Reggie Watts is difficult to categorize as a performer. He is a singer, a beatboxer, a one-man a cappella choir and a comedian. His varied talents shouldn't be too surprising when you consider that he got his start as a vocalist for the jazz rock collective Maktub. Since then he has branched out and cultivated a parallel solo career that draws upon his musical background to give his absurdist comic leanings a distinctive flourish. This CD / DVD set gives us a peek at Reggie's performance art hybrid while making a pretty good case for the assertion that Reggie's comedy needs to be seen and not simply heard.
It may sound like a cop-out to call Reggie's act performance art but it's the only description that comes close to encompassing all that he does. It's not just that Reggie splits his act between musical performances and stand-up bits. He is a meta performer. Allow me to explain. He doesn't just sing songs or tell jokes. He sings in a manner that reveals how songs are sung while focusing on specific styles. The closest point of comparison I can give is Flight of the Conchords. Even though Bret and Jemaine sing songs that fit particular musical templates, they perform them in a way that slyly comments on the form of the template itself. The same holds true for Reggie's comedy. He tells jokes that are really about how jokes are told. This is exemplified by a bit where he talks about the differences between men and women. He knows this is a tired and clichéd source of humor that has been mined by many comedians before him. He also knows that the audience knows this. Armed with this knowledge, he strips the bit of any identifiable substance and instead focuses on the vocal tics and mannerisms typically employed by comics who don't know any better.
Running a few minutes shy of an hour, the DVD portion of this release is definitely the stronger half. It edits together three of Reggie's sets at New York locations (Galapagos, Le Poisson Rouge and The Bell House) performed over consecutive days in late 2009. While the transitions between the three performances are fairly seamless, the pacing of the show still feels a bit off. This is mostly because the songs keep getting in the way of the comedy and the comedy keeps getting in the way of the songs. It doesn't help that when Reggie starts singing, much of his absurd humor gets left by the wayside. He definitely tries to get a few laughs by throwing a few lyrics about Cobra Commander and Croissants into the mix but the results feel a bit forced. His songs work best when they are simply showcasing Reggie's incredible vocal range and facility with accents. He relies on a looper to create a wall of beats, whistles, clucks and other practically unidentifiable noises before dropping his lyrics on top of them. The aural effect is consistently impressive even though some of the songs sound raw and unfinished.
The CD half of this release is an entirely different story. Even though it contains additional songs and bits of stand-up that were recorded during the same performances included on the DVD, the vibe just doesn't feel right. The comedy bits are extremely short and one-note while the songs just turn into self-indulgent noise without the visuals of Reggie as a hyper-literate boombox to accompany them. The only track on the CD that works completely is the first song 'Fuck Shit Stack'. It's a spot-on ribbing of the excesses contained in many modern hip-hop songs. The other song that comes close to succeeding before driving off the cliff is 'My History Thus Far'. True to its title, the song is an a cappella autobiography as Reggie talks about growing up in Montana and moving to New York. Unfortunately he takes a moderately funny piece and stretches it to an unbearable length of 15 minutes.
While I appreciate the novelty of what Reggie is attempting here, I can't wholeheartedly recommend this release. Only half of it (the DVD) comes close to realizing its potential and even that portion of it suffers from odd pacing and uneven content. I believe that Reggie's hybrid act will only improve with time but for now this release, flawed though it may be, gives adventurous comedy fans somebody new to keep track of.
The show was presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. I found the image to be pretty clear and free of any digital noise. Given the darkened environs of Reggie's performances, it should come as no surprise that the color palette is fairly subdued. I did have a minor issue with inconsistent black levels although that may have just been due to varying lighting conditions at the three venues.
The English audio was presented in a 5.1 Surround Sound track which was more than adequate for the material at hand. The surrounds featured a healthy dose of chatter from the audience and really came alive during Reggie's musical segments. No subtitles were available.
The DVD features only a few short extras but they are fairly entertaining. First up we have a Music Video for 'Fuck Shit Stack'. This is cleverly shot in the style of many of the hip-hop artists that Reggie is parodying with his lyrics. It has got everything from synchronized dancers and booty-shakin' women to massive heads on tiny bodies (any Ludacris fans in the house?). The inclusion of this video is a real treat and is easily one of the highlights of this release. The only other extra is Real Time with Reggie. This is a roughly five minute long interview with Reggie split into three parts. The focus of the first two parts happens to be Reggie's looping gear and how he employs it to spontaneously create songs in front of live audiences. The third part is an unrelated murder fantasy that caps things off in a typically odd fashion.
Reggie Watts comes to the world of comedy via the world of music. Despite the circuitous path, he approaches stand-up with an absurdist sense of humor that is right at home in the alternative comedy scene. While this release doesn't entirely do him justice due to odd pacing and a leaden CD performance, it does present Reggie as a comedic talent worth keeping an eye on. Rent It.