Not long after graduating from Columbia University in 2002, Reese Waters told his parents he wanted to pursue a career in comedy. They were less than enthusiastic.
“My parents said, ‘You literally could have dropped out of the eighth grade and done comedy,’ and they’re not wrong about that,” Waters says. “But I think my education has really helped. Being a comedian, and having these insights and telling people about them, it’s like being an armchair sociologist.”
It wasn’t until Waters started getting on television — including 2011 appearances on the “Late Show With David Letterman” and “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” — that the D.C. native’s parents got on board. Then, in 2018, he became the host of WUSA9’s new morning show, “Get Up DC!” But it’s Waters’ latest gig, a Kennedy Center residency that launched in January, that really sealed the deal.
“The Kennedy Center — you can’t beat that prestige factor,” Waters, 38, says.
“Say What?! Friday Night With Reese Waters,” which takes place on the fourth Friday of every month, isn’t a typical comedy show. It kicks off with a roughly 40-minute set by a guest comic followed by an onstage interview with Waters. (The featured comedian this Friday is Nore Davis, whose TV credits include “Inside Amy Schumer” and “Conan.”)
“We talk about their career. We talk about whether comedy was something they always wanted to do, and we talk about what people always want to know: how much of their set is actually true,” Waters says.
You might think that discussing how jokes are made would rob them of their humor, but Waters says it actually makes them funnier.
“The jokes that you hear in a comedian’s act are the finished versions,” he says. “They are simplified, efficient versions of a larger, more complicated idea. When we have the conversations afterwards, we get into some of the material that was cut for whatever reason. So it provides context and even more comedy.”
Recalling a joke’s inspiration often uncovers funny insights or anecdotes that were lost along the way, Waters says. These explorations can give comedians fresh perspectives on well-worn bits — and they can even inspire new ones.
“I know a lot of my material comes from conversations I have with other comedians, including the ones I have onstage,” Waters says.
Waters’ comedic version of “Inside the Actors Studio” has been a hit, particularly with a demographic he’s not used to seeing at his shows.
“There are definitely a good amount of middle-aged people and retirement-aged people,” he says. “In fact, a lot of the people who have become devoted fans of the show have been in that age group. I don’t know why — maybe I would have been really big in the ’70s.”
Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW; Fri., 9 p.m., $20-$35.