Armed with his professionally-trained, multi-octave voice, a slew of indecipherable accents and clad in a shabby-chic ’80s sweater, Brooklyn-based comedian/musician Reggie Watts is bringing his trademark afro and bushy beard to the main stage at Rifflandia.
But Watts doesn’t come equipped with much else. His sets, a mix of music and stream-of-consciousness stand-up, are completely improvised.
“I don’t really prepare. I show up and hopefully all my stuff works and I can hear myself. After that it’s really up to the ether to bring it all together,” Watts says. “It’s much easier that way.”
Watts studied improv briefly in his early 20s when living in Seattle, but says he wasn’t a very good student.
“It’s improvisational technique, so there’s a structure to the way they improvise and that I could never really get with,” he says. “It’s like the difference between playing Ultimate Frisbee and just throwing the Frisbee around. I prefer to throw the Frisbee in the park.”
Generally, Watts employs a few standard elements. “I know I’m probably going to play something on a piano, I’m going to do some looping stuff and I’m going to talk about really dumb things. Those are my three go-tos.”
His subject matter ranges from science fiction to pop culture, food to philosophy, sex and gender and everything in between.
“Anything really, anything human. In a way, I never studied it but I’m an anthropologist, I suppose. I like learning different social languages and colloquial languages and history and everything that contextualizes who we are at this time. That’s pretty much what I’m interested in.” That, along with tacky sweaters and beard maintenance.
While Watts doesn’t formally have a team of personal sweater shoppers, most of them are picked out by professionals.
“I did this shoot with Playboy and the wardrobe person pulled all these amazing sweaters, and he didn’t let me keep all of them, but he let me keep three bad ass, and I mean bad ass, sweaters. There’s this wolf howling sweater that people really freak out about.”
I tell Watts about a local sweater company, christmassweaters.ca, that is “sleighing” the competition. Going online, he shows particular interest in the “Excalibur” line.
Just before I leave him to sweater shopping, I ask: “Are there any other uses for the hair/beard other than just to look good?”
He leaves me with this piece of wisdom:
“The beard you never really want to mess with. You don’t want anything in your beard. You also want friends to tell you if you have something in your beard. That’s definitely, really no — unless you’re Captain Lou Albano and you want to put some rubber bands on your face. I guess back in the day people would put doobies in there, but for me, my hair is like my beard, I like it just my hair.
“I don’t want a mouse in there, I don’t want a small replica of a pterodactyl in there, I don’t like anything like that. And [contrary to popular belief] it doesn’t work as a pillow. The mass of hair isn’t really strong enough to be able to support the weight of a human head.
“There’s so much wonder, but you know it’s just hair, it curls around and does weird things. Everybody can have weird hair, you just have to let it go.” M
Reggie Watts – RAP main stage – 5:45pm – Sun., Sept. 16