Reggie Watts JFL42, Toronto ON, September 29
Published Sep 30, 2018Combining spontaneous yarns of absurdity, spot-on mimicry, and live music made with nothing but a looping machine and his voice, Reggie Watts is more of a performance artist than a comic. Nonetheless, you'd be hard-pressed to find a happier crowd at JFL42. With gorgeous bass notes that boomed so loud, you were worried the speakers would break, a cast of invisible silent bandmates whom he talked about as if they were old friends, and a ton of improvised inside jokes about Canada and JFL42, Reggie Watts delivered an hour of bizarre art that was better than anything that Nuit Blanche offered later that night.
To Watts, the basic construction of life itself is open to complete reinterpretation, and the joy of that discovery is contagious enough to thrill you to the point of surprised laughter over and over again. Watts' material splits off into so many different directions that it's almost impossible to describe, but a few motifs recurred throughout the night.
Watts' love of words and deconstructing them was a delightful recurring theme. The word "Toronto" became a present tense verb "To ronto" and "Rontoing." "Traffic jam" became "traffic preserve," then "traffic jelly." Even the festival's name, "JFL42," was dismantled and turned into something absurd: Watts told us that the number that follows "JFL" is chosen every year by rolling a 100-sided die, and that the last two festivals had been called JFL87 and JFL3 respectively.
Watts also had fun playing with nationalities: he talked about how Canadians represent their nation as much as their own individuality in intricate detail, he abstractly discussed how "American" could mean being Chilean as easily as it could mean being a citizen of the U.S., plus he randomly declared that Greek people have dominated the job market in aviation.
Similarly, Watts enjoyed goofing around with British accents with incredible subtlety. Over the course of 45 minutes, he morphed from a normal London accent to a Cockney accent to a full Michael Caine impression so slowly and seamlessly that you couldn't tell when the switches between voices actually ended or began.
Lastly, Watts' musical fluidity was mesmerizing. His layering of beats, backing vocals, and his own unique form of percussive scatting was masterfully quick and infectiously rhythmic. Even better still, Watts knew when to strip away all the layers to highlight his intimately beautiful high notes or more carefully worded lyrics, plus he knew exactly when to bring his elaborate improvised tracks back after the quiet breaks to shock the audience with the hard-hitting magnitude of their beauty.
Opener Sophie Buddle also performed a solid set. Though her style isn't as innovative as Watts', the Sirius XM's Top Comic runner-up warmed up the crowd easily with her witty line about her boyfriend's sexual schoolgirl fantasy, as well as her silly childhood memory of her dad telling her that the smell of weed was just the smell of his farts.