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Local boy made good: Reggie Watts

tn_maktubThroughout the 2000s and going back to the ’90s there was a popular soul/R&B type band in Seattle called Maktub. They had a few locally popular albums and performed all the time, I think I saw them open for George Clinton, maybe The Roots or somebody, and most years they’d be at the annual music festival Bumbershoot. Their singer Reggie Watts also had a solo album which had heavy street promotions and won awards for best local album and all that type of thing. They were a tight band and he was a good singer. I never really followed them closely, but it was hard not to run into them occasionally. In fact, I remember one night I was walking home around 2 am (no buses running) and I was waiting to cross at an intersection. A car stopped and waved me across. I looked at the driver and thought well I’ll be damned, that’s Reggie Watts. I guess he’s a nice guy.

Another time I happened to be at some event, can’t remember if it was a film festival or something, where some comedians or other were doing a Q&A. (If I remembered this better it would count as a good story, but no such luck here, so bear with me.) A guy in the audience stammerd an unusually stupid and nonsensical question, something along the lines of “Do you guys, like, have… things, you know, that are like, that you consider funny, or whatever?” And I looked and again I’ll be damned, it’s Reggie Watts, anonymously putting on some weird character to ask a bad question and amuse himself. And somebody at the time told me yeah, he’s been getting into comedy lately.

Years later I came across this video of what exactly his comedy was like, and it blew my mind. I was in tears laughing even the second time I watched it. It’s hard to even describe and it’s definitely gonna be completely unfunny to some people. I almost posted it on here a while ago to see what you guys would think, but it’s on vimeo which doesn’t work as well as youtube for me for some reason. There are shorter, easier to digest Reggie Watts videos on youtube, but to me this one is the tour de force that brings you through many twists and turns of trying to put your finger on what in God’s name this performance is all about. Be patient for the first few minutes, the awkwardness is part of the journey.

Reggie Watts on The Sound of Young America from Jesse Thorn on Vimeo.

You see, man? You see? How do you categorize that? Part of what makes it funny is obviously the randomness, the surreal silliness, saying things like “it’s about an eagle, and that’s important. ‘Cause that’s a bird,” or my personal favorite, bragging about how “my teeth is brushable.” And the weirdness – the switching from character to character, the pretending he’s a radio station being switched and all that. And then of course the surprising musical talent, the way he unexpectedly constructs a song right in front of you using only his voice and a sampler. I’ve since seen him live and he did all this, plus playing a keyboard and singing what would’ve been a beautiful song if the lyrics weren’t a detailed essay about women’s underwear that mimics the useless pouch from men’s underwear.  Also I think part of it was about sandwiches. And I’m pretty sure it was all off the top of his head, but it was very polished.

But to me there’s more going on under the surface there. The nonsense he’s saying at the beginning of this performance to me is a hilarious deconstruction of joke-telling itself. He’s using the structure of standup comedy without the content. Just setups and segues made of nonsense, no meat, and that becomes the joke. Later in the song he does a similar deconstruction of cliches from hip hop and reggae, amplifying the ludicrousness of common call and response cliches by making them even more absurd. For another take on that look up his song “Fuck Shit Stack.”

I think he’s some kind of genius, and should be able to somehow take that bigger, but how do you do that? Where do you go with it? With his crazy look and improv skills I’m sure sooner or later he’ll end up being a wacky supporting character in a movie, but as far as what his specific talent is I don’t have the imagination to know what to do with that.

Well, I believe he’s since moved to New York and been messing with experimental theater and shit. He came back here for a one man show, which I missed. But hey, check it out, he’s in a commercial now!

It’s actually pretty cool. I wouldn’t mind if that was one of the stupid ads they always play before movies.

This entry was posted on Saturday, January 9th, 2010 at 1:45 am and is filed under Blog Post (short for weblog). You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

15 Responses to “Local boy made good: Reggie Watts”

  1. I found it very funny although I didn’t laugh loud once. It’s definitely a very original approach to stand up comedy, maybe only comparable to German comedian Helge Schneider, who is a brillant musician that plays a gazillion instruments perfectly, but whose humor is completely absurd, random and often even reaches the realms of anti-humor. (Like singing songs about cat toilets or stuff like [losely translated] “The phone is ringing, but I’m in the basement, maybe just the wrong number, but I’m faster, I’m the telephone man.”)
    But I will definitely try to track more of Reggie Watts’ stuff down. He’s now officially on my watchlist.

  2. Great stuff.

    I had to look for a video of shit stack fuck on youtube after this, and one of them seems to be him warming up for Devo, which seems pretty damn appropriate.

  3. The first thing that came to my mind was that this guy must have been raised in that Black Dynamite orphanage where kids don’t have parents. You know, the kid that asks Black Dynamite if he has some crack.

  4. “Life demands DIE HARD.” Shit, man, I’ve been saying that since ’88.

    But seriously, this guy is amazing. Whenever I hear stuff like this, it makes me hate most rappers even more.

  5. I cracked up until about the point at the 4:10 mark when he unleashed that Bobby McFerrin-style scat flourish; after that, I just watched in amazement. It’s interesting because how you classify a piece of art often has as big an impact on how it’s perceived as the content of the art itself. As music, what Reggie’s doing here is awesome but not unprecedented (Jamie Lidell, Kid Beyond, and the mighty Rahzel are all beatbox wizards with varying levels of equipment they use to loop, pitch shift, and otherwise “assist” their voices). But to do the same thing in front of a crowd expecting big laffs about airplane travel, or whatever, it suddenly becomes a weirdly subversive act. Different environment, and suddenly rather than doing “music that’s funny”, he’s doing “funny that’s packed and meta-observant about it”. And the blatant surrealism–hipster conversations, the “song” continuing through 6:44, parodies of Temple Of The Dog and Soundgarden, and a shout-out to the coccyx–certainly helps in the sense of “substance overload” (my favorite part may be where drops the English radio announcer voice at 8:14 with “whaaaait?”).

    Or, as my girlfriend put it, “I think he just invented his own genre.” Great link, Vern. Thanks. Go Reggie.

  6. i still haven’t seen him but Reggie Watts comes to Australia heaps, usually playing the comedy festivals and the arts festivals. He’s played the Sydney Opera House a few times, which is pretty cool

  7. Hmmm that video just kind of annoys me but some of his other stuff is gold. Like this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOIEsu1NkLU&feature=related

    Baby I love you, but what’s up with the sandwiches???

    And his non-comedic music is sometimes pretty damn cool too:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E20YsTsC8Hs&feature=related

    (Yes I know you all know how to search on YouTube)

  8. that was incredible, thanks vern. consider me pretty much obsessed with this dude.

  9. Well I finally watched this. Put some paprika on it. Gold.

  10. Awesome shit like this is why I’m glad you have your own sight, Vern.

  11. I also think it’s pretty great that for some reason he starts talking about Ryan Reynolds’ performance in “The Nines.”

  12. Apparently he is now the opening act in Conan O’Brien’s live tour. (Which I would love to attend, but y’know, wrong side of the planet and so on.

  13. Reggie reminds me of the super-charged, fully realized African American alter-ego of a projection of my not-fully realized future-self from seven years ago! He (not me) is an unpretentious post-modern freedom-fighting Mesmer of melodic- meat-space-mash-up; a wild, wooly wizard of words; a magical modulator of mimetic mastery; A shamanic sense-shifter of space and time, A Semantic Sorceror seemlessly sliding from the sublime to the spastic and the raw, real to the plastic; A funky,fro’d, founding father of foolosophy fluidly fracturing with funniness, the fantasized fixity of phenomenal frames…i could go on!!! um, i guess he’s ok…

  14. Just saw him on Conan. Funny, funny dude, like a one man Monty Python troupe. “So a panda walks into a gazebo…”

  15. In case you missed it, here is special Christmas performance from last Thursday’s CONAN
    http://teamcoco.com/content/reggie-watts-brings-holiday-funk

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