Once you’ve seen Reggie Watts perform, you never forget Reggie Watts. With a huge Afro and Michael Winslow-like vocal abilities, Watts sings, jokes, improvises and beat-boxes through comedy sets that are never exactly the same twice. Last year turned out to be his best year yet. He released “Why $#!+ So Crazy?” on Comedy Central Records, Rolling Stone named him “Hot Comedian” in their Hot Issue, GQ profiled him in their Man Of The Year issue and he earned “Best of CMJ.” Best of all, he toured with Conan O’Brien on the “Prohibited From Being Funny on Television” tour. Do yourself a big favor and go see him on tour now. Or at least check out our Q&A with the comedian after the jump.
How’d you become Conan’s opening act?
I guess my friend Todd Levin, who’s a writer for “Conan,” had suggested me. They wanted someone who is musical, but also comedic and different than Conan. Another writer and the talent guy also knew me, so Conan just said, “Sure, let’s have him.”
How did his fans respond to you?
At first they were like, “What is this guy doing?” But over time fans started talking to each other and telling people in other cities on the tour about me. It was cool. By the middle to end of the tour, they seemed genuinely interested in me. Or at least mildly interested, which is great.
You coordinated music for Louis C.K.’s show “Louie.” What was that like?
It was cool to see how he works: very hands on, just a brilliant guy, very DIY. He came to me with a bunch of examples of what he wanted for the show. He’s a huge music fan. We listened to a lot of rock from the ’70s. A lot of jazz from various periods–a lot of Mingus, Miles Davis and stuff like that. Some psychedelic stuff and some early Smashing Pumpkins stuff. That was the palette he gave me, so I had a strong indicator of how to coordinate with other musicians.
You’ve also worked with Brian Eno, right?
I’ve never really worked with Brian. We’re just kind of friends. He’s invited me to perform at three of his festivals: one in Australia, one in South Africa and one in Brighton. We’ve jammed together and he recorded it, but it was like, literally for 12 minutes. Once I was in London opening for The Dresden Dolls at the Roundhouse Theatre and I had emailed him to ask if he wanted to come. He said he couldn’t, but asked me to play his daughter’s birthday that night. So after my set at the Roundhouse, he had a car waiting for me. It drove me super fast to his estate. When I got there, his daughters helped set up my gear because they obviously know audio equipment. Then I did a 15-minute beat-box performance for the party. And weirdly enough, I happened to be in town for his other daughter’s birthday and performed at that party too.
You began as a musician. What made you start also doing comedy?
I did a lot of improvised comedy in high school drama, kind of similar to what I do now. And then I won some comedy competitions in Great Falls, Montana, and toured a little bit in Montana as a stand-up when I was 18, but then I moved to Seattle and focused on music. In 2003, I decided to move into comedy because it seemed fun and easier to be a solo artist.
Do you have any horror stories from the road?
Touring back in the day with my band Maktub in Nevada and we were driving in a van with no air-conditioning. We had the windows open and the heat had to be blasted to keep the engine cool. It was 103 or something like that. We had water to drink, but it was basically boiling.
What are you listening to right now?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Jim Croce. I always knew the song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” but I just got his greatest hits and he’s amazing. I like going back and listening to people that you would hear on late-night TV infomercials or “Remember The ’70s” collections or whatever. I was a little kid then and I’m tired of letting those names just float around in my subconscious and never know what they were really about. So I find those names and immerse myself in their music. I did that with Barbra Streisand and Andy Gibb and The Carpenters.
Now we’ll start our round of random questions: What’s your favorite Bill Murray movie?
If you’re on death row, what is your last meal?
Probably quinoa with feta and some roasted zucchini. And for dessert, probably an agave-sweetened raw chocolate pudding.
What word or phrase should never be spoken again?
In the comedy world, “retarded.” It’s inappropriate, but people also overuse it. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. Just like when people say, “That’s so gay.” I’m aware now, so when someone uses it in a sentence it stops the flow.
When was the last time you vomited?
I know exactly when: 2002. I don’t drink really and my girlfriend at the time used to like wine a lot. When she drank, she really went for it and I hated seeing her drunk. And she hated seeing me drink, which I never did, but I’d always threaten to. So I thought I’d outsmart her one night, and with every drink she took, I’d drink too. Then I got really wasted, so much so that the next day I thought I was going to die.
How do you keep it real?
I have this phrase, “When in doubt, zoom out.” I just try to keep a higher perspective of something. My biggest fear is letting something go to my head, so I’ll zoom out and say, “Well, there’s people over here that don’t have it too good and people over here… ” I do whatever I can to not believe the hype or whatever.