There's nothing new about musicians putting jokes into their songs. Hell, Mozart wrote multiple choral pieces with “lick my asshole” as the text. And comedians using music to tell a joke is about as old as the whole idea of telling jokes. But there's something rare about an artist who's able to transcend both labels to the point where he's neither a comedian singing songs, nor a musician telling jokes. Reggie Watts is his own special category of indefinable.
Sure the Vandals have some funny songs, but I'm not really interested in seeing Dave Quackenbush do stand-up, any more than I have any more than an ironic desire to hear in-his-prime Eddie Murphy's music. (I don't really have much of a desire to hear past-his-prime Eddie Murphy's anything, but I have a theory involving a tragic cloning accident that explains why he suddenly forgot how to be funny around 1991.) Reggie Watts' act consists of long deadpan monologues interspersed with goofy, largely improvised a capella songs created through a looper and a delay pedal. But the songs are actually good. Really good. They're not songs with jokes like you used to hear on Dr. Demento. He's making a joke about music itself, about the audience's expectations of what a song should be, or about some trope of popular music. When Reggie sings a song, he's not just singing a goofy song, he's deconstructing music itself like a non-pretentious John Cage.
If, like the saying goes, writing about music is like dancing about architecture, writing about Reggie Watts' act is more like performing molecular biology about James Joyce's Ulysses. Suffice it to say, that if his body of work were suddenly turned corporeal, and were into dudes, I would definitely ride off into the sunset with it, happily ever after. (cue Mitt Romney saying “discographies are people, my friends.”)
The past few years have been good to Reggie. After kicking around the stand-up circuit and playing in bands throughout the 90s and 2000s, Reggie has blown up recently thanks to recurring guest spots on Conan and increasingly high profile stand-up specials. His new show Comedy Bang Bang premiered this summer on Comedy Central, and (as if you didn't know) he'll be rocking a set at Afropunk Fest 2012 this summer.
Here's Reggie Watts sort of covering Radiohead because it's Friday and we all need this.
- Words by Nathan Leigh