Reggie Watts is a tremendous liar. Since 2004, and perhaps earlier, the comedian, musician and self-described "disinformationist" has stood in front of audiences and delivered one whopper after another, usually in several languages, some of which he speaks, some of which he makes up on the spot. Even the way he answers his cellphone on a recent Tuesday afternoon, saying, "Hello, Florida," in an accent that may or may not be his own, borders on the mendacious.
"I would just say it's a mixture of truth and nontruth," Watts says of his act, which he's bringing this week to the Miami Light Project's Light Box theater. "Some of it is true. Some of it is not true. Some of it is made-up information. Some of it is real information."
Take his 2012 concert album, "A Live at Central Park," in which he extols life in 1960s New York, as captured by "the classic filmmaker Woody Harrelson"; claims Miami and Nebraska are "sister cities"; and describes Adele as "a black woman that got beamed into the consciousness of a white girl [and] completely neutralized the idea of racism." That he asserts each of these things in a different voice (respectively: pretentious Brooklyn hipster, tough-guy New Yawker, daft British musician) only heightens the absurdity.
Watts' ability to leap from one persona to another in his act, which he has said is roughly 80 percent improvised, is largely in keeping with the work of such iconic fabulists as Jonathan Winters, Robin Williams and Phil Hartman. But his performances are as au courant as they are mercurial, and Watts at once seems to want to salute and to send up the hip-hop and Internet cultures to which he is so obviously indebted. A great deal of his shows and television appearances — he's a favorite of Conan O'Brien, and co-stars on the IFC network's mock talk show "Comedy Bang Bang" — consist of Watts freestyling over beats and loops he generates on a turntablelike device he once described to the New York Times as "an integrated expression platform." He says he rarely revisits an idea on stage, though a song from "A Live at Central Park," whose otherwise-unprintable title translates to "If You're Having Sex, You're Having Sex," has become a signature bit.
If all this leaves Watts' act difficult to stereotype, he's more than fine with it.
"I love it," Watts says. "I like being whatever. It's my kind of deal. I enjoy it. Because it's not defined in any way. It's more flexibility, interpretation and confusion. It's more interesting."
Watts has worked as a comedian for nearly a decade, after spending much of the 1990s and early 2000s playing in Seattle-based, alternative-rock acts such as Maktub and the Wayne Horvitz 4+1 Ensemble. "After a while, it was like, 'I don't know how I'm going to make a living,' " Watts recalls. "I thought I could do a lot more damage as a solo performer. It was an economic choice, but also a creative choice, as well.
In 2003, he released a solo album of electro soul titled "Simplified," but by then, his attention was turning toward comedy, and after being introduced to the improv troupe Stella, which featured former members of the MTV-sanctioned ensemble the State, Watts relocated to New York. He became a fixture on the city's alternative-comedy scene, and on video-sharing sites such as Vimeo.com, which showcased his short films, skits and performance clips.
His profile rose dramatically in 2010, when Conan O'Brien, recently divorced from NBC, invited Watts to open for him on the Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour. In the years since, Watts has appeared not only on O'Brien's late-night TBS show and the aforementioned "Comedy Bang Bang," but also on FX's "Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell," NBC's "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" and Comedy Central's "The Jeselnik Offensive." Comedy Central released "A Live at Central Park," as well as Watts' "Why $#!+ So Crazy?" album, on its record label.
In March, Watts collaborated with the comedians Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim to roll out the Google-funded Jash.com, which he says promises to "merge TV production elements to the Internet, allowing the artists to create whatever they want to create." Watts' initial contributions include a video diary from a recent tour, a planned weekly series titled "The Social Music Experiment" (Episode 1: "Can Music Get You Laid?") and a hilarious take on the online prank known as Rickrolling.
"The Internet has definitely played a huge part in what I do, and how I've evolved," Watts says. "It's definitely the perfect medium for someone like myself, because I don't have to wait or ask permission to put things up, or to put out an idea or to share an idea with people. I've met a lot of Internet pioneers along the way, and we've always understood each other, so it's always a great community. I've always preferred the Internet to TV. It's a far superior distribution network."
Watts says his success online and on TV has had little effect on the way he approaches his live performances, or on his ability to confound an audience.
"It hasn't really changed much at all. I still do what I do," he says. "I don't know that people ever really get used to it. I'm always trying to do things in a different way, to keep things interesting to myself. I never have a feeling that things have changed.
"I don't really think about it too much," he adds. "I just kind of show up to the gig, and try to come up with something interesting and adapt to the environment."
Reggie Watts will perform 8 p.m. Thursday, June 6, through Saturday, June 8, at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 NW 26th St., in Miami. Tickets cost $30-$50 Thursday and Friday; $100 Saturday for a VIP show, dinner and afterparty. Go to MiamiLightProject.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun