From his Netflix standup special “The Spatial” to his out-there TED talks to his tenure as bandleader for “The Late Late Show with James Corden” (a gig he left earlier this year), the musician and comedian Reggie Watts has never shied away from his relentlessly oddball persona. His live performances regularly combine live vocal looping, an array of singing voices, multiple spoken languages, improvised jokes and more — the sum effect is an absurd, perplexing and singular brand of humor. Watts’ recorded music is no less zany.
Although he currently lives in Los Angeles, and tours around the world, Watts cites one particular place as the source of his weird and wacky self: Great Falls, Montana.
On Tuesday, Oct. 17, Watts will release his first book, the memoir “Great Falls, MT: Fast Times, Post-Punk Weirdos, and a Tale of Coming Home Again.” The book — which he co-wrote with Christopher Farah — documents his youth in the Electric City and his experience as a biracial person there; Watts’ father, a Black American Air Force serviceman, and his mother, a white French woman, met in France before moving to Montana. The memoir subsequently follows Watts through his punk-inspired adolescence and his departure from Great Falls at the age of 18. By turns thoughtful, impassioned and kooky, the memoir serves as both a love letter to Great Falls and Watts’ family and a snapshot of his own playfully eccentric personality.
Read on as the artist digs into the process of writing his memoir, why he keeps current on gun culture, his takeaway from the censure of Rep. Zooey Zephyr, his fascination with artificial intelligence and more.
MTFP: How did writing “Great Falls” go? Did it flow pretty naturally?
Reggie Watts: For the most part, I just went back and tried to remember as much as I could. I got to ask friends about stories and corroborate things that happened, and I interviewed my mom.
I got to revisit eras of time that I forgot about and look at photographs from those times. It was a cool adventure in re-experiencing.
The approach was to create the skeleton, fill in as much information on a timeline as possible and then just start to fill in the [smaller] lines. I had wanted it to be a little bit more scientific. It didn’t necessarily play out that way.
MTFP: What do you mean by “scientific”?
Watts: If I could, I’d work with artificial intelligence and give it general times when these things happened, and then have the artificial intelligence do investigations to find the exact times and correlate those things. I’d love to fill out my timeline and create, essentially, a cybernetic memory of my life.
MTFP: Did anything about writing the book surprise you?
Watts: I’m surprised that I finished it [laughs]. When you’re working in a new medium and then you finally finish something in it, it feels slightly underwhelming but also slightly unbelievable. It’s such a long process. It’s not like finishing a song. It doesn’t have that bang. [It’s not like you] put the period on the last sentence and you’re like, “Yes!”
MTFP: When you perform in Montana, does it feel different from performing elsewhere?
Watts: I try not to get too political. The last time I was in Great Falls, I talked about gun rights. I was trying to talk about sensible gun safety measures, and how they’re actually in favor of people who are pro-Second Amendment because they create more of a responsible populace with firearms. Surprisingly, people were chill about it.
There’s a lot to be said [for] when they hear it from somebody from their own state, even if I don’t necessarily look like most people there, and even though I live in Hollywood and they could say like, [in guttural voice] “You’ve been infiltrated by Hollywood.” I don’t really get a lot of that. I’m pretty grateful for that.
MTFP: When you visit Great Falls, where do you like to go?
Watts: I try to support all the local businesses. Al Banco is world-class coffee. [Co-owner Jake Zuidema] is a genius. His brother [co-owner Jesse Zuidema] is a genius baker. It’s a deadly duo. The Block sandwich shop is really good.
There’s a great game shop [Let’s Play] where you can schedule time to play Dungeons & Dragons.
We have an indoor shooting range [Highwood Creek Outfitters], which is really cool. I’ll go and just shoot targets. I try to keep up with gun culture, because I want to have a credible voice in that zone. I love going in there to practice my, “Hey guys, what’s going on? What’s this, a Smith & Wesson?” “Yeah, that’s from the 1800’s.” I like being able to be geeky and talk shop with those guys. It’s just a good way of paying respect.
Great Falls is a great place where you can hang out with the weirdos, hang out with the gamers, hang out with the leftists. I’ve had guys who work at Scheels or something come up to me in the gun department [and say], “Don’t tell anybody, but I’m a liberal” [laughs]. And I’m like, be loud and proud about that, because who cares? Do you treat everybody really nicely? Do you treat everybody equally?
But anyways, I try to visit, and just keep in touch with everybody.
MTFP: I saw that you voiced your support for Missoula Rep. Zooey Zephyr during the events surrounding her censure earlier this year. What’s your takeaway from that situation?
Watts: I think we’re essentially having growing pains with the internet. I can only attribute it to corporate forces [that] try to rile up people over things they don’t need to be riled up about.
Someone says, “I’m transgender.” Who cares? Are you really good at policies and do you care about your constituents? Great. Awesome. Moving on. But of course, in these modern times [someone will] retaliate against it. It’s just very disappointing. I don’t appreciate the hardships that she has to go through, but at the same time, it gives her more fire to stand up for what she believes in. There’s no substitute for sincerity.
We’re going to have to figure out a way to get out of our five-year-old fear-based mentality and recognize that we’re all humans that are going to try to help each other out the best that we can, hopefully. I don’t know if that’s going to happen willingly. I think that AI’s gonna have to do that for us.
MTFP: How would AI do that?
Watts: [AI] can make decisions independent of emotion. It can be very helpful in overcoming those differences [between people], which are silly. The things that people fight over and argue about are generally other people’s ideologies that they’re just repeating. I think artificial intelligence can help cut to the chase.
It will be thousands and thousands of times smarter than an individual human being. And we’ll be able to run scenarios, different probabilities right into the future and come up with better decisions that benefit the most people if it’s used in that way.
MTFP: Reggie, is there anything you want to add, about your memoir or otherwise, before we wrap up?
Watts: My goal is not to get more people to move to Montana [laughs]. This is not a “Yellowstone” attempt.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
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