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Monday, June 4, 2012 - Page updated at 05:00 a.m.

Nicole & Co.
Reggie Watts: 'I like using my voice to do really dumb things'

By Nicole Brodeur
Seattle Times staff columnist

Forget his hallmark halo of hair; Reggie Watts is worried about his ego getting too big.

In the past few years, Watts, 40, has gone from fronting the Seattle-based R&B/rock band Maktub, to opening for Conan O'Brien's post-"Tonight Show" tour and LCD Soundsystem, to recording a special for Comedy Central to mixing with some of Hollywood's biggest names.

Now, Watts is on tour to support his new album, "Reggie Watts: A Live at Central Park," and will be at The Neptune Theater on Monday.

We spoke to Watts on his cellphone as he walked around L.A.'s Silver Lake neighborhood, where he was staying with friend and comedian Natasha Leggero. He left Seattle for Brooklyn a few years back but spends most of his time on the road.

So where is he now — in his career?

"It feels like it's coming together, like I am just starting to come into something," Watts said. "That I have gone to a party and I am just in the beginning of the living room.

"It's strange. I'm not sure if I should be there."

What's the worry? Who's in that living room?

"J.J. Abrams, Steven Soderbergh and Brian Eno and Juliette Lewis," he said. "Just really, really amazing people that I was fans of in one way or another. And now I'm just hanging with them and they're interested in knowing what I do.

"It's pretty cool, but I also wonder: Do I accept this all the way?"

Why not? Watts is doing what he does best, which is ... well, it's a little hard to pin down, really.

His act is what good comedy should be: smart, social commentary and flagrant vulgarity. (I tried to watch one favorite clip at work, but it was blocked.)

The laughs are interspersed with some of the smoothest singing out there, set against an electronic looping machine that allows Watts to improvise every night.

Does that sound right?

"I say that I like to use my voice and create songs using my voice to do really dumb things," Watts said, adding that the improvisation "is one of the things that makes it fun for me. As long as there is a payoff."

Those don't just happen in the venue. Our chat was interrupted by someone who saw Watts on the street and leaned out his car window: "Great show last night!"

"Oh, thanks!" Watts said.

The same thing may happen in Seattle, which, truth be told, Watts doesn't miss that much.

"I look forward to seeing my friends, but I don't actively miss Seattle," Watts said.

Rather, he just enjoys it while he's here, revisiting warm memories like the time his car got broken into on Capitol Hill and the studio where he first recorded.

Nor does Watts miss fronting a band, as he did Maktub starting in 1996. (The band produced five albums.)

"Sometimes," he said. "But most of the time, not. I had really great experiences with bands, but there is also a lot of responsibility that goes with that. The planning, the whole group dynamic thing."

Now, Watts is calling all the shots.

Born in Germany and raised in Montana by a white, French mother and an African-American father, Watts grew up listening to European folk, jazz and R&B. In high school, he got into new-wave, punk, industrial and goth. He came to Seattle in 1990 to study at the Art Institute of Seattle and then Cornish College of the Arts, before fronting several different bands.

Things started to change when O'Brien — who had just left NBC in the wake of the "Tonight Show" debacle — was heading out on tour and looking for an offbeat opening act. Watts was friends with two of O'Brien's writers, who suggested him.

"When I started to perform with him, I didn't know if the audience was going to like me," Watts said. "It turned out to be awesome. Now it is just me and I am starting to make more money and do more things in a personal way.

"It's surreal," he said. "Just one crazy thing after another. I'm definitely in a place where I have ideas or a thought and in a relatively short amount of time, it's happening."

He had a cameo in Soderbergh's upcoming "Bitter Pill" and got together with Jon Hamm to remake the "Taxi" theme song for IFC's "Comedy Bang! Bang!" Pretty hilarious, heady stuff.

Speaking of heads, can we ask about the hair?

"Well, it's pretty complicated," Watts said. "Nah, I don't really do anything. I wash it once a week and I shampoo it and condition it and comb through it in the shower and I let it dry.

"And there it is: Kinetic sculpture."

Nicole & Co. appears every Sunday. The weekday column Names in Bold appears on Tuesdays. Reach Nicole Brodeur at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

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