By: Hannah Davis, Staff Writer
Imagine a child, standing silently on the edge of a playground, bundled in a coat covered in “[dangly] buttons.” A different child approaches and pulls on one of the jacket’s adornments. The boy in the coat responds unpredictably, in song, changing stations like a radio with each tug of a tassel or poke of a button. That child pretending to be a radio is a young Reggie Watts.
He’s the bandleader on the Late Late Show with James Corden, the creator of multiple music and comedy albums, and a downright fearless performer. In the wake of the upcoming Just for Laughs Northwest Comedy Festival, The Peak interviewed Reggie Watts to talk about technology, comedy, and viewing “everything as everything.”
Growing up in Montana, Reggie’s school offered a rich variety of drama, arts and sports programs, so he was able to “try out as many things as [he] wanted to.” Of his childhood, Reggie says that he was “very social and involved in school and the arts”, which he says “had a huge impact on [him] later in life.”
When asked what advice he would give students who may want to pursue a similar career path as him, he says that “one thing that most kids have access to these days is cheap computers and tablets and phones and things like that,” devices, he continues, that can help in “finding things that you’re interested in.”
From there, he says that to build a community, it’s best to “work with friends and people that you love [ . . . ] to make stuff in real time together.”
It’s fun to browse through Watt’s videos on YouTube. The selection is diverse, spanning “Reggie’s Question” segments on the Late Late Show with James Corden, improvised comedy sets, to JASH content, and music videos like If You’re Fucking, You’re Fucking (another JASH production).
“I just thought it was ridiculous,” he says of his inspiration for the latter piece, “and I just liked the idea of taking something generally extreme and then saying it over and over again, and then kind of re-formatting and re-contextualizing [it]. It was just really hilarious to me.”
More recently, Watts ventured into the realm of combining virtual reality with comedy, music and performance. I asked him to elaborate on the potential he sees with music, comedy and its relationship with virtual reality and other emerging technologies.
“I think it’s a pretty natural evolution,” he replied. “It’d be the same thing as doing a regular show; it’s just you’re in VR, so obviously it would make the possibilities of what you can see and experience visually.”
His interactive VR music video Runnin’ played in the New Frontier Exhibitions at Sundance this year, and this past January he performed a live VR comedy/music show with Altspace VR.
On Improvisation: Everything is Everything
Reggie’s sets are at times confusing. His TED Talk YouTube video from 2012 is titled “Reggie Watts Disorients You in the Most Entertaining Way,” and the title does not disappoint. The speed at which Reggie associates topics and ideas on stage is fascinating and hilarious. He slides smoothly from one convincing accent to another, weaves improvised songs into his sets and turns objects into props on stage, all making for an entertainment experience you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
“When I am on stage, I wanna be having a great time,” he says of his performance style. “I have to be playful [ . . . ] I need to have a good time so people out there can have a good time. I’m just always looking for fun stuff that’s humorous to me on stage: that’s part of the engine that drives it all.”
The dangly button coat from before feels like a strange yet fitting analogy for Watts, who boldly and seamlessly combines comedy, music and more recently virtual reality in his one-of-a-kind improvisational comedy shows.
“I would just stand [on the playground] and be silent, and then [other kids] would poke and pull on the little button thing and then I would start doing a song, and they would tug it again and I would change like I was a radio and changing radio stations,” Watts shares. “I think that that, mixed with watching Monty Python [who were] seamlessly melting from one idea to another, was inspirational as well.”
“I just saw everything as everything,” he concludes.
Though his sets are improvised, I asked Reggie if he could take a guess at what people could expect at his show in Vancouver on February 23 at the Vogue Theatre. He replied, “I guess they should expect to hope to have a good time.”
Reggie Watts will be performing his show, “Hey, It’s Me, Reggie Watts”, in Vancouver on Feb. 23, 2019 at the Vogue Theatre