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