Reggie Watts isn’t exactly a comic. He’s a funny man, yes. A funny, distinctive-looking man who does ridiculous and sometimes hilarious things on stage, sure, but he’s not a comic. He’s a musician, too. Not a musician who strums an acoustic guitar and tells bad jokes over simple chords like many a hack. He first learned how to play piano and violin as a child, creates complicated loops, beatboxes; he possesses actual musical knowledge. As previously noted, he is difficult to describe because A) what he does is so unlike what anyone else does, and B) you kinda start to sound like a fanboy even if you don’t like the material. It’s that awe-inspiring.
It makes sense, then, that his Comedy Central special isn’t exactly a comedy special, either. A Live at Central Park begins with idyllic harp strums and our hero zapping a would-be purse thief in the titular park with a Street Fighter-esque hadouken. The special proper starts just after that, with Watts addressing the New York crowd and easing into some standard material. Throughout A Live, the action cuts to a sketch where Reginald (played by Watts) hangs with a lady friend on a blanket in the park, waking from a dream and trying to make sense of a world that may or may not be playing a giant trick on him. But more on that in a minute.
If you’re familiar with Watts’s work, chances are you found it one of three ways: his internet videos like “Fuck Shit Stack,” his opening for Conan O’Brien on his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television tour, or the music he created for Louis C.K.‘s FX show, Louie. Note how varied those three things are, add the fact that his performances—including this one—are almost always 100 percent improvised, and you start to get an idea of what a singular talent Watts is.
“Wow, that guy’s crazy,” he says of Woody Harrelson toward the beginning of A Live, though he’s clearly referencing Woody Allen. “I’m glad I’m not that guy.” Much of the special’s first 10 minutes or so consists of Watts pacing the stage and saying whatever comes into his brain. He thanks the people who made the performance possible, but it quickly gets absurd, leading to the inventors of AstroTurf and the stool holding his effects pedals. He ultimately raves about AT&T (who never drops calls) and JetBlue for whatever reason.
Eventually he starts segueing into music, the responding laughter only slightly less awkward during the non-funny parts than it was during the proper spoken-word pieces. That’s the thing about Watts: He rarely breaks character or even smiles during the quote-unquote punchline, and the effect it has on the audience is an uneasy “Well, maybe that was the joke?” If you’re in on it, reveling in the discomfort of others only makes the spectacle more rewarding. If you’re not, as a few people in the crowd definitely weren’t, well, maybe it’s not quite as fun. At any rate, it’s mostly music from there on out, Watts crafting gems like this off the top of his head over loops, beatboxing and keyboards: “Don’t worry, people. If we fuck up too bad as a human race, nature’s just gonna kill us all. It’s all right, it just sucks for us—not for the earth, yeah. It’s been around for billions of years; we don’t even matter to it.”
Elsewhere he discusses how guns are louder than knives, plays a crab-cake gag on the crowd (long story), does “a song about sex” that unfortunately becomes unlistenable due to Comedy Central’s censoring, and hilariously covers Radiohead with his own send-up of “Idioteque.” It really is a grab bag, but in the best sense. The final song begins with Watts riffing on Zippos versus cell phones, masturbating in front of a computer, hawks/eagles/bluejays and social networking before he sings, impressively, “Falling in love isn’t the same as fallin’ out of love,” hanging on the notes, fading out to beatboxing.
The special ends with the sketch, which has developed between bits. Reginald wakes from a dream, finds a flyer advertising himself (as Reggie) playing Central Park and is thrust into a great quest—involving hobos, the Cool Castle, park rangers, a tiny television and a squirrel named Parsons, amidst many other odd details—to find out the truth. Turns out he’s the founder of Corncubes International, a conclusion that makes about as much sense as any, really. “What a crazy dream within a dream,” the lady friend says, and Reginald, who is now back to Reggie, makes a face until someone off-camera calls “Cut!” Watts then shakes his head and exclaims “Jesus Christ,” because he knows how special and awesome and ridiculous and fantastic and bizarre it is that he gets to do this stuff for a living.