By Ciara LaVelle
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You could try to break more bones than Evel Knievel, but chances are you'd just look clumsy, no matter how awesome your motorcycle. And if you were to get shot while wearing a top hat in Ford's Theatre, what would be the point? Abraham Lincoln already owns that.
Same thing goes for beatboxing. Don't bother — comedian Reggie Watts has it covered.
"It's really about understanding how to make sounds with the mouth," Watts tells New Times. "Maybe I accidentally made a sound... I notice how my body can re-create it."
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But beatboxing is not why Reggie Watts is back by popular demand, playing three shows this week at Miami Light Project's Goldman Warehouse theater. It's not why Conan O'Brien picked him to open his national live tour. Or why Comedy Bang! Bang!, the IFC show he cohosts, just wrapped shooting its second season. It's not why he recently launched JASH, his YouTube channel collaboration with Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera, and Tim & Eric.
No, the comedian and musician has returned to South Florida because he has a unique set of skills, all of which he uses to create a borderline-uncomfortable brand of humor that's nevertheless damn funny.
Along with his beatboxing, Watts uses effects pedals to loop strange vocal beats and compose songs on the fly — say, a duet with Mad Men's Jon Hamm about the virtues of the sitcom Taxi. Or there's the surprisingly thorough guide to knowing if you are engaged in sexual intercourse, a song called, "If You're Fucking, You're Fucking."
But no matter how many millions of YouTube views his songs get, no matter how catchy or educational his tunes, no matter how elastic and soulful his voice, you are unlikely to hear Reggie Watts singing on the radio. That's not just because of the many expletives — fuck is a favorite — but also because his songs are, well, really weird. Amazingly weird.
"My job is to make sure I'm connecting with people even if they're confused," Watts says. "It's dissimilar to how all these people are [used to thinking], so you have to project the reality that you want."
And as his fame grows within comedy and music circles, Watts has gathered some A-list passengers for the ride into his alternate reality. "I'm doing this project where I'm going into the studio with different producers," he says almost bashfully. Pressed for more details, he lists impressive names: "I did a thing with Tim Young, a thing with Diplo. Maybe Mike Elizondo next."
At this point in his career, Watts could be rehashing bits that have worked in the past. Instead, he says, "I never really prepare for the concert. I'm just in the moment and hope that people are on board with the choice... I'll be in Miami, in the arts district. And I'll bring [up] the things I've noticed there. But even over the three nights, I know I won't do them the same way."
Watts is fine with that ephemerality. "I guess I would like someone to be constantly [recording], but I'm not usually thinking about that," he says, seemingly confused that his fans would want a record of the endlessly protean sets.
So, what fans become familiar with most are his Conan appearances, his specials, and his video work, which, if it's more obviously structured than his live show, is equally uncompromising. Take for example his TED talk, in which he speaks and sings for ten minutes in several languages without saying a single thing that even borders on comprehensible. It is as hysterical as it is indescribable. And with JASH, he says, there is no middle person between the idea and the production, no executive employed to make the art more commercially viable. "They will suggest things to help with views, but I'm not really concerned with views," Watts says. "They're OK with that. All of the partners are doing whatever they want to do."
The "If You're Fucking, You're Fucking" video was a JASH project, as is his investigative series on the power of music, the first episode of which is titled "Can Music Get You Laid?" Watts has many areas of expertise, but one — doin' it — seems to stand out. So if you want to find love at a Reggie Watts show, the man advises, "I would say, 'People, just have fun, and that's how it happens. It's you being you.'"
But it helps if you're a wildly charismatic genius and not a supercreep, right? "As long as you're being honest, being the fullest realization of the creepy person you are, then the right creepy person will find you," he says. "As an improviser, you need to be flexible. If you have an idea and if it doesn't work, you adjust."
Watts is constantly adjusting, whether it's in his mercurial performances or just trying to lock in a collaborator for one of his projects. So there's no telling what'll happen when he takes the stage this week. Reggie Watts will play Miami. That's all we can know ahead of time. Or is it?
"First of all," he corrects us, "It's not going to be Miami. Its going to be Our-ami."