Watching a comedian like Reggie Watts makes me feel like people of my age must have felt when they first heard the likes of Lenny Bruce or Andy Kauffman. I mean if your idea of a comedian is Bob Hope or Jack Benny, what on earth are you going to make of these new voices, lauded and praised though they may be. So along comes Comedy Central’s CD/DVD set, Reggie Watts: A Live at Central Park, and I have to ask myself, am I the right person to review it? I know that a lot of very bright people think of him as a major cutting edge talent. I know that he was much praised for his musical talent as he is for his comic sensibility. And I know that I am never quite sure that I get him. I may find myself laughing at some of his bits, but when it comes right down to it, I’m not sure what’s so funny about beat boxing nonsense syllables.
So having confessed my fears of inadequacy for the task at hand let me rush in where I ought fear to tread. First, here are some of the basic facts about the new release. The set was recorded at Summerstage in Manhattan’s Central Park on June 22, 2011. The CD has 13 tracks. The DVD has a selection of most of the same tracks plus added sketch sequences in which Watts’ tries to determine if the Central Park performance is really a dream, or perhaps even a dream within a dream. There will be a world premiere showing (of I presume a censored version of the evening) on Comedy Central on May 11, at 1:00am. The CD/DVD combo will be released on May 15th.
The set featuring the typical elements that Watts’ fans have more than likely come to expect from him will not disappoint them. There are the vocal gyrations, the beat boxing, the looping, even a little fancy footwork—all both comically absurd and musically inventive. It’s the kind of thing that wouldn’t be funny in the hands of a musically inept performer, but that the musically talented Watts can turn into a tour de force. It’s the kind of thing his fans love; it is obvious in the audience reaction to the piece he calls “Reggiohead.” They know where he’s going the minute he opens his mouth. To show my age again: it makes me think of a performer like Victor Borge, whose ridicule of classical music and its performers worked because his own virtuosity was well recognized.
“Tweet Yourself Right” is an impromptu romp that begins with Zippos at concerts and moves to tissues near your computer screen and ends with social media. Going on for almost 12 presumably improvised minutes and showing off some sweet vocal gymnastics, this has to be one of the highlights of the evening. “Having Sex” is another nice piece. “So Good Yeah,” a kind of Stevie Wonder take off which is only on the CD, is a musical gem. The thing about Watts is that you never know where he’s likely to go or how he’s going to get there, you just have to sit back and enjoy the trip.
It’s the same for the absurdist monologues like his dissertation on time, which seems to mean something, but that ends in utter nonsense and the little games he likes to play with the audience. Sometimes, as in “Boroughs,” it seems to go on too long before he decides where to take it, but once he gets going, he works it. He does one of his patented British dialect rants starting with the craziness of performers, gives a nod to Adele, and ends in absolute absurdity. There is silliness, there is profanity, but there is also truth.
A quarter of a century from now, some old codger will be listening to some new cutting edge comic, and he’ll likely be thinking “watching this guy, I feel like someone my age must have felt watching Reggie Watts back in the day.”