Reggie Watts discusses flexing new muscles on 'Comedy Bang! Bang!'
He's Scott Aukerman's bandleader/sidekick and much more
Yesterday, I posted an interview with Scott Aukerman from February on the set of IFC's "Comedy Bang! Bang!"
If you read the interview, you know that originally, Aukerman's "Comedy Bang! Bang!" bandleader and sidekick Reggie Watts was going to be a part of the conversation, but he got pulled away just as I was about to direct my first question in his direction. [Disclosure: Watts' title may be "bandleader," but he's the band, so he's not really leading anybody else.]
Fortunately, even though Watts is a huge part of the "Comedy Bang! Bang!" team, performing in skits in addition to generating his unique brand of musical accompaniment, he made sure to carve out some time to return to the green room to chat with me.
If you aren't familiar with Watts' music or his comedy or his musical comedy or his comedic musicality, I suggest you wander around YouTube and check out some clips. He's like Andy Kaufman if Andy Kaufman had a giant afro, a bushy beard, a penchant for suspenders and tons of musical talent.
Most of this interview concentrates on Watts' work on "Comedy Bang! Bang!" and his previous attempts to find a proper small screen vehicle. In the actual interview, we talked a bit about his musical career, but HitFix's Katie Hasty had a lengthy subsequent interview with Watts that covers that material much better than I did.
Click through for the full Q&A.
HitFix: When you had to leave the interview earlier, I was about to ask you what you see your role as being in this show?
Reggie Watts: Well, I'm the Paul Shaffer of the organization and primarily my job is to be how Shaffer would be, which is playing people on and off and doing the theme songs or any kind of musical sound effects and bits that they need. But also, I'm also in sketches and things like that. So I do a lot more than that. So that's my primary, that's what I'm supposed to be doing?
HitFix: How much music are you actually getting to make here?
Reggie Watts: Per show? Quite a bit. They're all just play-ins and play-offs. So it's probably six original pieces per show.
HitFix: And what is the sidekick capacity?
Reggie Watts: In its talk show mode, it's very similar to a talk show, so when the the guests are talking, sometimes they'll refer questions to me or I'll do a couple reactions or we'll improvise some things together. But I mainly just stay in that traditional role and Scott, for the most part, stays in his traditional role, but when things diverge and go into other worlds and things of that nature, then our roles can change.
HitFix: Do you have any pre-prepared sidekick schtick?
Reggie Watts: Not really. I just show up and sometimes they'll throw me questions and I'll just kinda try and keep up with the badass improvisers that they have.
HitFix: Do you have any favorite sidekick/bandleaders from shows past?
Reggie Watts: Conan's original bandleader? Max Weinberg? He was an interesting cat. I liked the way that he functions. They would throw to him. I'm somewhere between Andy Richter and him, but I'd say more Max. In a way, we're just finding our footing, because I don't think that they really even knew that I could act, necessarily. Not that I am a great actor, but it's something that I strive to do and so I think that they wrote a little bit for me to be a part of it and as time has been going, they're like, "Oh, maybe we can throw him in here or maybe ask him more questions." So that's nice.
HitFix: Well, a lot of your comedy has a character-driven aspect to it.
Reggie Watts: Yeah, it does, but still I'm not really known as someone who acts with other people and other actors, but I really like doing that, especially when it's improvising, so this show is letting me do that, practicing in a way and trying to accelerate that as much as possible.
HitFix: Have TV networks been trying to get into the Reggie Watts business? Have people been trying to build things around you?
Reggie Watts: Yeah, they definitely have. I've had many meetings and I had a script deal for a little while and that kinda fell through. A lot of times people are like, "Well, we like you. We don't exactly know what it is. We want to keep your original..." It's all the same things that networks will say. And good for them for saying that. I'm sure they mean it. But it's hard, I can imagine, as a network trying to figure out, "Well what does this guy do? What can we do with this guy?" But luckily, IFC's been way cool. Dan Pasternack has kinda reflected the way the organization feels right now, where they believe whoever they're signing or whoever they're getting to come on-board, they just trust what they already do, as opposed to, "We love what you do! It's original!" and you get on-board and suddenly they're changing everything and there are tons of notes and you're like, "What's happening right now? Are we ever going to get to make this show?" IFC, luckily, they just trust in their curatorial abilities and stick with it.
HitFix: Give me some good pitches you've gotten over the years of what networks wanted to to do with you.
Reggie Watts: Sometimes people want me to do a kids show type-of-thing. Some people want me to do like a variety show, host a variety show. Other things have just been like writer friends of mind having ideas and kinda pitching like parallel reality semi-quasi science fiction sitcom stuff, which is something I'm down with for sure. Things like that, or hosting stuff. People have tried that a bit. I'm not the best host, because I don't really remember things. I'm much more of an in-the-moment improviser, so as long as people can trust me on that... But the great thing about this show is that I get to flex a little bit in a way that people haven't seen me before, so hopefully that'll shake some of the pre-conceived things. Ultimately, I just like to be free and trust that I can produce good results and how I like to express myself.
HitFix: A kids show seems like it would only capture a certain small percentage of what you do...
Reggie Watts: Yeah. For sure. I would love to guest star on "Sesame Street." I've done some stuff for "Electric Company." But "Sesame Street" or be on... Is it "Yo Gabba Gabba"? I always get confused with "Hey Gabba Gabba." "Yo Gabba Gabba." I did a little thing for "Pancake Mountain," which isn't very popular, but is a very well done, great show. Yeah. Kids show. I couldn't imagine committing to like, "Yeah! You're gonna do a kids show." That's not quite my thing. I like to swear sometimes.
HitFix: Going off of the wrong things that you've been pitched, what do you think, in your ideal world, a Reggie Watts project would be?
Reggie Watts: I really want to do a point-to-point improv thing, with a basic arc, just a guided improvisation to get to some kind of result. I would love to do something fully improvised, get some writers who are good at bouncing ideas in the moment and creating a good enough structure so that we have something solid. I would probably do something like some kind of a sitcom, a sitcom that moves between fake drama. I'm not exactly certain, but it would basically be something that would just happen and you would adjust as it was going. The premise would be like beginning at an apartment, filming there and moving out from there. That's all I really have.
HitFix: So more of a "Curb Your Enthusiasm" kinda thing?
Reggie Watts: Yeah, kinda like that, without maybe so much of the awkward stuff. It'd be more straight-ahead acting, but being so concerned with what it's cutting to or continuity. I love incontinuity, but a drive that feels like it's going somewhere, a story arc that feels like it's going somewhere. It sounds kinda convoluted, but in my head, I see it working really really well, if you get the right actors who are flexible and dynamic, plus a great director who understands that sensibility and maybe a couple writers who can help and be the outside eye.
HitFix: Was the fact that these episodes were all filmed in a bunch a draw? That let you put your other projects on hold for a brief period, but not for some long, drawn-out period.
Reggie Watts: Yeah, for sure. I think if this was a three-month thing, it'd be different. I think if, when we finish this and it's all wrapped and it's edited and it's airing and hopefully IFC likes it and hopefully people like it and they're like, "Let's do another season," knowing what I know now about what it's like to actually be here and work on it, I wouldn't mind doing a two-month, three-month thing, whatever. The crew is incredible, everybody working on it, so I'm very happy coming in here every day, although I wish I could come in a bit later. I'm not a morning person at all.
HitFix: Of the guests who have been on the show, had you worked with any of them before?
Reggie Watts: I had met many people. Aside from Scott, I haven't really done a show... I've been on shows with [Matt] Besser, done shows where Besser part of the lineup. I don't know if that counts. I haven't really worked with anybody. All of these people are people I've seen at festivals and have seen at UCB or have seen traveling on the road, but no one I've actually worked with.
HitFix: How does that inform the on-set dynamic? If these are people who Scott has worked with many times and you're the injection of new energy, how does that impact the chemistry?
Reggie Watts: It's being trying to be respectful of the chemistry that already exists and not trying to disrupt too much. But, when asked, it's trying to contribute as much as I can. It's learning a new language. It's a new social language. Luckily Scott's sensibilities and Leo Allen and all of the rest of the writers and the director, I understand what they're doing, because it's very close to my style of humor. So, luckily, that's great. It's really me shaking off the, "I'm the new guy, I hope I step on anybody," egg-shelling it, to having more confidence and saying, "I'm a part of this show. I'm not about to be fired at any second." Cuz that's kinda how I came into it. I was like, "They're gonna think I'm awful and they'll be like, 'You know, it was really nice working with you, but...'" So it's me getting used to the idea that I can contribute something to the show in a meaningful way, as opposed to, "Here's a novelty who's on this show."
HitFix: An experiment... Something wacky we're trying...
Reggie Watts: Yeah, "We're just taking a shot at it. It's an expensive experiment." Yeah, so a lot of it's been just getting out of that mindset.
HitFix: So it's been finding confidence in this forum?
Reggie Watts: Yeah, that I can contribute. Really contribute. More than just music, that I can contribute in an acting, comedic way. It's cool. Every day I learn something new, for sure.
HitFix: Are you better now than you were two weeks ago?
Reggie Watts: I would say so, yeah. I definitely feel like that's true. Maybe I was better two weeks ago. I don't know. Now I'm like, "Yeah, I'm getting the hang of it!" and people are like, "No. No. Don't think that way."
"Comedy Bang! Bang!" premieres on IFC at 10 p.m. on Friday, June 8.