Reggie Watts at Soho Theatre

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

He looks like something out of Michael Bentine’s Potty Time and sounds like… well, nothing you’ve ever heard before. No wonder understated beatbox comic Reggie Watts is building up a significant cult following.

Imagine if the great musical comedian Victor Borge was American, had access to a sampler, loop machine and pitch-shifter rather that than merely an orchestra, and was a bit of a stoner. Then you might get close to Watts’ strange, sporadically brilliant, act.

The hip-hop genre he’s closest to is all boastful, swaggering testosterone, but that’s not Watts’s style: he’s low-key to the point of wilful irritation, shuffling on stage unenthusiastically, adjusting his equipment with careful deliberation and languidly muttering lines from beneath his majestically bushy beard.

His gift for mimicry is unsurpassed. When he affects an English accent, it’s a perfect received pronunciation with a hint of regional brogue. Eat your heart out, Dick Van Dyke. The voice changes between each song, as he absent-mindedly utters something nonsensical, pompous or sometimes even funny. These thoughts are delivered slowly and frequently peter out into nothing, a form of anti-comedy that can be uncomfortable, confusing and frustrating, as the prospect of jokes go wilfully unfulfilled.

Yet amid all this faffing lies some hilarious moments as he subverts the expectations of a well-honed routine – even hiding behind a door to deliver one segment, which he whispers through the letterbox. His revival of the Norman Collier business with the microphone that perpetually cuts out is especially skillfully done.

It’s the music, thought, that makes this act. He samples himself several times, singing short sequences or emitting strange noises, then building those loops into a layered backing track which emerges from the cacophony. On to that he lays spoof R&B songs, raps about his rucksack, his motherfucking rucksack, or leads us into the anthemic chant-along Shit Fuck Stack. He has a fantastic voice, sounding just as good as any big-name rapper, albeit a big-name rapper who’s seriously disillusioned with their job.

As an arch post-modernist, Watts likes to spread bemusement more laughter, which can only get in the way of this being a laugh-a-minute hour; but when he does deign to entertain, even with his trademark awkwardness, the results are impressive.

Review date: 30 Jul 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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