Whenever Reggie Watts has an idea for a short film, there’s a high likelihood we’ll get to see it. As a co-creator of YouTube channel JASH, the musician/comedian has carte blanche (and a modest budget) to create anything he wants, whether that’s making a music video in a single day or portraying a “Welcome Back, Kotter”-inspired teacher. “It’s an opportunity to do whatever ideas I have in my head,” Watts says. “I just go for it and they’re down. That’s rare.” It’s the kind of freedom Watts, 42, looks for in his projects — including his role as bandleader on IFC’s surreal talk show “Comedy Bang! Bang!” (10:30 p.m., Thu.) — and practices in his improvised live shows. Go to see Watts perform Saturday in D.C. at Yards Park during New Belgium Brewing Company’s free Tour de Fat festival and you’ll get to hear him write jokes and compose songs just as he thinks of them. Or you could just read this.
Hey Reggie, what are you up to today?
Hmm … just existing, I guess.
“Comedy Bang! Bang!” is now in Season 3. Can you tease some out-of-context things that happen this cycle?
There’s some time travel that happens, which is great. There’s also a murder mystery, there’s a black-and-white episode. There are some really dumb commercials that we made.
Are you involved with the creative process or are you just reading lines?
Once in a while, I’ll have a quick idea that I’ll tell [host] Scott [Aukerman] about and they might use it. If I wanted to [write] I probably could, but I’m a little too lazy.
You’re performing in D.C. during New Belgium’s Tour de Fat. What do you know about the festival?
I’ve done a few of them. They’re really, really cool. It’s basically a festival filled with [people like] my friends from [my hometown of] Missoula, Mont. Everyone in Missoula loves drinking beer, or making their own beer, and riding bikes all the time and listening to cool, weird music. So it’s basically just hanging out with my friends. It’s a mini-carnival type of thing.
You wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun.
They treat me very well. They’re good people. It’s for awareness for, like, riding bicycles.
That’s a funny thing to raise awareness for.
Yeah. I actually don’t drink beer but I enjoy that people enjoy it because it’s a thing that people get super connoisseur-y about.
Do you ride bikes?
I do. Not as much as I want to because I travel so much, but I do.
So you can enjoy the bike aspect.
I can enjoy people drinking beer and looking very refreshed.
Is it harder for your act — a mix of jokes and music — to come across in a festival setting, since you’re making things up on the spot?
No, not really. It’s pretty mellow, you know. People are in a good mood and it’s usually in the afternoon. I get up and people seem ready to do things. All the stuff they have up there is pretty weird. There’s this guy that goes by the moniker Ssssnake, he does these really weird acts. He’ll pair up with this strange band of bicycle-inspired dudes and do these weird cover songs. It’s a bunch of weirdness, so everyone’s tuned into that already.
So by the time you get onstage, you don’t even seem that weird.
No, not at that point.
Do you ever freeze up onstage, or lose track of where you’re going and get lost in an improv?
I might but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Getting lost in something means you’re in the zone, so it’s just allowing whatever’s happening to happen. That’s encouraging because you go, Oh, chaos is on my side.
You play a teacher in your Web series “TEACH.” Did you ever want to be one?
I don’t think I ever wanted to be an actual teacher, just because they seem to have to do a lot of work, and they have to actually show up on time. But just being able to pop in and be a teacher for a moment, that’s only fun.
You’ve had some memorable performances in D.C.: Your 2011 residency at the Woolly Mammoth, shows at the 9:30 Club. Is there anything you find unique about performing in D.C.?
Well, aside from earthquakes?
You were here for the earthquake in 2011?
Yeah. I was like, What is happening now? I was in a restaurant eating a wrap down the street from Woolly Mammoth. I immediately went, Oh s—, there was an earthquake or something. I went outside and everyone was disoriented and looking weird. There were some tiles from buildings that had fallen on the sidewalks. I’m glad no one got hit by one of those.
You wouldn’t expect to come to D.C. and end up in an earthquake.
It’s weird, I’ve been in an earthquake in Seattle, one in D.C. and a couple in LA.
You must attract earthquakes.
I guess I do. I’m an earthquake-attractor.
I’d say the other thing I get excited about that’s great about D.C. is that Ian MacKaye usually will give me a tour of his favorite places in the city and I get to stop by the Fugazi house.
Where does he take you?
He took me to his favorite sandwich shop. I love that he’s a spendthrift, so everything is super as cheap as he can get it. It’s just a very cost-effective way of living. He’s a legend.
It’s cool that you’ve developed a friendship with him.
Fugazi was also the first the concert I saw, in Missoula [when] I was 16.
Speaking of D.C., in June of 2012, I walked out of The Washington Post building and you came strolling past me. I checked your Twitter feed and saw you had been at a symposium at National Geographic. Do you remember that event?
Yes, it was the National Geographic Explorer’s Symposium.
Were you participating?
I performed at the very end of it. I got to see all the speakers speak and it was awesome. Anything NPR, National Geographic, NASA, any higher education that is having something to do with science or history or literature or arts — those are the things I’m interested in.
Reggie Watts performs for free at 4 p.m. Saturday on the Tour de Fat Revival Stage at Yards Park. For more info, click here.
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