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Interview: Reggie Watts - new CD/DVD, new TV show, and a show at the Fonda Theatre

The cover of Reggie Watts' new CD/DVD
The cover of Reggie Watts' new CD/DVD "A Live In Central Park"

Reggie Watts is on a roll right now and he's coming to town tonight to perform his incredibly original melange of comedy and music at the Fonda Theare. Within a period of 4 weeks Reggie Watts will have had his "A Live At Central Park" Comedy Central special premiere coinciding with dual CD and DVD release of the uncensored material, he will have embarked on a tour to support this release (bringing him to LA and all across the country), and the IFC premiere on Friday, June 8, at 10pm, of "Comedy Bang! Bang!", a parody of a late night comedy talk show where Watts has been billed as a musical cohort who does much more than just provide banter and a catchy tune.

If you watched the Comedy Central premiere of the special, Watts' 13-track CD is gloriously uncensored, preserving the rhythm and energy of the original live performance. Although these bits and songs are "funny," the layers of material often contain references, if you listen carefully, to universal themes of providing love to others and a need to stop violence. Damn you Watts for luring us in with laughter! But for some people these references are so subtle they very well could miss them in the first few listens because amusement is the primary purpose. Favorite tracks, and these were difficult to pick, include "Having Sex," "Tweet Yourself Right," and "Reggiohead."

Tonight's show at the Ford Theatre will be an ideal venue to take in the Reggie Watts experience. If you go, prepare to laugh and dance.

I saw you perform some of the pieces in "A Live At Central Park" shortly after you recorded the special last year and noticed that the versions of the songs are different. The way in which you assemble piece is very organic but could you explain what factors you take into account when you launch into them at a show?

Reggie Watts: It's definitely along the lines of choosing to just go for it. It depends on how I'm feeling in that situation, the length of the show, the energy in the room, and some other factors. Also, I might do another version of a trope but that is dependent upon location and other factors.

The way you weave your standup bits through each performance is very interesting because of the interactive element. You do call and response and engage them in other ways, it's not a one-way broadcast of your ideas, it's not a typical standup act. How do you approach these shows, do you have an established set list?

Reggie Watts: I just try to keep my head clear so that when the performance time comes it's sudden and surprising - it makes for a unique experience for everybody. For the most part, I try to stay distracted before I go up so it's fresh for me.

I've seen what you do described as being "crossover" which seems kind of like a cop-out description. Have you seen any really "interesting" descriptions of what you do that really made you stop for a second?

Reggie Watts: [Laughs] Somebody described me as "kind of off-putting but not in a negative way." For people who have an odd sensibility, I think they were trying to say.

I know you've been a student of jazz and there's always been an element of humor in that art form, whether its something as structured like Oliver Nelson or more free flowing like Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Do you feel like this is a tradition that you are trying to express?

Reggie Watts: There are definitely elements of the spirit of jazz in improvisation and I definitely learned a lot from being exposed to that music for a while. I also am a big fan of electronic music, punk music, rock music, and pop music, but jazz and soul were the kind of things that both my mom and dad listened to a lot, so I heard a lot of that when I was younger.

I have a little story to relate. I was driving north out of New York City and I was listening to your album again and the track was "Reggieohead" [an incredibly hilarious one-man parody of a Radiohead-style song]  and I came upon a car covered with Radiohead stickers and a "KID A" license plate and manned by two hipsters. So I rolled down the window, cranked it, and pointed at my radio - they were thoroughly confused and irritated with me, which I think was my goal.

Reggie Watts: That is hilarious and utterly absurd!

In the DVD you just released, you have some scenarios in which a character like you makes his way to the actual show in Central Park. How did these come about?

Reggie Watts: Those were somewhat co-written, there were ideas I had spoken about with the director and we wrote an outline for these concepts and we improvised off of the outline, that's how that ran.

Your connection with video projects has been long-standing. People got a lot of awareness about you from the "What About Blowjobs?" video and you've done several of these. Do you have a goal you'd like to achieve on the visual side?

Reggie Watts: I definitely want to do more film stuff. I don't know what it is yet or what it will be but I definitely want to do more of it. It's something I keep my mind on and it might happen at some point.

In your songs and in your comedy you have such intensely visual ideas and situations. For example, when you talk about the parade of nannies in the Park Slope district of Brooklyn. That could be an entire sketch there.

Reggie Watts: Ha! Yes! Thank you very much.

How do you feel about traveling out to LA to perform and the comedy scene in Southern California?

Reggie Watts: It's a great place and I know so many great people out there but it's not necessarily a place I would think of living in but who knows? If things keep picking up, then maybe. There's definitely a different style on the West Coast, I lived in Seattle for a while which is still West Coast-y and there is definitely a feel for that.

Do you find the crowds on the West Coast different? Do people respond differently?

Reggie Watts: I think the implications are different for when people leave an event. But for the most part audiences tend to be the same but it's what people do when they leave that just feels different but if you put in the effort to make a good show in LA, you will get a great response, and I like that.

Reggie Watts performs tonight at the Ford Theatre in Hollywood, the CD/DVD of "A Live At Central Park" is now available, and the premiere of his TV show, "Comedy Bang! Bang!," is Friday, June 8, at 10pm on IFC (see preview below) and our brief interview with Reggie at the 2012 Comedy Awards (bottom of page).