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Reggie Watts is in demand, and if you’ve ever seen one of his dizzyingly original performances, you know exactly why. There is absolutely no one on the planet like him. I caught up with him the day before he headlines a comedy show I run with other LA VICE writers. He somehow found time in his crazed schedule to have a fantastic 45-minute conversation that was so fun, it made me want to start a podcast. In addition to filming the third season of IFC’s Comedy Bang Bang, he’s pitching a sci-fi TV show that he doesn’t think will get picked up because it’s too weird, planning a studio album that may have multiple producers and even a full band involved, developing a Comedy Central special, and filming a documentary.
VICE: Last night we were at Neil Hamburger’s awesome monthly show at The Satellite. I was talking to you when a girl came up and was like, "Is that San Diego song available online?"
Reggie Watts: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, that was funny.
Photos by Megan Koester
Does that happen a lot? Describe that moment for you, knowing that you do something new pretty much every time.
Yeah, I mean, it’s funny to me when someone comes up and I’m like, "Oh, sorry," but there’s also a part of me that’s kind of excited to tell them that it isn’t available. The idea behind making songs on stage the way that I do, the goal is to make it seem like it is a written song. And if I can do my best to really make it seem [planned], sometimes I can go much further than other times. But usually for like a stand-up night or whatever, my goal is to at least make it sound 60 percent like a written song, y’know?
Is the goal to just get the light and go, "Oh, awesome, I was present the entire time"? What is a perfect set for you?
I guess a perfect set is something that feels like it had a good energetic arc to a certain degree. Like, things occur, people had a good time. I felt like I was kind of hitting on something, had some nice grooves, controlled the way that they ended or got out of it, came into another thing, was listening to the audience, was getting that great feedback loop that occurs when things are happening, listening, expressing, like listening, minimally processing, expressing. But it’s always nice when I’m aware when I’m supposed to wrap up, because I do like creating a nice ending.
How do you dismount? Do you have something in your back pocket for that?
Uh... no. I mean my favorite is something I do relatively often. Just have a really good groove of a song happening and just end it in the worst place you can end it and just say like, "Thanks, everybody." That’s one of my favorites. Or y’know, if I’m aware of time, other styles of ending are wrapping it up like you’re telling a story: "And that’s how the blah blah blah blah blah. Thanks, everybody; good night." You know, that type of a thing. I don’t know, somewhere between those two. Either of those two, or something in between.
You’re a man of many options.
I try. Yeah, I try. I hope to see many options; otherwise you’re just heading towards this thing and you’re like, "Well, the more options I can see, the more of a chance that I’ll avoid this obstacle that is coming up. But if I hit the obstacle, that’s OK too, because I can use that." Just don’t have that weird mushroom moment where you’re kind of holding a mirror up to you and you start questioning who you are or what you are on stage. Everything starts to unravel very quickly.
I guess you could call it being self-conscious or insecure or whatever that is. Those are kind of by-products of it, I think, that feeling of "Oh, shit, I’m listening too literally to everything right now, and I’m always aware of me listening to it." And then I’m like, "I don’t know what’s going on. Malfunction, malfunction! We’re going down! Do something!"
We’re taking water!
Icebergs! There’s no way! What do we do now? It’s like that scene out of The Last Starfighter, if you’ve been lucky enough to see that film.
I have not.
Where the general’s there, and the bad guys. This is not giving away very much—
Impossible-to-be-a-spoiler alert! They’re going to crash, they’ve lost all capability of steering their massive ship, and it’s going to crash into a moon. And they’re trying to do everything they can, and finally one guy turns to the captain and is like, "What do we do? Impact is inevitable," something like that. The captain—he has this monocle that’s motorized; it’s red—he just goes [robot sound effects], "We die."
That is the ultimate onstage bomb—crashing into the moon. And you, specifically, have an apparatus, like you are a giant starship on stage with your music setup.
It sort of feels like I’m in one, hopefully.
It feels like you’re rocketing through some shit, and we’re along for the ride.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s like everybody’s on board, and we’re like, "How are you doing today? Do you need anything? How are you doing?" And then we’re just making adjustments. "We’re approaching." It kind of feels like that when we’re grooving because weirdly I do pretend that I live on a starship a lot of times—before going into doors, entering false access codes, and going through it and just like, "Commander. General. Vice General. Lieutenant. Walk with me." I really kind of wish life were like that.
So, I wrote down some Q’s for you, just some fun Q’s—
Q’s for the Cuse. Call me Cusack from now on.
I’m going to hold up a boombox and play the questions out of the boombox.
So, here’s the first one. Andrew Jackson is on the $20 bill and that guy sucks. He was a genocidal maniac, and he’s on our money. If it were up to you, who would be on the $20 bill?
The first thing that I wouldn’t want, but for some reason kind of naturally came to mind, was Whoopi Goldberg.
OK, follow that.
But that’s not who I would actually want on there. For some reason I was just like, Oh let’s just see what she looks like on there. It’s partially about how it looks, right? Maybe Jackson was just a really handsome guy.
I know, what about—it’s kind of easy—but what about Tesla?
Tesla! That’s a great one. Why do you want Tesla on money?
Well, y’know, he really did something. Like he really kind of changed Western society. He really flipped the whole script on what is possible, and harnessed something as crazy and as powerful and as chaotic as electricity. Understanding it’s different, like really understanding electricity intuitively and in practice. That’s quite an achievement, and it really changed a lot. And it was a neutral energy. I mean, how it’s produced is arguable, but the energy itself, when you have access to it, is really amazing. That type of shit is heavy. And he’s kind of a superstar. His name, thankfully, lives on in the car company, which is brilliant. He’s an important guy, and also mysterious and not totally understood. But definitely a superstar of American culture.
Yeah, and kind of a fun little twist having him on the money after he died penniless, surrounded by pigeons.
Oh, yeah, that’s right—he had that weird obsession with pigeons. So crazy, man. I mean, sometimes minds like that, they have a very specific but intense purpose, and then it doesn’t quite fit in the paradigm. They don’t quite develop the social skills to relate, to have a group of people around them that are caring and nurturing. They’ve lost those people because of some very strange inability to reflect something that they can value and connect with.
Next question: If I could have one made-up superpower, I would want to have the ability to choose a soundtrack that everybody hears when I walk into a room. So when I walk into a room the Jurassic Park theme plays, or some awesome old New Orleans music, like Professor Longhair sort of shit. That would be my made-up one. If you can think of any not-so-popular superpower, what would you choose?
Well, it’s kind of boring but, I think I would choose the power to be able to restore people to their healthiest state.
Ooh, OK. Mentally, physically, or all of the above?
The whole thing.
So you’d be a cleric, like in Dungeons and Dragons?
Yeah, and they’d just be like, "Oh, thanks." "Dad’s got Alzheimer’s." "Well, that won’t do." But I like the idea of it being so simple and so easy, so you just kind of do it and move on. No sweat.
"Let’s go get a taco."
"Are you sure? Well, I’ll go get a taco. But are you sure, like, I don’t have cancer anymore?" "Yeah, but what do you want on your taco?"
OK, next one. I lost my virginity to the song “Your Body Is a Wonderland” by the immutable, the amazing John Mayer. Do you remember what song you lost your virginity to?
Wow, that’s a really good question. It seems like a question I should have thought about and come up with an answer to. I would have to say… At that time it would’ve been 20, I think, was when I lost my virginity. I was 20 or 21, so that would’ve been Jane’s Addiction, Soundgarden... What was it? Dumb Sex, was that the name of the album?
Well, that’s appropriate.
It was Big Dumb Sex, Soundgarden's second album. Or what would I have been listening to? Maybe the Sundays. I’m imagining myself in a room in this little house off of 93rd and Aurora in Seattle, behind this really bourgie supermarket. Tiny house, tons of property around it, really small house. Front bedroom, which was my bedroom; my girlfriend was over, and we hadn’t done anything in weeks, and then we did it. I was like, Whoa.
And there were mushrooms.
You were like, "I got the tape; the cassette is in."
Yeah. I think it might have been that. It might have been Jane’s Addiction. Ritual de lo Habitual. It might have been that.
Hold on a sec, did you say you were on mushrooms?
I was on mushrooms, yeah.
When you lost your virginity? What was that like?
It was amazing. It was like something that I’d always imagined my whole life, and when it was happening it was amazing, but it was also like what I had imagined. Great. So it was like two things. You got two things in one.
If you could go back and change the song to a song that also was out during the period, would you change it? And what would you change it to?
Hm. I mean, back in the early days of Sade, before it sounded like soft jazz, you know, kind of like elevator soft jazz with a vocalist over it or something like that. It was something you hear on a chill-out mix circa 1994–95. Before that started happening, when it was kind of really sexy and sultry and we didn’t have a lot of that. It was just very unique. I would probably listen to something by Sade.
Next, if you could go camping with one person from the world of fiction—one fictional character—who would you go camping with?
Who would I go camping with? Camping, camping...
Because it’s a different experience, camping.
Yeah, for sure. You have to reduce some layers there. I mean, with people. Especially if you’re there for four days or something like that. Anything more, you have to kind of get rid of some shit in order to function as a crew, or just be really on the outside the whole time, you know, and just deal with that until it’s time to go.
Who would be really fucking awesome? It would either be terrifying or great to camp with Doctor Who—but the Matt Smith Doctor Who.
And for what reason? Is the time-travel aspect part of it?
Yeah, I like that he’s really into time travel. I mean, that’s all he does really. And yeah, he’s probably got a lot of perspective on things, and he’s got insight into a lot of cultures and civilizations. The way we relate to our society wouldn’t really apply. He would have an oversimplification of what it is because he’s experienced that already. So for us, he’s just like, I’ll be patient with everyone and chill out with you guys, because I’m also open to hanging out and seeing what happens. So I think he’d be a cool cat. He’d have great gadgets. Also, you could duck out and have adventures and it wouldn’t take any more time than your already pre-planned length of a camping trip.
That’s a great idea. You could technically go camping forever if you went camping with Doctor Who. You wouldn’t age, and no one you know would age.
Yeah, hopefully a minimal amount of consequences. The only consequence is having a greater knowledge of yourself and the universe.
Right, yeah, what a bummer. Bummer Town.
So I guess I take it all back.
Finally, if you could give the kids at home who are reading this, and one day would like to become like Reggie Watts, the worst advice possible, what would the worst advice be?
The worst advice I could give would be to really try to listen to everything literally—everything that you hear, and even lightly overhear, through hallowed halls. Listen to all of that stuff and comply completely; mimic it. Make sure what you do sounds like everything else, and you’re sure to succeed