German-born US comedian Reggie Watts is many things.
He’s been called everything from a musician, a vocal artist, and a comedian. But whether it’s performing on stage or how he keeps his enormous afro hairstyle, everything he does is unforgettable. “That’s true,” he exclaims. “I do try to keep my hair unforgettable. It’s important, man!”
Reggie has been a regular visitor to Australia since his acclaimed debut performances in 2009. He’s been up to a lot since his last visit in 2014: releasing his Netflix comedy special ‘Spatial’, hosting the gameshow ‘Taskmaster’, and most notably his role as bandleader on ‘The Late Late Show With James Corden’. After four long years – “And eight prime ministers,” he notes – Reggie is returning to Australia with his aptly titled tour ‘Finally Back In Australia’.
Born in Germany, Reggie began performing comedy in high school when his family relocated to the US. “I did a lot of stuff in drama, lots of plays, and also a lot of improvising,” he says. “Then I did sketch comedy in the '90s in Seattle with a couple of different sketch groups and did some solo stuff too. When I moved to New York I decided that pursuing comedy would probably be better than just being a musician.”
Before comedy, one of Reggie’s childhood obsessions was making sounds with his voice. “There’s always been a love of what the human voice can do and what it can sound like,” he says. “I remember doing robot sound and explosions as a kid, but I was trying to make it sound as real as possible. I remember Michael Winslow doing an impersonation of someone going between train cars. I would practise doing that; just the muffle sounds of being in the train car and the sound of the door opening and the train being super loud and hearing the outside sounds and the axels and the wheels on the tracks and going through another car and it getting real quiet again.”
Unlike Michael Winslow, Reggie’s performances involve him manipulating his voice to mimic many different singers and genres. With the assistance of his Line 6 DL4 delay pedal, he builds and loops his beatboxing and any other sounds he can think of to create absurd songs. “I’ve always been impersonating music, like different styles of music, different singers, and also mimicking different sound effects and things like that. So, it’s always been a part of my act, but the music stuff was just kind of an added extra technological bonus. Since I was in high school I was doing all of those things anyway, so in a way I’m just doing exactly what I’ve been [doing] since I was a kid. It was a good choice, I think, on my behalf,” he laughs.
Lately, Reggie has been exploring his musical side. Along with filming an immersive music video with Intel, he has teamed up with electronic musician John Tejada to form the electro-pop duo Wajatta, releasing their debut album ‘Casual High Technology’ earlier this year. “I’m trying to create music as quickly as possible, but make it sound good. That’s kind of a newer thing, actually. Whenever I have free time I try to fill it with stupid s..t.”
One of Reggie’s most inventive talents is his improvisational skills. Every show he performs is completely improvised on the spot, where he will follow his mind to its most absurd limits. One moment he could be discussing the nature of the colour brown, and the next he could be rapping about the pancreas. It’s a talent he’s pushed far in his 2016 Netflix special ‘Spatial’, where he and two friends improvised scenes from a live sitcom. “When I improvise I usually adapt to whatever the situation requires, so whether I’m working with people or whether I’m by myself it’s all kind of the same as long as I get to do what I get to do. If I have to memorise lines and become a certain type of character, too much instruction definitely throws me off; I just edit myself way too much, and that sucks so I try not to do that. In a way, it always feels like it’s me by myself doing what I do or in a group doing what I do, whether I’m adapting to a new country or environment or people, it’s all about adaptation.”
Due to Reggie’s spontaneity, it’s hard to say what direction his performances will go in. “I have no idea,” he says. “You’ll just have to find out. It really depends on the crowd. I might talk about music or I might talk about consciousness or whether we really live in a holographic projection, or things of that nature. I try mixing in some science stuff. I guess it just depends on what’s happening in science. That’s what I remember myself saying.”
While Reggie isn’t definitive about what he’ll cover in his show, he does have some answers on whether we’re living in a simulation. “It seems very likely, for sure. There are too many variables suggesting that we don’t exist at all. Nothing is for certain, but there’s a high probability that we’re in some form of a simulation.”
What is for certain is Reggie’s return to Australia, and he is excited to come back. Reggie is a massive fan of the country, especially of music by Australian acts like Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and DMA’s. He has even collaborated with dance-pop act Flight Facilities, who he hopes to catch up with.
Most of all, Reggie is looking forward to hitting stages across the country, and seeing where the crowds let his mind wander to. “Australians are pretty cool; it’s a pretty mellow place. I get the chance to do some pretty silly things because Australians generally respond pretty well to super silly stuff. I’ve never had a bad time in Australia.”
Reggie Watts Tour Dates
Fri 23 Nov – Sydney Opera House (AAMI Just For Laughs) Sun 25 Nov – Palais Theatre (Melbourne) Mon 26 Nov – Brisbane City Hall