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Reggie Watts

Reggie Watts

He was born Reginald Lucien Frank Roger Watts on March 23, 1972, in Stuttgart, Germany, to Christiane and Charles Alphonso Watts, an African-American serviceman in the U.S. Army. While his father went on to be stationed in Italy and Spain, that - combined with his mother's native French tongue - fostered the early development of Reggie's language skills. The family eventually resettled stateside in Great Falls, MT, where he attended elementary and high school, growing up a curious, interrogative student, relentlessly analyzing not only subject matter but also his classes and teachers. He also began taking piano lessons starting at age five, and later joined the Great Falls High orchestra as a violinist until his similarly growing penchant for irreverence led to his expulsion from the group. Upon graduating high school, Watts moved to Seattle, where he briefly attended the Art Institute of Seattle before matriculating at Cornish College of the Arts, where he studied jazz. The city provided a vibrant musical milieu for an aspiring musician, and Watts fell in with a succession of both sketch comedy groups and bands of varying genres, none with any staying power until the late 1990s, when he joined Maktub, a group that combined strains of rock, jazz and R&B. Also part of the mix was Watts' own peculiar stage banter, improvised absurdist strings of observation between songs that increasingly garnered as much attention as the music itself. Maktub made its first album in 1999, going on to put out four more, and toured as openers for such artists as Ben Harper, Coldplay and Earth, Wind & Fire. Watts spun off a solo comedy act parallel to his music, using keyboards and electronic looping, composing his musical backgrounds and beat-boxed rhythms on the fly, improvising bizarre songs and incorporating a raft of accents and even different languages to essentially become an onstage chameleon. He issued a solo music album, Simplified, in 2003.In 2004, Watts moved to New York City to devote himself more singularly to his solo comedy career. He played not only the city's dedicated comedy clubs but hipster music venues and more avant-garde art spaces, and began making forays to comedy and music festivals both across the U.S. and abroad, among them the Fusebox and SxSW fests in Texas; Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee; London's Soho Theatre; the Luminous Festival in Australia; the Montreal Comedy Festival; the Vancouver Comedy Festival and the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in San Francisco, among many others. On the occasion of his 2009 London show, Time Out London proclaimed in a September 2009 review: "There's no one out there like Reggie Watts. Exploiting a jaw-dropping vocal range, Reggie covers everything from ancient history and racism to pop-culture, in a heady mix of improvised music, comedy and social insight. This guy has to be seen to be believed." Watts posted a number of his bits/songs - including the hip-hop exercise in rampant profanity, "Sh-t F-ck Stack" - via the online video/art sharing community Vimeo and the comedy website Funnyordie.com. He also collaborated with playwright Tommy Smith on a series of envelope pushing stage-plays/performance-art shows. Smith and Watts' joint website articulated the abstract programming of the work, as with "Disinformation," which went up at the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art's 2007 TBA Festival and "Transition," a "blast of pop culture deconstruction . . . baiting the viewer into believing that a form of reality will stabilize, a belief the piece constantly denies," which went up at the 2009 Under The Radar Festival at New York's venerable Public Theater. He also toured as an opening act for singer Regina Spektor and collaborated on her song "Dance Anthem of the 80s" on her 2009 album Far. Watts scored his first late-night network TV set in 2009 on NBC's "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" (2009- ).Watts also clicked with similarly Dadaist comedians Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter and David Wain, who gave him the guest role of their intern on their short-lived Comedy Central show, "Michael & Michael Have Issues" (2009); and with edgy, existentialist stand-up Louis C.K., who brought Watts in to do the music for his ribald FX single-camera comedy series, "Louie" (2010-15). Continuing in the vein of cutting-edge comedy properties, Watts also contributed his talents to progressive guerrilla performance artists The Yes Men's documentary "The Yes Men Fix the World" (2009) and in 2010 showed up in a voiceover role in the cult-favorite Adult Swim cartoon series, "The Venture Brothers" (2003- ). In early 2010, Watts inked his highest-profile booking to date when Conan O'Brien and his team came knocking. O'Brien, who had been unceremoniously axed from a short run as host of NBC's "The Tonight Show" in favor of a previously retired Jay Leno, had signed on with cable station TBS and, per a settlement with NBC that precluded his hosting a TV show until September 2010, set about organizing a national comedy show tour as a way to pass the time until he could return to the airwaves. While planning the "Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour," some of O'Brien's writers brought Watts' videos to their boss' attention. Starting in April, Watts went out on the 32-city tour as O'Brien's opening act, and in June he appeared on a TBS special featuring the tour's talent, "Team Coco Presents the Conan Writers Live," on which he performed a song musing about the contents of a woman's "Big Ass Purse." Watts also filmed his own special which aired on Comedy Central in May 2010 to coincide with the same-named release of his DVD/CD, Reggie Watts: Why Sh-t So Crazy? on Comedy Central Records. The cable channel helped build the buzz by making Watts the face of its late-night, TVMA programming block, which featured the comedian riffing in interstitial segments. Meanwhile, the highly anticipated November debut of O'Brien's TBS show, "Conan" (2010- ) saw Watts became a semi-regular guest, helping Spin magazine to declare the off-center Watts as "2010's Best New Comedian."
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