Published Sep 17, 2018An intellectual stoner's dream, Reggie Watts is the essential answer to the question you didn't know to ask: "What would happen if you combined every kind of art at the same time?" A nuanced hybrid of comedic wit, spot-on impressions, absurd philosophy, a hint of dance and grooving layers of gorgeous vocals, Watts's improvised show is an ode to everything he loves — and he's mesmerized by pretty much everything.
With a modern genius look consisting of an unruly Afro, pointy painted pinky nails and a minimalist graphic tee bearing one of the surreal phrases he came up with, Watts looks the part of the mastermind he is. Having said that, the bandleader of The Late Late Show with James Corden is never pretentious in his cleverness: he's just endlessly asking questions.
"As a kid, I was a curious, kind of mischievous weirdo," he tells Exclaim! "I was always interested in science, science fiction, taking apart toys and seeing how they worked, inventing stuff, building models, trying to create my own special effects, doing my own comedy shows. I would also get in trouble with teachers because I'd talk back — I definitely tried to get along with [them], but sometimes they would be a little more authoritative than I'd like.
"To this day, when someone tells me not to do something, but they don't give me a reason why, then I tend to get a little naughty. If you're going to tell people to do something, it's nicer to have them understand why they're doing it… like, it's for your safety," the comic known for his tenure on Comedy Bang Bang! explains. "When you say 'Why?' and they just say 'It has to be that way!' it's kind of an insult to your intelligence."
Given his dislike of overbearing rules, it's no surprise that Reggie Watts gravitated towards the least restricting kind of comedy: improvisation. Even when he's doing something more traditional, like a segment for The Late Late Show with James Corden, writers only give Watts "a basic structure for [him] to do dumb things within."
Similarly, Watts completely improvised his most recent Netflix special Spacial. There was one prearranged part where a tap-dancer came up on stage to complement Watts' beatboxing with her complex percussive rhythms, but Watts still tried to make it as unplanned as possible.
"The tap-dancing thing: that was with Chloe Arnold, who's an amazing, amazing choreographer. We didn't rehearse together, we'd never jammed with each other. I just told her to be in the audience and that I'll find a way." Watts explains. "I figured I'd just call her up, and we went for it. I can plan moments, transition points and cues, but when they happen and how they happen are not planned."
Reggie Watts draws on all sorts of inspirations to make his multifaceted material. On the comedy side, he loves Gene Wilder, Carol Burnett, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Monty Python and anything from Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black and David Wain. On the music side, he listens to everyone from James Brown to Miles Davis to Soundgarden and Meshuggah. Watts also made a point of noting Canadian influences in both categories: Kids in the Hall, Baroness Von Sketch, Mac DeMarco and Alvvays all came to mind as some of his current favourites.
It's an intriguing list, but Watts himself is even more interesting. His voice range is three-and-a-half octaves, like Freddie Mercury. He's a self-described pun addict and word nerd who adores "seeing how words string together" and "connecting them to other things and concepts... inverting their meanings." He enjoys observing human behaviour in traffic. He's a tech geek who has very well-researched opinions on virtual assistants like Siri and Bixby. He even knows about the Omega-3 content of caviar and the calorie-free sweetening properties of monk fruit.
In short, Reggie Watts is one of the most deeply fascinating people you could ever encounter, whether he's on stage or just living his everyday life. No one can really summarize who he is or what he does without falling short, but at least we can take his advice.
"Everyone should try mushrooms once. Psychedelic mushrooms. People should also try and make something they think is impossible happen that they've been wanting to do." Watts says pensively. "I guess, just try to notice small details. Try not to take the things you do every day for granted. Try to remember that it's pretty amazing that you get to use your hands and your arms, if you have those things."
Reggie Watts is headlining the JFL42 Festival in Toronto on September 29; find tickets here.