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Interview: Reggie Watts Tells Us Why S*** So Crazy

By Samantha Abernethy in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 12, 2013 7:00PM

Absurdist comedian/musician/performance artist Reggie Watts can make you laugh at things you never knew were funny. Throw in his musical talents on the keyboard and his work with looping and beat boxing, and he can have you dancing to some hilarious beats.

Watts has a new CD/DVD special A Live At Central Park, and his special Reggie Watts: Why $#!+ So Crazy? is now available on Netflix Instant. He is also performing in Chicago, headlining New Belgium Brewery's Tour De Fat on Saturday.

Watts is also the musical sidekick on Comedy Bang! Bang!, making a mockery of the talk show format with host Scott Aukerman. The CBB TV show (which grew from Aukerman's podcast, which grew from the L.A. stage show) premieres its second season on IFC on Friday, July 12.

Reggie Watts performs at Tour de Fat in Palmer Square on Saturday, July 13 at 4 p.m. The second season of Comedy Bang! Bang! premieres Friday at 10/9CT.

A clip from Why Shit So Crazy?

C: I saw your special on Netflix. Was this compiled from three different 2009 shows?

RW: Yes, that’s right.

C: Had you been holding on to that for awhile?

RW: No, it was released on Comedy Central that year, but it took a while for it to get to Netflix.

C: Since your shows are largely improvised, how does the taped show compare?

RW: I don’t know. It’s basically the same just without as many camera cuts and sketches in between. Yeah, it’s basically the same thing.

C: How did you edit it together?

RW: It was a production company, Waverly Films, at the time, did it. My idea was to do three different shows dressed up in the same outfit and that would be my outfit for the whole thing. And they kind of edited it together we bounced it back and forth for some ideas and stuff but most of it was Waverly who did the master copy.

C: With all the different cuts and repetitions, it was put together interestingly.

RW: Oh, thanks. They went for it. They understood what I was looking for.

C: How long have you been writing music?

RW: I don’t know since I was about 13 maybe.

C: How many instruments do you play?

RW: Just 1.5 — keyboards and violin a little bit.

C: How did you get into music?

RW: I think I was into Ray Charles at the time and I told my mom I liked the piano, and so when I was about five she took me to music school.

C: Do you consider yourself a musician first or a comedian first?

RW: Gosh, I don’t know. I guess maybe a musician first.

C: Earlier today I saw the cover for Simplified and it's very different. And you’re dressed in flowing white clothes. It’s funny to see you go from that to the flannel shirts in Why Shit So Crazy? So I was just wondering how you made that transition. What happened?

RW: I mean I was just experimenting with doing my own record and I’ve never done my own record before, so I was just trying to do different things. Yeah, just trying different things. I was still playing in bands at the time, winding down from playing in bands. It was just an evolution, really. Just kind of coming from bands and moving to New York and then doing comedy and working on that and getting to do a special for Comedy Central. So it’s really just a pretty organic evolution.

C: You're headlining Tour de Fat in Chicago. Have you been involved with them before?

RW: No, I haven’t, this is my first time.

C: And a new Comedy Bang! Bang! starts in July, too. Were you involved with it when it was a live show?

RW: Yeah, when it was live it was a comedy line up. So it was always different people at the Upright Citizens Brigade in LA with different comedians doing a lineup show. And the podcast I was on occasionally and I did the theme song for. So I was involved but not lie all the time or anything like that

C: What can we expect in the new season?

RW: More craziness. Intensity, craziness, and awesome performances.

C: As a multi-talented performer in music comedy, and acting, do you see comedy as moving in a direction where people with multiple talents are rewarded and respected more?

RW: I think so. I think people with talent are always respected it just amounts to what my audience is. It really depends on age. The gatekeepers — programmers, producers — what they decide to put up. But thankfully nowadays with the internet and things like that, it’s kind of hard to deny people.

C: And I see that you use Vine a lot now, also. You’re sort of an early adopter of that. Why does that appeal to you?

RW: I just like it because it's short, it has very specific parameters. You can only do so much with it. The restrictions create a lot of creativity. You’ve got six seconds to make it happen.

C: How does your content change?

RW: I just think in real time. It just depends on how I arrive, how it feels. I don’t really think about it. I just kind of hang out, absorb it and go on stage and reflect it somehow that just seems appropriate — or inappropriate.

C: Where do you draw your inspiration?

RW: From everything. Inanimate objects and animate objects, animals, people. Everything. Science.

C: Just wondering when something so absurd—

RW: No, I get it. I just observe so many things throughout the day and I always think of things in different ways. It really could be anything. It could be the conversation over here, it could be the way a bird takes off from a branch, or it it could be the way the water is going into a sewer or a cloud pattern or a sound that I hear. It really depends.

You can assume a tune called "Fuck Shit Stack" is NSFW.

C: You sort of make fun of music in your music. Is there anything in particular about the music industry that you want to poke fun at?

RW: The music industry? Yeah I talk about that a lot. Just about the industry doesn’t really nurture musicians or artists. They just kind of put people out there if they’re popular and hope that they perform live or they can record a great album. There’s not a lot of artist involvement. So often times you have just super pop starts that are already produced from things like Disney or Nickelodeon and on a pop star level. Any bands with a popular hit on YouTube wind up in the spotlight. There are still people developing stuff on their own and doing stuff on their own - like traditional bands are doing, like bands have done for all times. But the celebrated thing that you see I make fun of those things because a lot of those people are just not ready for prime time. And they stick them in these situations, and it's harmful for the artists. So I talk about that. I talk about how a lot of times we celebrate pretty mediocre-ly talented artists and people just think, "Oh, they’re so great, they’re amazing," and they’re really just ok.

C: Who do you celebrate?

RW: I think Peaches is amazing. Emory House is great. I think Feist is amazing ... I'm a big fan of a band called Big Leo. You know, a lot of indie-electronic stuff. Another band Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros is an incredibly gifted live band.

C: You just did Bonnaroo, right? How was that?

RW: It was fun. Really fun. A lot of busy work but it was really fun. I'm glad I participated in it. I always have a great time. Bonnaroo is a pretty special festival.

C: Did you get to see anybody in particular?

RW: I saw Edward Sharpe there. I saw Kendrick Lamar, R. Kelly — R. Kelly was pretty terrible, you know in a trainwreck kind of way that's just fascinating. Oh, Paul McCartney, he was great. I saw a little bit of Macklemore. He was good, but he was one of the artists that shouldn't have been on the big stage he should've been on a smaller stage. I think that's basically all.

C: What else do you have coming up this summer?

RW: What else do I have? I have a bunch of festivals. I'm doing the Solid Sound festival, the Dublin Comedy Carnival in Ireland and I'm doing Tenacious D’s festival in Santa Monica. I'm probably doing a couple of other festivals that I'm not remembering right now.

"No, I just go for it. I don't really have a set list. If I made a set list, I wouldn't even know how to follow it."

C: And Comedy Bang! Bang! comes back for us. How is Comedy Bang! Bang! put together? How much of it is written before hand and how much do you just make up on the spot? Is Scott Ackerman like the ringleader or the director or a facilitator?

RW: Technically he’s the show creator so it always defers back to him in the end. But he has a head writer and you have work with writers. They write stuff for me and they write lines for me to say sometimes I do the lines and sometimes I improvise the stuff or sometimes the just let me improvise the stuff so its really up to whatever happens.

C: And your live show, too — do you have a set-list or do you just run with it?

RW: No, I just go for it. I don't really have a set list. If I made a set list, I wouldn't even know how to follow it.

C: So how does it work?

RW: I just go up on stage and hope I come up with some interesting stuff.

C: Have you ever gone up on stage and not come up with anything to say?

RW: Sometimes, yeah. But you just keep talking, say something. It may not be what I want to say or interesting, but I just keep talking or do something dumb physically or play some music. There’s always something to occupy time with.