There is a small club of people who get the chance to be a bandleader on a late-night talk show. But among them, Reggie Watts is probably the most unique.
Watts, who comes to town as one of the headliners on Sept. 29 as part of the JFL42 comedy festival, is obviously very musical.
But he has also been working as a comedian for years, mining what he variously describes as an “absurd,” “nerdy” and “silly” vein of comedy.
His act often mixes live sampling and beatboxing, along with plenty of punchlines.
He’s definitely a polymath, who is also an actor, and currently the bandleader on The Late Late Show with James Corden on CBS.
He appeared for years on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast and TV show, and recently recorded and released an electronic music album in collaboration with John Tejada, under the band name Wajatta.
It’s that project that has him excited to try out something cutting edge for what’s he doing next.
“I am getting ready for a music video for my music project, which I did with John Tejada. We’re shooting it in Intel’s large-scale volumetric capture lab, which you can just go in and move around, and it’s all captured, and turned into whatever (augmented or virtual reality) you want it to. So we’re going to make the first music video using that technology.”
Watts first hit some Toronto fans’ radar in 2010, when he opened at Massey Hall for Conan O’Brien, when the latter left NBC’s Tonight Show on bad terms and went on his Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour.
But the musical nature of much of what he does has meant you may have seen him here on a North by Northeast festival stage or as part of the Toronto Jazz Festival.
Now he’s a JFL42 headliner performing on Saturday at the Sony Centre — and being interviewed about his distinctive sort of creativity earlier that day as part of the festival’s parallel ComedyCon lineup of chats and podcast tapings.
Watts says he has got to the point where his mix of music and comedy doesn’t have to be explained to the audience as it once was, and his continued success shows that it is working.
“Maybe some people go, ‘He’s a comedian,’ but now that I do The Late Late Show, ‘He’s also a musician.’
“Ultimately it just comes down to, ‘Oh this person is just a creative person,’ and could do comedy, could do music, could do theatre, could do videos, could do whatever,” he says.
“But also, I just like it when people are confused and surprised. Look, it is continually a surprise to me: ‘Oh wow, this works.’ Like it gets you places.”
One of the biggest changes for Watts in taking The Late Late Show gig has meant he has stopped constantly touring — resulting in a physical transformation. He has lost more than 60 pounds and packed on 20 pounds of muscle.
“It’s a goal I had for a very long time and just because of touring, it was very difficult to achieve it on a willpower front. But I took the gig for The Late Late Show, and half the reason I took that gig was that I wouldn’t have an excuse to really not be in shape anymore,” he says.
“It’s great to accomplish that goal, it was something I wanted to do for a very, very long time.”
Watts says he’s currently shopping another comedy special. Asked about the state of the standup industry, he sees good and bad in the platforms that are focusing on it.
“It’s interesting, because Netflix has triggered a response in a few other entities, as far as buying comedy specials, like in Amazon and Apple, and Hulu and a few others.
“They continue to do what they do with their original programming, which is just put out as much as possible. Like, it’s great having a lot of standup specials, but when you have a glut, sometimes it can be confusing. At the same time, it’s nice to see a lot of voices getting out there. It’s a weird time.”
He likes the fact that there is more diversity in comedians. One of his favourites: Baroness Von Sketch, the lauded all-female troupe on CBC.
“I think they are great. The world that they see is through their lens, in a specific way that’s refreshing because no one else has that voice,” he says.
You could say the exact same thing about him.
By Raju Mudhar