The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13
Greg Linch § Matching cuts / 2014-09-16 18:18:15
Inque § Matching cuts / 2014-09-05 13:27:23
Gavin Craig § Matching cuts / 2014-08-31 16:33:56
Tim Maly § Sooo / 2014-08-27 01:35:19
Matt § Sooo / 2014-08-25 02:10:30
Tim § Sooo / 2014-08-25 00:49:38
Robin § Sooo / 2014-08-21 20:47:35
Doug § Sooo / 2014-08-21 20:40:50
Tim § Sooo / 2014-08-21 18:23:13

The right flavor of fame
 / 

Reggie Watts is famous in the most interesting way. He’s been on my radar for many years, but for most of them, just a distant ping. Like, the technician reports: “Sir, we’ve got a beat-boxing bogie up near… wait. It’s gone.”

But in the past year or so, I feel like the pings have been coming faster, with a steadier rhythm, and to me that indicates a strong, resilient rise: slow-growing fame, deeply-rooted. Reggie Watts is on my radar again, and this time he’s not going away.

Now, this is a guy who is obviously super hard-working. It’s evident in his virtuosity, but also in the places he pops up: little conferences and big ones; video blogs and Conan; micro TEDx spinoffs and “the real TED” too:

Two things:

  • I feel like Reggie Watts’ fame is way more interesting and durable than, say, Lady Gaga’s. It is, first of all, entirely his own creation—it feels like an asset he’s nurtured and grown, not an investment that someone else has made, contingent on certain outcomes. Also, it’s somehow scale-free: Watts is capable of performing on a big national late-night talk show and at a weird little regional conference, too. The former doesn’t intimidate him, and the latter doesn’t diminish him. Gaga is the opposite: she’s operating at a much bigger scale, sure, but she’s trapped there. Even if she wanted to perform at the, like, Shelby Township Asparagus Festival, I don’t think she could. Stripped of the sound and fury of big-time production, she is weakened, made mortal: Superman under a red sun. A large part of her fame (and I’m obviously using her as a proxy for a whole class of performers here) now derives precisely from the trappings of fame. Which is a crazy situation to get yourself into! That’s how you end up alone in a giant mansion, eighty-four million dollars in debt.
  • More broadly, I think often about the flavors of fame—or almost a taxonomy of fame. I think about the ways that people become famous; the people to whom they are famous; the ways that their fame fades (or endures). I don’t have much of a theory going, except that being on a reality show is almost certainly the worst flavor of fame, and Reggie Watts’ flavor is almost certainly the best.

5 comments

Sarah Pavis says…

Reggie Watts is the ‘house band’ on the new Comedy Bang Bang TV show and as someone who’s a fan of the podcast (for which he did the theme song and was an occasional guest) it’s absolutely a perfect fit: http://www.ifc.com/shows/comedy-bang-bang
http://www.earwolf.com/guest/reggiewatts/

Sarah, I totally just followed that link and watched a whole episode of Comedy Bang Bang! I love it. (For others: for the first three minutes, I was like “What… is… this…” but then the tone/approach sorta snapped into focus. Really fun.)

Solomon says…

Hello; I just read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and I loved it – I thought it was beautiful. I’m also somewhat familiar with Reggie Watts’ performances, and I thought that this particular TED performance was a great epitomization of some of the stuff he does. I hope you still consider my comment if it’s a bit longer; I do wish to be genuine and would be grateful if you responded.

I’m not inclined to agree with your comments and use of Lady Gaga as an example for the other kind of ‘fame’ you’re thinking of. Indeed, Gaga’s fame is at a very different scale and flavour (yeah, I use British spellings – sorry about that) than that of Watts’. I do think, however, that she is a real artist. Much of the attention she gets is that kind that’s so easy to vilify – my first reaction to her was pity and some snide elitism, but I did ultimately consider her and watched a few interviews. The one that changed my mind about her completely was this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izxuALAckOQ (I didn’t shorten it because then it’s obvious I’m not hiding any virus or something). Sorry, it’s a bit long (it totals a bit less than two hours), but it’s a great portrait or window in her mindset as an artist.

Lady Gaga uses mainstream, contemporary culture and her audience to reach a huge scale – and this scale isn’t as specific or ‘curated’ as, say, that of Watts’. But I think her performance art and music is no less worthy aesthetically. In fact, she still does perform at smaller bars, and does not relegate herself to pop (videos are easily found on Youtube).

It’s obvious that Gaga and Watts possess different species of fame. However, I don’t think Gaga can be used as a synecdoche for celebrity culture as implied in your piece here.

Watts’ brand of performance is a clever mosaic of philosophy, music, humour, etc. It’s refreshing. Gaga uses pop music as a filter and lens on top of her core material. She’s definitely younger, and has much to develop, but I wouldn’t say she’s trapped in fame. I think she sees this scale as giving her the resources to simply add to her brand of performance – which sometimes involves massive lights, fashion, and volume, and other times only requires a piano, which is even more minimalist than Reggie Watts.

Anyway, cheers! I really look forward to reading more of your work and thoughts. (All three of you.)

Solomon: this is an awesome, well-argued comment—and super convincing. I wish I’d used a different performer in place of Lady Gaga.

A year and a half later… This holds up SO well.

My recent Reggie Watts encounters:

littleBits Video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDxz8bpqOMU

Budweiser Super Bowl Commercial – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKKVQLDYYcw

THIS! – http://boingboing.net/2014/02/06/reggie-watts-is-americas-alt.html

The snarkmatrix awaits you

Below, you can use basic HTML tags and/or Markdown syntax.