Finding Reggie Watts
An Albuquerque comedian’s adventures in Denver
Noon the second day of the inaugural High Plains Comedy Festival and about 15 of us hungover comics piled into a party bus and headed to the mountains for a day of swimming at El Dorado springs. The bus filled with Colorado-legalized pot smoke, the Pabst Blue Ribbon flowed, and comic Kurt Braunohler sat in a sink just to catch a ride. As we made our way up the mountain, it occurred to me: The comedy scene in Denver is less a “scene” and more a constant party with amazingly funny people taking turns holding court.
Comedy superstar Reggie Watts can be a hard man to track down.
Most festivals are run by comedy clubs, but High Plains, much like The Bridgetown Comedy Fest in Portland, was created by comics. Organized by Denver’s local and national headliner Adam Cayton-Holland and his business partner Andy Juett, it was not only an overwhelming success, but it highlighted the major talent coming out of Denver and brought in comedy legend Reggie Watts.
Watts drew me to the festival. He is a rare talent. His often absurd music illustrates his comedic wit and is embedded with politically and socially charged lyrics. He rarely passes through the Southwest, so when I heard he was the headliner of High Plains, I immediately set out to meet the comedy superstar. My mission and mantra for the festival became “Find Reggie Watts.”
My quest began Friday night at 3 Kings Tavern on Denver’s South Broadway, a divey bar full of that old beer-soaked wood smell. On the outside, it looked like just a bar on a strip of other bars, but that night it was host to national headlining comics such as Matt Braunger, Kyle Kinane and Cameron Esposito, who all performed on a small stage to a sold-out audience. The show that night at 3 Kings was incredible. Esposito was definitely a highlight with her insightful punchlines. Braunger hit hard, as well, and destroyed the audience with his rant about sipping Jägerbombs like an adult.
As I made my way through the packed crowd searching for Watts, I came across quick-witted Esposito, whose recent advice to new male comics went viral. One piece of her wisdom was, “Dress to show off your penis. Or, if you don’t have the best penis, try to go for like a dick next door thing. Wear a hoodie on your penis, you know?” About the festival, she said, “I am so proud and appreciative of this. It’s hard to put on a comic-run festival because you have a job as a comic, and you’re probably broke, but for Andy [Juett] and Adam [Cayton-Holland] to bring in such quality people is great.” Watts never showed at 3 Kings, so I walked the few blocks north to Hi-Dive, another bar, and caught New York-based comic Sean Patton, whose sheer energy on stage made the crowd putty in his hands.
Watts’ “Fuck Shit Stack” is surprisingly cerebral but isn’t for the faint of heart.
At Friday night’s end, I landed at the open bar after-party in the dark basement of a Buffalo Exchange. I had a few drinks and pondered riding the conveyor belt. As my arm reached to push the “on” button, the store manager quickly intervened and informed me, “It’s quite dangerous and not for recreational use.” Plan thwarted, I continued my search for Watts. So far he was a no-show at any of the venues.
On day two, the Gothic Theatre, an Old West-looking space with balcony seating, was sold out for back-to-back shows. The early show by the Grawlix company had a shirtless Cayton-Holland and Andrew Orvedahl stretch the stress of the festival away as Ben Roy did squats and tried to get the crowd to do synchronized crossfit. Their opening sketch as yoga enthusiasts killed the crowd and set the bar high for the night. Then came the second show and finally Reggie Watts. When host Chris Charpentier introduced him and Watts emerged, the audience went wild. His performance consisted of his absurdist musical comedy with heavy synth beats and improvised lyrics like “bleach is for bitches” followed by nonsensical gibberish that was funnier than most meticulously crafted one-liners. Note after note and beat box after beat box, the intensity of the crowd grew. At 20 minutes his show was surprisingly short, and yet Watts channeled the energy of the audience and triumphantly crushed the sold-out crowd.
When the show ended, I went to the after party at a local comic’s house. At about 1:15am, I saw him. Finally it had happened. I’d found Reggie Watts.There he was, a few feet from me, amongst the thick green vines of the lush Colorado backyard. I had so many things to ask him. What did he think about comic-run festivals? What advice could he give comics who want to improvise? Would he have ridden the conveyor belt? I started the conversation by saying that his show was great. He replied, “Thank you, it’s so great to be here amongst such love and great company.”
With his improvised songs, Watts doesn’t prefer preparation and instead relishes pure comedy “that forms organically.” He is a man of few words. His comedy presence may be boisterous and surreal, especially in music hits like “Fuck Shit Stack,” but he is kind, warm and slightly shy in person. His comedy comes from his need to do a social good and spread, as he says, “love and love.” Maybe it was my timing, maybe it was the booze, but just as I had started to talk to him about comedy, Reggie Watts slipped away.
It was exciting to watch greats like Watts on stage and briefly talk with him afterwards about his urge to do comedy, yet I think a part of me was looking for more than “love” as the catalyst for such a comedy legend. It makes me wonder what I found at High Plains. Was it Watts? Or was it a communion with like minds? While looking for Watts on this journey through the festival, I was witness to one reason why comedians do comedy. It’s because they can take anything, even a bus ride into the mountains or a backyard party, and make it an exciting adventure into the unknown, bolstered by a common goal to bring joy into the world. As Juett says, this fest “reaffirm[ed] that comedy as something to fight for is always, always worth it.”