Reggie Watts’ show at McAlister Auditorium Tuesday gave Tulanians a taste of the performer’s many talents. The show, far from a typical music-comedy routine, included surrealist, off-the-wall humor that ranged from a fake commencement speech, to tales of working with weapons targeting systems, to songs dedicated to the International Space Station. Reggie Watts is a modern one-man band. He built songs for Tulane students on the spot, layering beatbox, vocal harmonies, multiple vocal parts, singing and rapping in more than a dozen voices. Arcade Editor Zach Yanowitz and Staff Writer Nicole Nolan were lucky enough to get to speak with Reggie after the show.
Nicole Nolan: In your shows, you do comedy and you do music. Which one did you get into first? Did you start off playing music and just start making up jokes as you played?
Reggie Watts: I started with music, formally. I was taking piano lessons when I was like five. That would have been the first formal thing that I did.
NN: You were introduced as an “intellectual.” Is that how you would consider yourself? What did you study in college?
RW: I went to the Art Institute of Seattle for three months, and then I studied at Cornish College of the Arts for about three years, so I didn’t do a lot of college-ing or even learning in that way. I was just always interested in science and technology and learning everything I can about the universe.
NN: Some of the stuff you mentioned was nerdy, like Magic the Gathering, and you talked about robots a lot. Do you consider yourself to be a nerd or interested in nerd culture?
RW: I’m always interested in science fiction and fantasy, but I also love romantic comedies - the goofball, crazy, weird shit.
Zach Yanowitz: What’s your favorite romantic comedy?
RW: That’s a hard one. “Say Anything” is a classic, it’s really beautiful. Recently I really liked that one with Emma Stone. “Easy A.” I thought that was a perfect movie, and she really killed it. I like really poppy, mainstream stuff because I want to get a measurement of pop culture. What do people dig? What do the masses like? That’s a really interesting thing for me. I’m kind of a self-taught anthropologist.
NN: You do a lot of voices and accents in your shows. Do you get training for that, or do you just pick it up in performing?
RW: That’s just being a drama dork. Whenever you hang around a lot of drama people, that’s exactly what happens. You get people doing English accents, doing Southern accents, just strange accents they’ve just invented.
ZY: There were people freaked out in the audience that you weren’t actually English (Watts inexplicably spent the first 20 minutes of the show speaking with a British accent).
RW: That’s great. It’s fun to mess around with preconceptions.
ZY: That’s your underlying thing?
RW: Yeah, it’s kind of the basis of what I do.
ZY: Tulane University Campus Programming did a good job not advertising this as a “traditional” comedy show. They just said, “Comedy show! Come see Reggie Watts!” And maybe some people came expecting the usual “hey, airline food” jokes, and your show is very much not about airline food.
RW: Yeah, or the “dogs are like this, cats are like that. Why are they like this? Why are they like that?” I don’t do that.
NN: How many times have you been to New Orleans?
RW: Jazz Fest two or three times, and then I came after Katrina, and remember going, “Is this place open? Is that place open?”
NN: You spoke at length about the dangers of vampires in New Orleans. Do you have any warnings for other people on how to defend yourself against them?
RW: They’re shifty, and you never really know who is a vampire. They’re kind of like psychopaths. They don’t really have empathy. They do a really good job of imitating the emotions of human beings, but they aren’t actually human. If you’re a little drunk, you’re fucked. If you’re on psychedelics, you might survive. You might be able to tell.
NN: Do you feel like you have to tailor your show to a college audience?
RW: I just kind of go for it. Sometimes I do research - especially with college shows. I’ll do research on the history of the college, but this time I just came in and I only had two hours before I did sound check, and I didn’t have any time to learn about the college at all. It was mostly just feeling it out; the “two lane” and “three lane” joke I thought about just before getting on stage. In the moment, it was tailored to this audience.
ZY: How much of the show is improvised?
RW: Tonight, it was about 90 percent improvised.
ZY: Is that about average for your shows?
RW: Ninety, 95 percent is pretty average.
ZY: You mentioned that you have a new album coming out next year?
RW: Yes, I think it’s going to be called “A Live in Central Park.” Which is just me doing a live stunt in Central Park.
ZY: And presumably being alive during the show.
NN: For at least 80 percent of it.
RW: The guy who directed it wanted to call it “Live in Central Park,” and I thought it would be funny if it were called “A Live.” One single live. A Live in Central Park.