If you’re a jive turkey, or someone who cares about the environment, then please leave a message. Remember: Only you can prevent forest fires.”
So begins the voice mail of funnyman Reggie Watts, who I’m slated to interview this very moment. I try him again, get the same message—delivered in his famous, shape-shifting voice, often incorrectly reported to range 10 octaves—and reschedule with his publicist.
It’s a strange little message, but what’s even more funny is that I’m dialing a Seattle area code. The comedian/musician has lived in New York City for nearly a decade, and now resides in Brooklyn. When I finally reach him, Watts is not in either locale, but in Great Falls, Montana. “I grew up here,” says Watts, who’s visiting his mother and some friends. “It’s a nice, very simple, relatively mellow place.”
In the Emerald City, however, Watts is remembered as a onetime Seattleite, living here from the ’90s into the aughts and a frequent Bumbershoot performer with his soul-funk band Maktub. For cred, he rattles off a list of his former ’hoods: “All over downtown, 98th and Aurora, Queen Anne, Madison Valley, Rainier Valley, all over the place.”
The slower pace in Montana, though, miles away from urban bustle, must be a welcome change for the genre-crossing performer, who at 41 has amassed multiple studio albums with various bands, racked up years behind the mike on the comedy-festival circuit, and can deftly distill rap’s biggest cliches into wry observational satire, as on “Fuck Shit Stack” from his 2010 stand-up special Why Shit So Crazy? He currently stars in IFC’s zany comedy showcase Comedy Bang! Bang! as the musical accompanist to host Scott Aukerman (Mr. Show, Between Two Ferns).
“Comedy gang bang,” says Watts, “is a fun thing that is mostly written by Scott and his evil henchman. Scott contacted me because I had worked with him before on Upright Citizens Brigade. It’s a mixed bag.” The show, born out of an eponymous podcast, features a talk show-like format that delves into the awkward and surreal as Aukerman interviews guests like Andy Samberg, Paul Rudd, and Ed Helms. “It’s heavily scripted, but we go off book a lot,” says Watts, who brings what he calls a “interstitial levity” to the show’s spacey soundtrack. With Aukerman at Bumbershoot this year, Watts will present an episode from the new season of Comedy Bang! Bang! followed by a Q & A.
Nowadays, even in remote Montana, Watts and his ’fro are hard to miss. “It wasn’t always like this,” says Watts. “But this whole thing called the Internet changed all that. I was hiking in Glacier National Park recently, and these guys, probably about 19, 20 years old, recognized me. It’s funny, too. They were from Seattle.”
Reggie Watts plays Monday at 2:45 p.m. at the Playhouse.