's used in a subtle way. I thought PROMETHEUS did a great job of that.
REGGIE: In general, I think it's another piece of gear that is a little geeky, a little techy. So when you're at home, and you wanna see a 3-D movie, you have to turn on your glasses, make sure the batteries are charged, make sure the TV's in 3-D mode…3-D should be easier, it should be as easy as possible. It's pretty easy now, but it's kind of a gimmick. I just don't- I have a TV that transmits 3-D, I have 3-D glasses, but I never use them.
VINYARD: There are parts in the show when the humor is focused on you making fun of stereotypical black comedian schtick. Do you feel like there's certain expectations of you as a black comedian, and does that pigeonholing kind of have negative effects, even though it feeds your act a little bit?
REGGIE: I don't think it has negative effects. I mean, I wouldn't necessarily know about that. I'm just doing, you know, what I think is funny onstage.You know, I kinda make fun of all kinds of comedy, but, you know, when a guy walks out onstage and he looks a certain way there definitely can be expectations, and so sometimes I'll start out in that way so that people are like, "Oh yeah, this is *that* guy!". And then it just works to my advantage, 'cause then I can switch it up, instantaneously, and people are like "Oh no! That's not the guy I thought it was!" So it's all the better for me, the more people think I'm a certain way, works for my show better.
VINYARD: When you do something like Kimmel or Conan, how much freedom do they give you with your set? Do you just do whatever you want within the time limit, or do you have to clear what you're gonna do out there?
REGGIE: I…yeah, for Conan, they know I'm an improvisor, so they just let me improvise. I'll definitely come up with some bits, like for the Christmas one, make sure I have a chair with some Christmas shit around me, and I'll start doing this thing where when I get up, I want this girl to come in and- I'll just organize something really quickly, but it's all improvised, so I'll create some structure and improvise. Or, you know, a few times, they just told me to sound check real quick and that's it, they just want me to improvise. So…yeah, they're cool with me just doing whatever I wanna do, as long as I end on time. And then with Kimmel, it's the same thing, I just improvise my set. Any of those things, it's like if you ask a band to do a song, you just let them do their songs. Kinda same thing for me, they just let me do my thing, and I won't cuss a lot, and I'll end on time.
VINYARD: What do you think the primary difference is between your live act and when you're recording stuff?
REGGIE: Recording gives you the edge to do things over. It depends if you're talking about a comedy performance, or a live performance. On a live performance, I'm just gonna perform live like I always do. But if I'm recording or filming something, then you just try stuff out, and do another take, another version of it. It's really two different mindsets. One you just need to keep going, one is like "Ah, I think I can do this better."
VINYARD: Do you see yourself more as a comedian, or a musician, or some sort of unique fusion of the two?
REGGIE: Well, I think that they're related, I think comedy and music are very related, so I kinda view them as the same thing, to a certain degree.
VINYARD: Okay! I think I went a little over (at this point we'd been talking for 16 minutes instead of the 10 I'd been alotted), so thank you for answering my questions and I wish you the best of luck with the new season!
REGGIE: Thank you so much.
VINYARD: Thank you for giving me a little time.
REGGIE: No problem.
WHY SHIT SO CRAZY is currently streaming on Netflix, and the new season of COMEDY BANG! BANG! starts July 12th on IFC.