Reggie Watts.

“I Want There To Be A Certain Amount Of Confusion”: A Conversation With Reggie Watts

To describe Reggie Watts to someone who’s never seen him before would be doing a disservice. There’s no way to accurately describe what he does, as he’s such an original. He’s in a class all his own, as no two performances will ever be the same. You could see a 7 PM and a 9:30 PM show the same night and have two different experiences.

Reggie Watts confesses that he likes there to be a certain amount of confusion. Even if you have seen him before - whether as the band leader on The Late Late Show or one of his various late-night or TV appearances over the years - the best way to truly experience the magic of what he does is to see him live. When the audience is on his side and willing to go down the unique, improvised road he’s curated, there’s an electricity in the air.

We recently spoke to Reggie after his performance at Netflix is a Joke Fest. We talked about festival crowds, playing overseas, how he’d describe himself, his favorite venues, and what he’d like to do next.

Does performing at a festival change your performance at all? Are there advantages or disadvantages to how you approach it?

I don’t think there’s advantages or disadvantages. I think for me, I’m an improviser, so really I just take every situation as bits. So for me festivals are great because there’s a lot to comment on, the layout of it and so forth. So I enjoy that very much. It’s really pretty much that I’m down to perform anywhere. I don’t really change anything, other than to reflect the environment that I’m performing in.

Which seems in contrast to a lot of comics, who wouldn’t be as content to perform in the daylight. But it doesn’t sound like you mind.

Not at all. It’s fine. As long as the sun isn’t on me, I’m very happy. 

You just did a bunch of shows overseas. As someone who is so in the moment and is an improviser, it seems like you’d have the perfect act to translate no matter where you are.

I think so, yeah. I try to adapt to any country I’m in, and I’m really interested in human culture. So I’ll learn as much as I can about any country that I’m in. I try to customize each show to whatever country I’m in. And it also depends on their level of English comprehension. And I can adjust from there being silly or more physical if it’s a lower English comprehension. I’ll learn parts of their language.

Which is something we’ve seen a little bit of because I’ve never seen anyone move as swiftly between accents as you can. It’s a gift.

(Laughs). Yeah, I love it. It’s just so silly. I love it. Switching so quickly is kind of just stupid, in the best way. I just find it very, very fun to utilize that ability. That I’ve been doing since I was a kid.

I first saw you open for Conan in 2010, and I had never seen you or heard your voice before. You did most of the set with your British accent, and I was convinced for a while after that you were actually British.

(Laughs). Bad habit, what can I say?

So when you’re playing overseas, what was your favorite crowd from the last tour you did?

Oh man, that’s tough. I had a really good show in Berlin. I had three shows in Berlin. One was kind of an official show for me. And two were added. There was one at a place called Tennis Bar. It was really small and intimate. And my friend Delwin who is an incredible musician joined me for the last 30 percent of the gig. He’s a keyboard player and we just improvised all of this music. It was super sick. And then we did a show at 90 mill, which is everything you’d imagine a Berlin underground scene to be. Just like a DIY space run by artists. A former school that’s going to be shut down in a year. It was a makeshift space that had a stage in the middle of it with this huge homemade sound system. It was just packed with these cool art weirdos. I did a show there and that was probably one of my favorite shows because it was so last minute and so full of energy and everyone was so happy. It was an incredible show.

I know you just takes your special out here a couple of months ago. As an improviser, what is that process like? Do you mix in some prepared stuff? How can you prepare for a special as an improviser?

I don’t really plan it. I know the date that I’m supposed to show up, and then I have a concept for it. I might have an intro and an outro bit for it. It’s really I have an idea of what I’d like the feel of it to be aesthetically and then work with the production team to make that happen. And then I just kind of show up and go for it.

How do you think it went? I’m fascinated by the concept of not having a net when you tape an hour like that.

That’s what I love about it. If I wanted to, I could probably release three specials a year. Or I could even do a special every week. For marketing terms and you know how much money is put into a special. You have to market it so everyone can make their money back and all that stuff. But for me, it doesn’t really matter frequency or preparedness. I’ll do specials all day long.

Jumping around a bit. Because what you do is so specific to who you are, what’re the early days of starting out like? Do you have a lot of people trying to figure out how to categorize you or market what you do?

Um I guess so. I would just hears a lot people describing me as “Well, you’re hard to describe. They’ll just have to see it to understand it.” And I love that because that’s kind of what I want to happen. I just want there to be a certain amount of confusion as to what’s going on. I just think that’s one of the best states for human beings to experience. Not necessarily all the time, but I think as an option.

How would you describe yourself when someone asks what you do?

I guess I would just say I’m a performing improviser. I guess you could throw comedic in there if you want to.

And as you’re trying to find your footing in those days, are you playing more comedy venues or music venues?

I was kind of doing what I was doing at jam nights in Seattle in the 90’s a little bit. Like in between sets if I was improvising with a band and we were playing all night. That was a little bit more formal I suppose. But I guess I started actually doing comedy probably when I moved to New York. When I was 32 or 33 or something like that. That was pretty much all makeshift comedy. That was like invite them up at a place like Rafifi’s on the lower east side. That was kind of like the only place to do comedy at the time, at least alt comedy. And then that expanded where other comedians started doing their own lineup nights and that blew up. You had like UCB theater and The Pit and other weird, small venues and nightclubs that did comedy nights. And then eventually sometimes I’d play the Comic Strip or Caroline’s, but not very often. But I loved playing those clubs, because they don’t know what’s going on.

You like confusing people.

Yeah, it’s the absolute best. But a lot of times, I like playing the weird underground places.

Speaking of which, I saw you play a few places here earlier this year, at Largo and at the Good Heroin show in Los Feliz. Where are your favorite spots in LA?

Dynasty Typewriters always fun. I love The Elysian. Always have a great time there. Largo’s great. Flanny’s such a wonderful dude, and he always makes every comedian  feel at home there. Lyric Hyperion can be fun. Nice and cute and small. There’s various other places. Good Heroin is great, wherever they have their shit. Sometimes The Virgil has good comedy nights, too. I’d say The Elysian and UCB Franklin have the best audience feel because they’re right up on you. So I’d probably say those are generally the most enjoyable.

What is something you haven’t had a chance to do that you’d like to try at some point?

I’d love to play Red Rocks. I think that’d be fun. Just get a big improvising band with me and just play. It’s a dream of mine to play there. Maybe Carnegie Hall. Those are legendary places that would be fun to play.

Check out Reggie Watts on tour this summer!

Reggie will be on the road this summer, be sure to catch him in a city near you. Click here for more info!

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