“Welcome to [SF] Sketchfest,” Reggie Watts said, in what appeared to be his natural voice, “it’s going to be a big night for all of you guys.” The first night of his four-part “Reggidency” at the comedy festival was billed as being Just the Music but from before Watts took the stage at Yoshi’s SF – giving himself an introduction from behind the the curtain and then launching into a series of characters that wavered from pseudo-unintelligible to borderline familiar (Japanese? Jesse Jackson? Vallejo-ean?) – it was clear that label was Just a Guess.
To SF Sketchfest’s credit, it did mention that the series would be “unpredictable,” a label that gets applied to Watts’s work quite often. A week earlier at the same venue, I saw R&B singer Bilal perform with saxophonist Gary Bartz, and was struck by the vocalist’s ability to pull any sound out at any moment. You never quite knew what was going to come out of his mouth next, and when it came to comedy as well as music, the same seemed true with Watts. Whether beat boxing or mimicking Rihanna and Calvin Harris’s “We Found Love”, Watts did it with carefree, child-like playfulness, assuming that the kids were preternaturally versed in musical genres like house, soul, jazz scatting, grime, dub, and hip-hop.
The music came either with long, encyclopedic explanations of what the song was about – the sort you’d expect from an overzealous rock star – complete with huge contradictory elements, or ridiculous contextualization. One song was said to be appearing in the forthcoming video game Spore 3: Spored to Death, about “a microbe who lives in Williamsburg and really wants to be a detective,” while another was “originally for Tron: Legacy, but they ended up not using it because Daft Punk had it covered.”
As you might expect, the actual songs – consisting of keyboards and Watts’s mesmerizing vocally based looped beats – were their own punchline that had nothing to do with the set-up. One stand-out, a cautionary tale of sorts, about how “not every psychotropic substance is for everyone” was suitably trippy, with Watts creating layers of whiny back-up singers saying “oh yeah, I don’t feel so good” as he also dispensed common sense advice, such as “take a nap.” A soft love ballad pushed to the point of inaudibility warned of sentimental organ harvesting, while other tracks, almost entirely instrumental, showcased a technical skill that hid behind Watts’s bumbling physicality.
Most comedy can’t be condensed, and that’s extremely true of Watts's output. Where other comedians struggle with transitions, he’s taken them out of the equation, as his characters – built as much upon vocabulary as tone and cadence – morph into one another with little more than a change in accent mid-sentence. (At one point Watts did an Oxfordshire boy doing a witch doing a bad “Kumar” – basically Indian Bill Cosby – and a little, probably unimportant piece of my mind broke.) During the space between songs – which was really the bulk of the show – he proved himself the king of the rambling narrative. If the show seemed short, it was only because of the near relentless pacing. No clear line between his music and comedy, the show was Just Reggie, which by itself is a lot to unpack.