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Reggie Watts On WATTSAPP And The Late Late Show - Exclusive Interview

Nothing can slow Reggie Watts down. Even in the middle of a pandemic, he's still finding ways to work — safely, of course. Even a man who says his goal is to disorient his audience finds things to do in a disorienting time. He's still providing music for The Late Late Show with James Corden, performing remotely, and making content for his new platform: WATTSAPP. Available on iOS now and Android in September, WATTSAPP is a way for him to reach out to fans directly and share his own content — no ads, no tracking, just a direct line to him and his work. He also sells old equipment on there, if you happen to be in the market for lightly used tech.

Looper exclusively announced Reggie Watts' Droneversation with Thundercat on July 29. Here we present our full Q&A with Watts, in which he tells more about WATTSAPP and working on Late Late, looks back on his early career, and offers advice for aspiring artists.


Right off the bat: WATTSAPP. You have Thundercat on your next episode of Droneversations. Do you mind giving us a rundown of what Droneversations are?

Dronversations is an idea I had a few years ago and just thought it would be really funny to have this. Drones are loud and they just sound terrible and annoying, so I thought it would be hilarious to film interviews with drones and just have people casually talking to one another, walking through a park or whatever, and being filmed by drones, and then the drone sounds being so loud you can barely hear the conversation. That was the idea. Then, when I got to do it, luckily my first guest was Leslie Feist, and she was just the perfect person to do it with. Then I got my friend Fred Armisen in to do one and Jack White to do one, and the newest episode that's going to be coming out is the one with Thundercat, so I'm excited about that one. Just an idea I had, and I'm glad that I get to do it because it's unnecessary to exist, but here it is.

So, WATTSAPP. What made you think to create an app? What was your desire in creating this app?

Well, I was just kind of tired of all the social media BS, just the Facebook–Instagram dynamic duo, and now there are other social network sites that basically feed off of your data and then sell that for them to make money and you get no cut of it at all. I don't like that, I think it's unethical, and I was just tired of it. Mostly, especially concerning Facebook, the UI and the aesthetic look of it, it's just a piece of s***; it just looks like garbage. Instagram is a little bit better graphically, but then you still get these dumbass ads and tracking and all that stuff.

So I just wanted to have a place where I could put up whatever I wanted, videos, photos, text, have livestreaming capability, also have a store to sell merch and things on, that didn't track anybody that went on it. I created the app, thankfully, so that I have a platform to do so. It's kind of like my own multimedia channel as an app. When people download the app, they just go on and they see whatever I put up. There's no tracking, they're not being tracked, it doesn't cost anything, they can feel safe, and there's no social interactions so you don't have to deal with annoying comments and things like that. It's just kind of a nice service for fans, I guess, so they have a safe space for that.

'Junk' and long term plans for WATTSAPP

Also, you sell "junk" on the app, as you call it.

Mm-hmm. I sell all kinds of things. I sell, sometimes, camera equipment. I sold a couple iPads, smart keyboard covers, cell phones, computers, lights, cameras, old phones, Android and iOS phones, Apple Watches. Just all my old stuff. I buy a lot of technology because I want to see how it works, how it functions and all that stuff, and I used to just give it away. So I was like, "Well, I have a store now. I might as well try to sell it and get something for it." I sell it for a really awesome price for people, and it usually sells out, so that's pretty cool.

For all the stuff you have, at what point does something become junk or worth selling or worth getting rid of?

Well, if I'm not using it. Oftentimes, I'll get some experimental phone like the Essential Phone or something like that, and it's cool because I'm just interested in seeing what it's like to use it, to hold it, and to look at it, and oftentimes I just don't end up using it, so it just sits around and I'll try to find someone to give it to. But, in this case, it's nice to just have my own kind of Craigslist, y'know? Just throw it up there, go for it, get rid of it.

What are your long-term plans for this? Is this a long-term app you've got planned, or are you just making up as you go?

It's a little of both. It's a little bit making it up on the go, but the long-term is to be able to start making more content, and then just having fun with what's possible with the app. There's a lot of things we can do with it, so I want to eventually make a, maybe, two- or three-hour block of programming that will be streamed live for people, like a radio station or a TV station, and you can watch these fake sitcoms and fake whatever that I put up there as like a block of television. There'll be some of that.

The guy that built the app, Oliver Thomas Klein, I kind of wanted him to be able to use the template that made my app, to use it for other artists if they want to make their own apps. I want to encourage other artists to make their own apps and then to use that structure, and then be able to have this interoperability between apps; to be able to cross-promote with apps so that you have this kind of decentralized, artistic social network that fans can access. So the long-term is a combination of a platform where I can release a lot of my weird ideas and then also share other people's works through an app network.

Do you have any plans to distribute this in a way besides an app? Maybe a website, in addition?

There might be a website for just some basic support for the app, possibly. Yeah.

What the Late Late Show is like

What is the real James Corden like? How is he different from the person he plays on the show?

He's just a less animated version of himself. He's playing a hyperbolic version of himself, high energy and very dramatic in his reactions and so forth, but when you talk to him just regularly, he is really chill. He's a pretty laid back kind of a guy, a big conversationalist, and very opinionated and loves to chat. He's a pretty mellow dude.

Do you have any favorite guests or favorite moments that stand out from the show for you?

Yeah. I like anytime Kacey Musgraves is on the show. That's always amazing. Trying to think. There's been so many things that've happened on the show. [...] When Ben Schwartz is on the show, it's always just hilarious. He's just one of my favorite humans on the planet, he's so funny, and when he's on the show, he just kind of takes it over and it's just a pleasure to watch.

I was thinking about the time Keegan-Michael Key caught you off guard about the Key & Peele theme. Were you genuinely caught off guard on that one?

Oh. What was the situation?

You asked Keegan-Michael Key what his favorite rap lyrics were, he quoted some rap lyrics that were the Key & Peele theme, and on the show it looked like you forgot you wrote it.

Right. Probably, most likely, yeah. When I made that theme song, I made it in like five minutes. It was just a bunch of gibberish, so I don't necessarily remember what I said. It's essentially one of those situations where I was hearing in back and going like, "Oh, that sounds familiar," but I wasn't totally sure.

How do you keep track of all the things you've made, given that so much of it is improvised, if you keep track at all?

I don't really keep track of it that much. I just kind of keep putting it out there, cranking it out there, but they always come back. Someone will post something on Twitter and I'll look at the mentions and go, "Oh, cool. Oh yeah, I remember that." So there's that. Then, also on WATTSAPP, we have a playlist that we're constantly updating every week that pulls from the bulk of videos that exist online that I've made.

Not a lot of people knew that your band on Corden was named Karen, and then you changed the name? How serious a conversation was changing the name from Karen to Melissa?

It wasn't too serious. It was quasi-serious. I think my drummer, Guillermo, brought it up in the group text that the band has, and he just kind of said, "Yeah, because of 'Karen' and the connotation." I was just thinking about another name, then people started throwing out names, and then I just kind of came into Melissa. Everyone seemed to like it, so I was like, "Okay, cool. Let's change to Melissa." It was no big deal because Karen's just a silly name anyway, so it just changed to another name. It wasn't too serious. We bounced it around for a little while, but it was a pretty easy decision to make.

Present, Past, and Future

You're also part of the current crop of late-night bandleaders who are already established musicians with existing careers. How do you balance being a bandleader for a late night show, and the app, and live performances, and everything you do?

Well, the show doesn't take that much out of my schedule. If the show's running like it normally does, I'm only working for maybe a maximum of two hours, four days a week. So it doesn't really take that much time. If it's a long special, then it might be broken up and it might be maybe closer to three hours. It's not that much time, so I have plenty of time to do all my other stuff.

You do a lot, but I'd say it can generally be narrowed down to music and comedy, front-facing. Both of these things require an audience, so how are you staying sharp with no actual audience?

I'm still performing sometimes, online, streaming, stuff like that, and it's fun. It's different, but I just know that when I get in front of an audience I'll remember that pretty instantaneously. It'll definitely be a weird feeling for a little bit, but I feel like I adapt pretty quickly under these circumstances, so if there's no audience reaction, I'm totally happy with that: I can still get up and give a performance.

I'm a fan, but when I was looking through your discography, I discovered a lot of your earlier stuff, and I notice disorientation is your goal, but what's very disorienting to me is a lot of your earlier work is more conventional music. How did you get from making more conventional music to what you do today?

Well, what I do today is like a more advanced version of what I was doing in high school in drama. I was doing improvised, weird voices, oscillating characters and music and stuff like that. Then when I moved to Seattle in 1990, I was doing a lot of straight music, but there would be moments where I was by myself I was doing solo stuff and I would just kind of fill in the gaps: doing absurd stuff, being behind on the piano, doing made-up, improvised songs, or when I got my looping pedal and I started doing the looping stuff and doing music but then talking about random s***. So I feel like I've been doing some version of what I do now since I was probably like 15.

Advice and haircare

Do you have any advice for up-and-coming musicians or comedians, especially in an era when you can't really get any kind of audience?

I would just say try to keep working on stuff, keep writing stuff, but also take advantage of the time that you have to delve into other mediums. Make videos, make audio stuff, but also just take care of yourself. That's the important thing. Watch stuff, research things, check out older performers and performances, and just take time to educate yourself and adapt until you're able to get back on stage again. That will all come back pretty quick, the muscle memory will ignite once you're on stage again, so in the meantime, just take advantage of the time off and try to make and research as much as you can.

Are you maintaining your haircare routines in quarantine?

No, not really. I brush it out and wash it once a week. Pretty simple.

Is there anything I haven't asked that you want to mention or talk about?

Well, just that I hope that people stay safe and keep their mental health in check. That's all I got. That's the most important thing we can do right now.