OFF THE CUFF

Mu­si­cian and co­me­dian Reg­gie Watts tells An­drew McMillen why he finds im­pro­vised per­for­mance so ex­hil­a­rat­ing

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Cover Story -

Hav­ing carved out a niche in pop­u­lar cul­ture as an im­pro­viser skilled in the realms of com­edy and mu­sic, Amer­i­can artist Reg­gie Watts will be do­ing his best not to think of what he’s about to say or do in the mo­ments be­fore the lights go down and the spot­light hits him.

“I don’t re­ally worry about it un­til I’m about to go on stage,” he says. “As long as I get there and I make it to the venue on time, then I’m not re­ally wor­ried about what I’m go­ing to do un­til I’m ac­tu­ally per­form­ing. The more that I’m un­pre­pared, the bet­ter it is for me.”

Al­though this very con­cept would fill many per­form­ing artists with ter­ror, Watts is clearly the kind of trapeze artist who prefers to op­er­ate with­out a net.

Usu­ally armed with lit­tle more than a mi­cro­phone, beat-mak­ing hard­ware, a loop sta­tion and what­ever hap­pens to be on his mind in the mo­ment — as well as be­ing the owner of an ex­traor­di­nar­ily ex­pres­sive voice — his work­place is a play­ful space pow­ered by in­ge­nu­ity and in­stinct honed by spend­ing much of his adult life in front of au­di­ences.

“The en­vi­ron­ment has more to of­fer than any­thing I can write,” he says. “It’s like what a skate­boarder or a surfer would do: they surf all the time but they’re al­ways try­ing stuff. They’re do­ing it for fun. That feel­ing, to me, is what it’s all about, the adren­a­line of: ‘How can I do this? How is this go­ing to work?’ ”

It wasn’t al­ways thus. When he was start­ing out, such as be­fore per­form­ing at the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val Fringe for the first time in 2004, Watts did fid­dle with the idea of a more tra­di­tional ap­proach to visu­al­is­ing how his time on­stage might un­fold in a best-case sce­nario.

“But it never re­ally worked,” he told Re­view in Au­gust, three months be­fore his three-show Aus­tralian tour. “Not that it was a fail­ure; I just

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