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:
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.