Who is Reggie Watts? If we can pin anything on him, its that he’s a 40-year-old man with massive hair. Deeper still: he’s close to 100 trillion cells organized biologically to form a human body. But having not met him in person to confirm this, let’s stick to what we know for sure: he’s a musician and he’s funny, but not a comedy musician. He doesn’t roll with “Weird Al” or Flight of the Conchords. As a solo performer, he noodles, loops, speaks, and sings in a stream-of-consciousness blur that’s just as hilarious as it is surreal. His performances and subsequent recordings consist of beat-boxed acid jazz about noble gasses… or fucking… or probably both. His comedy is a byproduct of introducing unlikely words and sounds to an audience. It’s about breaking your brain. Applying some fast and loose empirical evidence, let’s call him a performance artist.
This week, Watts’ released his third comedy-centric record, a CD/DVD called Reggie Watts: A Live At Central Park. Recorded on June 22, 2011, the set aired on Comedy Central this past week. His U.S. tour also started this week, with 16 dates announced so far. Then, next month, IFC will begin airing Comedy Bang! Bang!, a talk show which sees Watts play Paul Shaffer to Scott Aukerman’s off-beat Letterman. Last Friday, Consequence of Sound and Nerdy Show’s Cap Blackard dialed up Watts just before this explosion of new content and appearances to talk with him about the TV show, collaborations, freestyle, and mid-’80s fantasy films.
Most recently, you caught my attention with the news that you performed your own soundtrack to Ridley Scott’s Legend at SXSW. I’m a huge fan of Legend, so that was awesome for me. I was wondering how that project came about.
It was [originally] for San Francisco Sketchfest. They wanted to do this kind of residency thing that they called a “Reggidency.” One of the ideas was that they wanted me to score music to a silent film, and so I thought it would be funny to score music to a non-silent film. Certainly not a new idea by any means, but I thought Legend would be really fun, just because it’s so crazy, fantastic image-wise, and kind of nonsensically a good thing to go for. Plus, the soundtrack, at least the second soundtrack, by Tangerine Dream, was fantastic, and I loved it as a kid. So, I just wanted to do a take of it.
Is that why you chose the U.S. Theatrical cut over the extended Director’s Cut for the presentation?
Well, I think that’s just the movie they got. I didn’t really request the other one, but it was actually better, I think, because an audience’s patience with something like that… I wanted to make it as painless as possible.
I’m kicking myself for not being at South By this year, and this is one of many reasons. I was listening to the recording of the performance you put on your web site and you seem to have a really good memory for all the lines. In preparation for this, how many times did you watch the film?
I think I watched it recently, like within the last year. But as a kid, when that movie came out, I think I saw it like 13 times, so I have a lot of recollection.
You’re doing a show with IFC coming up called Comedy Bang! Bang!, and then there’s this sort of spin-off or sister show that’s goes along with it called Reggie Makes Music. I was wondering what you could tell me about your involvement with those projects.
Scott Aukerman has a show, called Comedy Bang! Bang!, which is a podcast. I did the theme song for it, and then on occasion he’d have me be on the show as a guest. When IFC approached them about making a TV show, they wanted me to be attached to it because of my musical involvement, and I’d be perfect for the “musical dude.” So that was the deal. It was pretty simple, just a visualized continuation of what we were doing. The Makes Music part was just kind of an addendum thing that we would add at the end of each filming day.
The way Reggie Makes Music is presented online is that it’s kind of a gauntlet that guests have to run before they can actually get onto the show.
In the show world, yes, that’s the concept. Although, that was new to me when I read it. I was like, “Oh, that’s cool.” [laughs]
But in reality the guests have already been warmed up by the full recording, that’s the last thing that they do?
Yeah, basically. They just know that they have to do it at some point. And sometimes people didn’t know. They’d just spring it on ‘em, which is really awesome.
There’s a clip online right now with you and Jon Hamm, and he’s doing sort of a freestyle about the show, Taxi. He definitely seems a bit… uncomfortable and unsure of what he’s doing. Did you guys discuss that before, or was that sprung on him?
[laughs] That was just sprung on him. I was thinking…as far as I know he’s not known as a musician, so I wanted to do something kinda simple. It was at the end of the day, and they’d done a lot. He was on the show the whole time. It was a lot of filming, and he was tired. Everyone was tired. But, at the end of the day, he was like, “sure, let’s do something.” I had that Taxi theme in my head all day long. I couldn’t stop playing it, so I just decided to use it as part of the loop. Sometimes I have an idea and I’ll just start doing something… maybe it doesn’t work, and I’ll try something else, and it’ll catch on fire. This was just the first idea, and he just started talking. And I was like, “Well, I guess that’s what this is.” [laughs]
Who do you feel had the most profound musical experience on Reggie Makes Music?
Gosh that’s a hard one… I guess impromptu-wise I would have to say maybe… Michael Cera.
Nice. I look forward to seeing how that one turns out.
Yeah, he’s awesome.
Last July, you talked about a collaboration with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, possibly a 7” record. It’s been almost a year, and I was wondering if you had an update on that project.
It’s on hold. He’s a busy dude, and he’d just gotten done with LCD at that time. He’s definitely game and he threw me some ideas. We started talking about stuff back and forth, but I think now he’s just figuring out his thing, you know? Just getting settled. So, I think when it’s the right time it’ll happen, but there’s no specific date set in stone or anything.
Is there any chance of seeing a CD or digital release of your hair record from Third Man Records?
Gosh… yes…maybe? I don’t know! [laughs] I’ll talk to Jack [White]. I’ll ask him. I’ll say, “Please, there’s been a huge demand. And by ‘huge’ I mean one person.”
I just really want to hear what all that hair sounds like, man.
I know man. I do too. I do too… [laughs]
In the video for it, Jack said the hair was collected from ten or so barber shops. Is any of the hair yours, or is it all strangers?
I think it’s all strangers, I would imagine. But, obviously, auditioned strangers.
During your performances, I get the impression that a lot of your freestyle and improv acts as a window into what you’ve been reading recently, and it’s really varied. So I was wondering, how much do you read on average?
It depends on the type of reading you’re talking about. I definitely love reading about things informationally and just reciting information-a lot. But it’s mostly me just researching products and articles on science, achievements in design and technology mostly. Some political stuff, but that’s not as interesting to me.
Do you have any particular scientific fascinations? Like, say, if you see an article about…string theory, you’re always gonna be like, “Oh shit, string theory! I’m checking that out right now.”
Yeah, anything about nuclear or physics oriented, or astronomy, or… basically physics of any kind. And chemical science, bio-tech, computer tech… anything scientific at all, pretty much. Behavior of animals… It doesn’t matter. I just look at the Google science thing and expand it to its maximum and just go through all of those articles.
Do you get into any comic books?
I haven’t read any in a while. I was reading the Marvel Comics app, some Iron Man. As a kid, I read comics a little bit. I was more into the cartoons about the comic book heroes, or the TV shows that were made about them, or the movies. My friend Wally is a super comic nerd, and he’ll tell me the entire universe history. Also, my other friend, Tommy, also a huge “historian,” if you will, he’ll tell me all these crazy details. Now I’ll just go through each character in a comic book series, research their Wiki, and so that’s kinda how I’m into them.
That’s really how most writers of modern day comics get into the characters that they’re assigned to write anyway, so…
That’s true. Unfortunately, that’s true.
Well, when you’re dealing with continuity that extensive, how else can you do it, right?
Yeah, I guess so. I mean, in an ideal world it’d be like someone who’s a huge fan, who happens to also be a good writer, could write something like that. But it’s always hard to find all of that in one package.
It’s true. Do you have any recommended reading? What’s a book that everybody should check out?
I haven’t read a book in a long time, but I really enjoyed The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav. He kind of blends physics and Eastern mysticism together in an interesting way. It’s a really beautiful book, and it’s based off the idea of quantum physics applied as philosophy and then compared to Eastern mysticism.