Reese Waters claims he’s a former nerd, but it’s clear from listening to The Content Of My Character that he grew up to be a full-on schlub. Content is rife with fantastic tales of a broke Waters not having his shit together, from dates at Popeye’s to Usher-scored blackout-drinking escapades. It’s not always the most original material, and there are times his authorial voice is not as sharp or unique as possible. This could just be a matter of experience, or could be symptomatic of a deeper issue, in that it’s hard to tell whether Waters is “half-assing this” or literally half-assing this. But above all a comic must present themselves honestly, and he does a good job of detailing the life and times of a lazy layabout.
Waters has a laconic, shambling approach that is more controlled than it first appears. You can all but see him reaching around in his pockets for material, seemingly seconds away from shrugging off the entire set, then landing a solid punchline right before the show floats off into the either. This is probably intentional, but Waters creates the illusion it isn’t, which feeds his scrubby, can’t-afford-lunch persona. It certainly helps that he’s got the right kind of voice for this material: on the deep end of medium and just unsteady enough to hit the percussive syllables from odd angles (bringing to mind a less weird Hannibal Buress). He either always sounds like he just woke up, or has practiced sounding like he always just woke up.
Sure, the layabout persona feels exaggerated, but only just so. He takes it to the brink of shtick before offering a humanizing detail, moving on to an unrelated topic or dropping an absurd image. Waters studied economics in college (“I once wrote a 60-page thesis paper on the relationship between mullets and unemployment.”), and one of the funniest lines concerns his choice in academia, noting that attending a college advertised on a bus ensures “you will never own a car.” He also slips in social commentary on how unambitious people sometimes understand ambition better than anyone else, noting that the differences between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X’s political philosophies came down to X being much taller than the five-foot-six King. (“I learned that in the sandbox!”)
His observations on race prove Waters is less out of it than he likes to appear, tossing enough dry silliness upon the objects of his scorn to expose the absurdity of outdated prejudices. Topics range from the continued existence of the Washington Redskins – whose owners claim the name was around before everyone became so PC (“Their racism is grandfathered in.”) – to a stereotype dear to Waters’s heart: “When you label all black people as being lazy, you take away my individuality.” Waters’s laconic delivery suggests he’s vaguely annoyed he still has to deal with this, and his underplaying of the morally offensive subjects he takes down keeps his material nimble while implying he’s too smart to waste much anger on a bunch of idiots he could simply skewer without raising his pulse.
He doesn’t spare himself or his family, noting with a delivery so matter-of-fact it verges on the absurd that his family “didn’t like my last girlfriend because she said she was too light-skinned. And to be fair, she was pretty light-skinned, because her mother was white, and her father was white.” When his girlfriend’s parents later sour on him, he takes it as a moral victory. “They didn’t hate me because of the color of my skin, but the horrible content of my character.”
Waters sounds at ease interacting with the crowd, asking questions and briefly riffing before he gets distracted. There’s an early part in Content where Waters thinks, in a world where some ladies like bald and hairy guys, “Statistically there’d be some woman out there who loves me for me, who has a broke fetish.” As soon as he says this, a woman in the audience audibly says “No,” much to his delight. Waters goes on to describe in detail his charming ways with the ladies, including bringing a doggie bag to a date and biting during sex, just to make sure she’s really there. He takes so much delight exposing his lack of game that it makes the end of the album – a short bit in which a girl says she just wants to be friends and he replies that they are friends, he’s just tapping that ass – feel like an out-of-place bit of braggadocio added after recording was complete and he was worried about how badly he was coming off. It ends a strong set on an off note, and is completely unneeded. Waters should just be proud of how good he is at being a loser.