Reggie Watts leaps easily between tunes and laughs

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      When Reggie Watts first played Vancouver in 2008, he was a revelation. He’d been performing his unique version of standup comedy since high school in Montana, and did sketch comedy in the mid-’90s in Seattle, but the world hadn’t yet sat up and noticed him.

      Now anyone the least bit interested in humour has seen his weird brand of musical comedy either online, on TV (as leader of the backup band first for Comedy Bang! Bang! on IFC and now for The Late Late Show With James Corden on CBS), or live.

      You never know what to expect with a Watts set because he never knows what to expect. He is a true improviser. He might come out in character or mess around with accents before firing up the loop pedal and proceeding to blow minds with his musical talent.

      Now that he’s a known commodity, he can’t surprise people the way he used to. Or can he? “I just kind of read the audience and try to do the opposite of what they expect, whatever that is,” he told the Straight from his home in New York City, before heading to the Pemberton Music Festival. “It could be they’re yelling out names of songs I’ve done and I can play off of that, or I could be really super straight and do comedy straight for a while, or whatever. There’s a bunch of different things you can do to help throw people off again.”

      That spontaneous approach is the only way he can do things, Watts insists. One would think that m.o. would have to be reined in when he’s acting as bandleader for a late-night talk show, but Reggie Watts is nothing if not his own man. He prefers not knowing what’s going to be happening on any given evening, so he doesn’t read the scripts. “I just kinda show up and hope the show is easy to understand

      But he’s not a solo act in that capacity. Surely, there’s music to be researched and rehearsed? Uh, not so much. He claims even the songs are mostly improvised. He’ll just start humming a riff as the commercial is ending and the band will pick it up.

      “I want people to know it’s super easy to create all the in-and-out music you hear on late shows,” he says. “The bands that practise for four hours are awesome because that’s their process, but for me, I like knowing you can create really high-quality things with very little effort.”

      Watts is one of 17 comedy acts featured at the Pemberton fest this weekend, along with the likes of Cheech & Chong, Tig Notaro, Doug Benson, Tim & Eric, and Neil Hamburger. He’s the only one, though, who would fit in on the music side of the draw, too.

      “That’s the great thing about what I do,” he says. “I can decide how much music is going to be in the act or how much talking is going to be in the act. It’s kinda great because I can mostly do music and people can dance and respond to what’s going on, and that’s really fun. So I can adapt to the situation. I’m stoked to check out music, get inspired by that, and use that inspiration on-stage for my set.”

      Reggie Watts plays the Pemberton Music Festival on Saturday (July 18) at 7 p.m.