In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Reggie Watts is a true original. He began his career as the frontman for genre-bending rock/soul/hip-hop group Maktub before taking the innovation one step further with a unique, sample-based stand-up/musical act that’s been imitated, but never really replicated. From there, it was a logical jump to his gig as co-host of the TV version of the similarly wildly improvisational Comedy Bang! Bang! In 2015 he made a bigger leap to network TV as bandleader on The Late Late Show With James Corden, where he affectionately dubbed his band “Karen.” He continues to break up the monotony of rehearsed late-night bits on The Late Late Show with his brilliantly random questions for guests, as well as developing new ways to express himself through music and comedy.
Talking to Watts, you really start to appreciate the unpredictable way his mind works, where fake gods and parallel universes lurk around every corner and a simple conversation about mustard turns into an opportunity for some free association. We interviewed Watts by phone in advance of two new projects: Taskmaster, his new show for Comedy Central where he challenges contestants to perform simple, but strange tasks; and Casual High Technology, a new album from Wajatta, his musical project with electronic musician and producer John Tejada.
1. What makes you feel optimistic about the future?
Reggie Watts: That humans are able to differentiate something that’s sincere or artificially manufactured.
The A.V. Club: In what context? The first thing I thought of was those political Photoshops that go around on Twitter.
RW: For example, in music, you hear a lot of auto-tuned bullshit music and pop music that appropriates trap music into every hook or something. But compared to something that’s sincere and actually innovative? People will always be able to recognize it, no matter how much they’ve been exposed to inferior versions of that art. That gives me hope, that people can differentiate between something that’s whole-hearted and sincere [and something that’s not], even though they could be living in an 80 percent inferior art and media landscape.
2. Which single work of yours did you feel didn’t get the attention it deserved?
AVC: Sorry, I’m not familiar with that. Can you describe it?
RW: Exactly. [Laughs.] It was a short film that I made, like a fake travel show. Have you ever seen Arnold Goes to Brazil? [The official title is Carnival In Rio With Arnold Schwarzenegger. —ed] Arnold Schwarzenegger did a special, this kind of travelogue to Brazil, and they showed him going around and trying other cultures and it was really embarrassing because he was being dumb and sexist. It’s at the height of his career, in 1979 or something like that?
AVC: Yeah, I remember that. Back when he was a bodybuilder, right?
RW: Yeah. It was at the height of his powers. He did this Brazil thing, and just behaved very badly and poorly. So I used that model. When I was in Brazil, I put together a quick team of people to come together and meet me in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, and we did a fake travelogue of Brasilia. It was all fake improvised information about Brasilia, “City Of The Future.” It’s on Vimeo and it’s just called Brasilia. And I really loved it—I thought it looked amazing. It’s really fucking stupid, but I don’t know, I loved it. I wanted to do more of them, but I never got around to making more.
AVC: Oh, that’s rad. You weren’t trying to be dumb like Arnold Schwarzenegger, right?
RW: Oh, no. No, no, no. Not at all. I had a partner—her name is Carolina Ravassa—she came out and she was my cohost. We just went around the city, talking about, like, fake stuff, because the architecture is all mid-century modern and was built in a matter of about four years. It’s a completely planned city capital—it looks like Walt Disney’s city, if he built a city. So it’s really amazing. It has this incredible monolithic, mid-century architecture.
And then we also went out into this crazy valley that had kind of a cult-like religion that we were able to gain access to and we got to film inside of it. So you get to see all these people in these crazy, magical robes going through this ritualistic thing, and I’m talking about a fake god and fake spirituality. It’s all fake stuff, but I’m standing in front of real things.
AVC: Well, maybe now we can get a few more eyeballs on it, hopefully.
RW: Yeah. Four.
AVC: [Laughs.] Four, at least.
RW: If it’s four, I’m happy.
3. What was the first album you bought with your own money?
RW: Prince, Around The World In A Day. I was a big Prince fan and I’d just gotten my first auto-reverse Walkman. I had enough money, so I bought that album, and listened to it on my way to computer camp in Montana. It’s a really weird album, so it really kind of twisted my mind, listening to it.
AVC: I can’t imagine there were a lot of other kids at computer camp in Montana listening to it.
RW: No. I mean, [except for] my friend Josh—we would sit next to each other on the bus—we shared headphones, and we both loved it.
4. Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?
RW: I do believe in ghosts. But I believe in them more in a science-y, kind of way, where I believe that they are essentially a temporal anomaly. So, [there are these] parallel realities that are kind of atemporally associated with our reality, and they sometimes bleed through into our reality as ghosted images or ghosted actions of a parallel reality that might be out of sync with our own timeline. So, in that way, I believe that that’s possible. It’s more science-y rather than spirit/demon kind of stuff because, I don’t know, I don’t find that very productive.
AVC: Quantum physics does make that possible, doesn’t it?
RW: Yeah, I mean, that’s the hypothesis. Not proven but it makes sense.
5. If you’re only allowed only one condiment for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?
RW: I would say French stone-ground mustard.
AVC: That’s very specific.
RW: Yeah, it’s kind of superior. I used to be a ketchup person, but it has too much sugar in it. Mustard is just more general purpose—it goes with way more things. And it has no calories, but tons of flavor. It really can enhance any boring meal. And I like the texture stone-ground.
AVC: I feel like you’re going to score a contract with Big Mustard now. [Laughs.]
RW: Thank God. That’s what this interview is about: getting endorsement deals. They’re, like, psycho-statistical questions to triangulate which endorsements.
AVC: Yes, I’m creating an algorithm as we speak.
RW: Thank you. Al Gore. Al Gore Rhythm. Al-go-ri-thm. [Laughs.]
6. In what type of social situation are you the most uncomfortable?
RW: I would say high-society media events. Like, for instance, if you have to walk a carpet for an event. It depends. I have actually been comfortable at some of those if it feels mellow and I feel like goofing off on the carpet and not taking it seriously. But whenever I’ve gone to the Golden Globes, or the Vanity Fair after-party, I just feel so out of place. There are a lot of veterans that do this all the time and are super-comfortable with it, and they’re wearing super-expensive outfits and they’re sponsored by some jeweler and there’s, you know, rubies or whatever, and the pressure of that gets to me and I feel really uncomfortable.
AVC: Do they really hustle you along those carpets? I’ve never walked one.
RW: It’s depressing, a little bit. Unless you’re a megastar or really hot in the moment, I know that they can’t wait for the person after me that’s more relevant. That’s what it feels like. So if I do walk the carpet, I’m just like, “Ah, okay, whatever,” and then move on to the next one. “I’m sure you’re going to take one picture of me and then you’re looking on to the next person.”
It’s kind of like a weird, defeatist—a little bit of a bummer. That’s my interpretation of it. I also don’t want to play like I’m cooler than I am, you know what I mean? And so you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place in that situation.
AVC: Yeah, that sounds like a real weird trip for your ego.
RW: Yeah, for sure. You have to boost your ego. And I’m usually there alone, so that makes it extra weird, like, “Well, here I am! And in a not-very-expensive outfit.” [Laughs.]
7. What was your dream job when you were a kid?
RW: What I wanted to do, or what I actually did?
AVC: What you wanted to do.
RW: Dream job? Gigolo.
AVC: Wait, back up. Where did you learn about gigolos from? [Laughs.]
RW: Well, as a kid, I heard about gigolos—I don’t know. Around. But I was so girl-crazy. I loved them so much, I wanted to treat them, like, really super-awesome and give them a really romantic experience, and treat them really well. So I figured, if I were a gigolo, I could turn that into a professional thing, as a business. And it wouldn’t be weird, it would just be kind of fun.
AVC: I mean, take what you love and make a career out of it.
8. What do you watch when you’re in a hotel?
RW: I’m in a hotel? It depends. I usually just watch stuff on my laptop or whatever I happen to bring with me. Gotham, something like that.
AVC: Just whatever’s on, pretty much?
RW: Yeah, whatever I have—I just download a bunch of stuff for the trip and watch it. Or nothing at all.
AVC: What did you watch the last time you were in a hotel?
RW: I think I tried to watch Justice League, and it was such stupid shit that I had to stop watching.
AVC: Well, you’re not alone in that one.
RW: Yeah. Just really, really disappointed.
9. Do you think art should be separated from the artist?
RW: Yeah, in general, I do believe that.
AVC: Do you think that’s just an arbitrary thing, person to person? Like, what one person would consider atrocious—that kind of opens it up to individual interpretation.
RW: I mean, I would say, if it violates the law, if they’re inflicting damage on another person or persons directly, then I think that’s the line for me. If they’re just an asshole and people don’t like them, that’s not really—anybody can do that, you know?
AVC: [Laughs.] True.
RW: And if they assault somebody or they swindle somebody, those are criminal things, or kind of civilly criminal. Interpersonally taking advantage of someone disadvantaged, that kind of a thing [is a dealbreaker].
Other than that, if someone’s kind of a dick, or they’re just weird and people don’t really like them, but the music is good, then that’s great. I definitely hear enough stories, it definitely colors the art for me. But when I hear that Stevie Ray Vaughan was really unpleasant to work with and he gets onstage and channels some of the best guitar solos you’ve ever heard, well, that exists beyond him, you know? And for whatever reason, he feels the need to act the way he does. Because, for whatever reason, that’s how he functions. And at the end of the day, he’s an incredible musician and has the respect of all of his peers.
10. What’s the most difficult professional decision you’ve ever had to make?
RW: Hmm. I don’t know. I guess it was difficult to take The Late Late Show gig.
AVC: Really? Why?
RW: It was just the timing of it, you know? I had just quit Comedy Bang! Bang! I was looking forward to having an independent lifestyle and then, a few weeks later, I was having a meeting with James Corden, and I was like, “Oh, fuck, okay.” I mean, this is no secret to him, either. It took me a while, I had to ask around. I was asking Sarah Silverman, all my comedian friends, all my non-comedian friends, and my mom. If I’d been out of Comedy Bang! Bang! for six months or something, and I was doing stuff, and then they approached me, maybe it would have been maybe a little less difficult. I don’t know. But the fact that it was so fresh, and I was like, “Okay, I’m free!” And then all of a sudden, “Hey, would you like to be locked into a network gig?”
And the other thing is, it wasn’t my goal to be in the Paul Shaffer Orchestra. That wasn’t something I ever even thought about. I’m grateful that I did it—it’s led to some really incredible evolutions and insights and it keeps me in one place. That was something I was into after touring all the time, a steady paycheck. Getting to meet some really interesting people and see how television production works in that format. All of that stuff normalized network television for me in a way that’s, like, “Oh, okay, I understand how this works a little better.” So it’s been very valuable. But it took me a month or so to decide whether or not to do it. But they were cool. [The producers] and James were like, “Yeah, take your time and think about it.”
AVC: It’s a big commitment.
RW: Yeah, it was a big commitment. I’d never done anything like that. And I had to move to L.A. from New York.
AVC: That is a big deal. Well, I’m glad it’s worked out.
RW: Yeah, I’m really glad.
11. If you had to stay one age forever, what would it be and why?
RW: One age forever... I’d probably pick 35.
AVC: Okay. How come?
RW: You’re an adult, and you’re old enough to want respect and have enough experience—well, if you live forever, then experience would kind of be out the door, but—I feel like it’s the perfect age where you’re still young, but you have some experience and you’re definitely an adult and are taken a little more seriously than someone in their mid-20s.
RW: I just feel like there’s a lot of benefits to that.
AVC: Question 12 comes from Scott Thompson...
12. What’s your favorite bird and why?
RW: Favorite bird and why... Hmm... Favorite bird and why. Well, I guess I’ve always been partial to the peregrine falcon.
RW: Because it’s the most falcon-y? No. Because they approach terminal velocity, and it’s amazing how fast they can go and they can dive in a split second at that rate.
What question would you like to ask the next person, not knowing who they are?
RW: Would you ever eat lab-grown meat and, if so or if not, why?
AVC: Would you eat lab-grown meat?
RW: It’s the ultimate answer to sustainability. You’re able to grow the meat and it’s 99 percent more efficient than actually growing an entire animal. And vegans can eat [lab-grown] meat because it’s not from an animal directly—there’s no animals killed, and it’s ecologically sound. So it’s a solution for everybody.
Taskmaster premieres on Comedy Central on April 27, and Casual High Technology is out on May 11.