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.