Trying to describe exactly what it is Reggie Watts does makes for a messy opening line.
He’s appeared alongside Conan O’Brien, Amy Schumer, John Oliver and both Jimmys: Kimmel and Fallon. He’s collaborated with Michael Cera, Sarah Silverman and Tim & Eric. He’s done TED talks and viral videos, recorded a song with LCD Soundsystem and was a support act for Devo, lent his dulcet tones to animated fantasy series Adventure Time, sung and – in a sense – danced in a Flight Facilities music video. He’s also current house-band leader for CBS’s The Late Late Show with James Corden.
His days are very full. Jammed. But the beatboxer slash composer slash actor uses the limited time he has left over to work on his own comedy and music projects. When he speaks to Broadsheet, he’s gearing up for a session at a volumetric capture lab in preparation for a music video he’s working on. “I think it will be the first music video to use that technology,” he says casually. No big thing.
While his resume is both impressive and eclectic, Watts is perhaps best known for live performances where, with a keyboard and a loop machine, he creates a wildly entertaining blend of music, musings and comedy. On paper it sounds like it might not work – but it does.
At the heart of it all though, Watts is a true improvisational comedic talent. In November, he’ll bring his Finally Back in Australia tour to local audiences – and there’s no real plan for what he’s going to perform. For most people this would be a terrifying prospect but for Watts it’s an essential part of putting on a good show.
“I’ve experimented with creating structures in the past,” Watts says. “But at the end of the day I just felt … better about being unprepared as a form of motivational energy.”
He doesn’t set out to tackle specific topics, and instead takes his cues from the world around him.
“Things might come out that I’m interested in – maybe technology, or green tech or the state of music – just kind of broad things. But I don’t really have anything specific that I focus on,” he says. “It really just depends on what’s swirling around the day before, or the day that I am in the city I’m going to perform in.”
When pressed, he remains unflappable. What if he finds himself on stage with a mental blank? What if he gets sick? Does he have fallback material? A safety net?
“I’d have to be really, really sick to cancel or figure out some other thing to kind of pass the time,” Watts says. “I’ve definitely done gigs where I was barely able to stand and I took some cold medicine and just went on stage and just pushed through it. I like the challenge of doing a good show, doing well no matter the circumstance.”
The reality is, Watts’s performances are so intermingled with his everyday life, the prospect of not knowing what to say or do in front of an audience is a non-issue.
“I don’t formally practice, but definitely throughout the day I’m singing or doing some kind of rhythmic stuff with my voice, trying things out,” Watts says. “So I’m always doodling in a way."
After three years away, he’s looking forward to returning to Australia – and not just because he’s a big fan of Skippy, which he watches to wind down after TV appearances. He’s planning to drink a tonne of coffee, hit the beach and wander the streets. His composure and confidence means he can make the most out of his time in any place; he doesn’t have to click into work mode until it’s almost time to perform.
“I just kind of, you know, make sure I get to the gig,” he says with a laugh. “Make sure I get to the country … and then as I’m going on stage I think to myself, ‘Well you’re about to go on stage, you better do something’. That’s kind of about it.”
Finally Back in Australia will show at Sydney Opera House on the November 23, the Palais Theatre on November 25 and Brisbane City Hall on November 26.