Music Rags: Reggie Watts: of comedy and cannabis

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Comedian and musician Reggie Watts is popping up everywhere these days. He’s toured with Conan O’Brien, his recently released live album A Live At Central Park was warmly received by fans and critics, and he’s one of the stars of Comedy Bang! Bang! on the IFC network. And this month, he’ll be appearing at Rifflandia in Victoria. 

Watts is a talented performer, combining musical brilliance with absurdist humour and razor-sharp intelligence. His free-form stage show is both rewarding and challenging.

“It’s pretty much all fully improvised. I don’t really think of anything before I go on stage,” says Watts. 

His sets are freewheeling excursions into unadulterated art — journeys that keep the listeners guessing where Watts will take them next.

“I like it when audiences are confused. In a way, it’s kind of like defragging my audience, similar to a hard drive. Hard drives just get all this memory overwritten and shadow files and all these different things, and you’ve got to defrag to get the hard drive in line again,” says Watts. “[I] kind of defrag the expectations and the experience they get and try to stay enough of ahead of them, not everybody, hoping generally people give up trying to figure stuff out and just enjoy the moment.”

Though it can be jarring at times, audiences have warmed to Watts’s style of performance over the course of his solo career.

“Luckily at this point they really let me do my own thing,” says Watts. “It’s been long enough — I’ve stayed the course long enough [that] audiences just think, ‘He’s gonna do what he’s gonna do, and I’m cool with that.’ ”

Even though many people have grown more accommodating to his music and comedy, Watts’s performances are demanding enough that he still runs into resistant audiences.

“I just did a gig a few nights ago opening for Quicksand, the New York hardcore group from the 1990s, in front of all these hardcore fans in New York. For the most part it went pretty well, but there were definitely a few ‘Get off the fucking stage!’ or ‘You suck!’ — those types of things.” 

Fortunately, Watts is armed with such an affable personality and malleable show that he’s often able to disarm seemingly hostile situations. 

“Because I get to talk and bands don’t usually talk much, I just did a song then talked about all the things were people were saying on stage. People were laughing and clapping along. It was pretty interesting. It depends on the context. You try to read the room and see how much patience people have.”

Watts’s output is propelled by a desire to experiment both with sounds and with his level of cannabis ingestion before taking to the stage.

“Cookies are my preferred method because I like to trip out and save my voice,” says Watts. “It gets me into my zone a little bit differently. It’s also a little bit challenging to create when you’re really high.”

Elaborating on the benefits of trying to create on the fly while experiencing the effects of cannabis, Watts explains, “I think of it like when you see athletes dragging a weight behind them or wearing baggy clothes and running through a swimming pool, the resistance that it gives you. You’re purposely making it hard on yourself for training purposes. In a way it’s very similar when you’re on-stage and you’re really high. You have to really focus and really commit to doing something good because you’re live in front of an audience. You need to still maintain a respect for your audience and for your creativity.”

That respect Watts holds for his audience and his craft is what makes him important as an artist. It also promises to make his appearance at this year’s Rifflandia one of the highlights of the festival.

Reggie Watts @ Rifflandia

Sunday Sept. 16, 5:15 p.m.

Main Stage in Royal Athletic Park

$80 – $295

rifflandia.com

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