Weaving a kaleidoscope of accents, dialects, and musical styles into a tapestry of hilarious oddity, Reggie Watts is an artistic anomaly untethered by conventional comedic confines. Displaying impressive musical ability laced with absurdist, abstract theatrics and time-bomb psych-twist comedy, the Williamsburg, Brooklyn resident uses little more than his own voice and a loop pedal to work his magnificence.
Watts is a man unhinged from the reality box—but don’t mistake that for aimlessness. He’s a master of improvisation and impressionism, a freak of brilliance with the comedic stylings of a jazz virtuoso. After entering the slipstream to success last year as the opening act on Conan O’Brien’s Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour, demand has sharply risen for the man with an explosive gray-streaked afro and a commitment to abandoning all sense of conventional performance structure.
We touched base with Watts just before the March 29 release of his new comedy album, Live at Third Man Records—recorded at Jack White’s Nashville-based label headquarters in front of an audience—to discuss the recording experience, as well as some of his favorite local restaurants and philosophies on food.
How did this Live At Third Man Records album come to be?
I was on the Conan tour, and we went to Jack White’s studio for Conan’s live show around the same time as Bonnaroo last year. And while we were there I was just inspired by the place, and how it was run and the attention to quality. I thought it would be great to do a set there, a live comedy set. And it’s ultimately all up to Jack, so I mentioned in passing that it’d be fun to do something there, and he was like, “Yeah man, that would be great.”
A few months later, I got an email saying Jack wants me to come perform, and I was thrilled.
It’s not hard to imagine you and Jack White making some freeform Appalachian jazz together… Did you go into the set with a different level of preparation, knowing it would be put down on wax?
No, not really. I was just aware that it was a record and that we were going to break at 24 minutes to cut for the other side of the record. So I was aware of that, but for the most part it was just “Do your thing, we’ll give you a signal at 5 minutes before,” like during a normal comedy set where they give you the light. So that was it, I just kind of went for it, trying to have the maximum amount of fun possible.
It seems that this release is more random and off the wall than your previous recordings.
Ha ha yes! That’s good, man! That’s awesome. We got lucky because Tim & Eric were touring and were in Nashville at the time, and Jack called up Tim Heidecher (Tim & Eric co-creator) to open the show. And also Neil Hamburger was in town, so he did a set. And John C. Reilly was just there hanging, too. Jack was there as well, of course. It was just awesome. We hung out and got to know each other as best as we could within the limited time that we had.
I had met Tim before, and we had kind of shot the shack…. shat the shoot? Shacked the shot. Yes, we shanked the shack a while back. I did my set, and we all hung out afterwards, and it was a really fun experience. They all have amazing creative capacity, and it’s really inspiring.
What food fuels the mind of Reggie Watts?
I try to eat pretty healthily, mostly on a vegetarian diet. I do eat meat on occasion because I travel, and sometimes there aren’t many options. But I load up on vegetables, fruit, all the stuff you know you’re supposed to eat.
What was the catalyst for your decisions to try vegetarianism?
That’s based really out of the fact that it’s just a more efficient diet. Psychologically, it works for me. Growing up, I was all about burgers, meat, processed food. That’s all I knew. Then when I moved to Seattle, that’s when I became more aware of vegetarianism.
Any favorite local spots in the Williamsburg/Brooklyn area of New York?
Yes. That’s where I had my first properly prepared steak tartare.
Everything they do is spectacular. The Juliette is a phenomenal little French bistro, too. And you can never go wrong with Sweetwater Grill. I’m really a fan of normal restaurants as well. Most restaurants have a vegetarian option, but there’s a few particular places that I find a fancy for. There’s a place called Rye that has some truly amazing food. Ridiculous.
Do you cook for yourself?
Not really, no. I used to when I was younger, but with so much traveling it gets nearly impossible. I do enjoy making sandwiches.
Eating healthy on the road is a major challenge for any touring performer.
Yeah, it’s really hard to maintain. I’m actually planning to take a friend of mine’s wife out on the road in the future. She’s just an amazing cook who knows how to take care of things. I’d love to have someone monitoring what I’m eating and making sure that I have healthy options.
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