By this point you should be fully aware that we’re only two days away from a jam-packed schedule of comedians and performers ready to fill Austin with a critical mass of jokes and laughter at Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival.
We’ve already focused on a few of the festival’s headliners, most of whom have made their name on the standup circuit before branching out into other acts. Today, however, CultureMap chats with a comedian who is as unique as they come.
Reggie Watts performs live as both a musician and a comedian, but what sets him apart is his amazing ability to improvise his sets into a comedic stream of consciousness that utilizes a loop sampler, his wide vocal range, and maybe a few other tools. He performs as the musical accompaniment for Scott Aukerman’s podcast/IFC TV series, Comedy Bang! Bang!, and currently releases videos on the YouTube comedy channel, Jash. If you get the chance to see him live you’re guaranteed a show different from any other Watts show.
CultureMap: You’ve performed plenty of times here in Austin, particularly at SXSW. Would you say the city has left a good impression on you?
Reggie Watts: Yeah, man, I love Austin. Austin’s a city that every time I’m going I’m happy to be going. I’ve thought about moving there. I’ve thought about making a record there. It inspires a lot of things for me when I go there.
CM: With the comedy and music scene here, it’s seems like there would be no shortage of people to collaborate with.
RW: Exactly. And it’s a little bit slower pace of life, so it makes it a little bit more laid-back to create stuff there.
CM: Music has been a huge part of your life for a long time now, but what was it that made you want to combine your music talents with comedy?
RW: I’ve always been huge fan of comedy, so it was really just a natural progression, I think. It was always in there. It’s more like, if you had a stove with a bunch of burners on it, comedy was kind of on the back burner and then I turned it up a little bit more.
CM: And how were you able to develop your talent for improvisation in music and then turn that into improvising comedy?
RW: You know, that’s weird. I think it’s that I used to be really good at memorizing music, and learning it, and so forth up until about age 12 or so. And then I just became more interested in just making stuff up, like improvising, and I just kind of lost my ability to… read music. But I can still read music — I’m just really, really, really, really slow.
CM: Most comedians and entertainers are writing things down and testing new material on stage, but how do you prepare for comedy music improvisation?
RW: I don’t really do anything. I just goof around, notice things, talk about stuff, and riff on things. I don’t really necessarily write anything down. Sometimes I might, but very rarely. I’d say about one percent. I just kind of — yeah I just kind of live, I guess… And hope that that makes for an interesting show. [Laughs.]
CM: So it’s just something that’s a constant part of your life, then?
RW: Yeah, exactly. You know, when I see my friends sitting down at a computer writing something, or my dancer friends going to rehearse dance… it’s just kind of an alien concept to me.
CM: You’ve done a lot of work with online videos in the past and particularly now with Jash on YouTube. Is the creative process for those videos different than your normal shows?
RW: Not so much. I just kind of come up with an idea or concepts and then execute it by having a meeting with the director and talking with the actors involved. It’s usually just a basic enough concept that people can get involved with it. In the moment, I can kind of direct what needs to happen. And usually the director will write some kind of a treatment and work with the [director of photography] and stuff like that. It’s pretty mellow.
CM: So you’re now an integral part of the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast, which is now its own IFC television series, with host Scott Aukerman. How did you become involved with the show and with Scott?
RW: It really just started with me doing stuff at UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre] in New York and then when I would come out to LA at UCB. I’d come to Los Angeles and they would want me to do shows at UCB. I think See You Next Tuesday was the first thing, and then I kind of got bumped up to Comedy Death-Ray [now Comedy Bang! Bang!] which was Scott’s thing.
And I would run into Scott all the time and he was just a really cool guy. He was always really nice to me… I was on Comedy Death-Ray a couple of times and he asked me to make a theme song for Comedy Death-Ray. So I did that and I was on his cast a few times… And that was kind of it. I had to do a new one because we changed it to Comedy Bang! Bang!
And then after that I remember being slightly courted by IFC and then I just heard about this idea of making Comedy Bang! Bang! a series and they decided to do a pilot and I was like “Okay, sure, I’ll do it.” And that’s kind of how it happened — a casual, organic progression.
CM: With the second season set to air this summer, what moment from this season was really fun for you to film and you can’t wait for viewers to see?
RW: I can’t say too much about it, but I got to be a cop in an episode and it’s pretty rad what happens. A lot of weaponry is involved. That was cool. I always liked the idea of being a cop. When I was a little kid I used to play and act like a cop all the time, even though I’m more of a criminal than a cop. [Laughs.]
Reggie Watts will perform at the Paramount Theatre for Moontower Comedy Festival on April 25. Tickets still available.