Reggie Watts is perhaps the most successful entertainer to ever come out of Great Falls. He’s a comedian, musician, beatboxer and actor. But later this month, he’ll add “author” to his list of titles when he publishes his first book.
The title? Great Falls, MT: Fast Times, Post-Punk Weirdos and a Tale of Coming Home Again (link). Watts calls it his love letter to his hometown.
Watts will perform at the Newberry in Great Falls on October 27th (details) in support of his new book. Reporter Tom Wylie talked with the former bandleader of 'The Late Late Show with James Corden" to talk about his book, life growing up in Great Falls, and his plans to bring more opportunities in the arts to the Electric City.
Below is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity.
MTN NEWS: Reggie, you could have called your book anything. But you chose to call it Great Falls, MT. Why is that?
REGGIE WATTS: “Because that's what it centers around. Most of it's about my time growing up there. So, I just thought it was such a great title. And I like I like the name Great Falls is such a dope name. There’s a couple other “Great Falls” in the United States, but I think that the Montana is the real one.”
MTN NEWS: Has this been in the works for a long time? And describe the process, did you take some time to write everytjhing down or is it something you’ve been working on over the years? Tell us about the process.
RW: “I wasn't really planning on writing a book ever, I guess, because I don't really read books and I'm more of a researcher guy. I just like to research a lot of science. But then my management kind of suggested you should consider doing a book. I always wanted to write about my time in high school, as a TV show. And they told me one of the best ways to do that is to write an autobiography. And that increases your chances of someone understanding what the hell you want to talk about. And so so that became interesting to me. And then I thought, well, it's about my life. And I remember most of it, so why not write it down?”
MTN NEWS: I'm sure there was some plundering through the depths of your subconscious to pull some of these stories out, right? Was it kind of cathartic in a way to think back and put some of these memories down on paper?
RW: I love thinking about some of those things, and one thing would trigger another thing. And the more I thought about it or having conversations with people that I knew growing up or talking to my mom about stories and getting her remembrances as well it all kind of started to fill in a little bit more. It was fun to go there and remember it just like tiny little moments and things that pop in there as I was writing about something else.”
MTN NEWS: You’re a fun, positive, entertaining guy so I imagine the book will be that way as well. But I was reading the description and it says ‘this is a love letter to the town that made him, but like love itself it’s messy and complicated and dirty and beautiful’. What were some of the difficult parts about growing up in Great Falls?
RW: “Great Falls has always been a place that has some disparity to it. There's like a lot of people that are having a hard time there. Not everybody is making it. I mean, it looks good. If you roll through town it looks pretty good and people take care of their lawns for the most part. But there's definitely more run-down areas, where people have other priorities. They're in survival mode. In the context of living there, you know that some kids are living trailer parks and some kids parents don’t make a lot of money or there's like problems with drugs or there's problems with anger management you know, things of that nature. It's it's a town that's always been a mixed bag. You kind of have like all the social classes are there and but in general, it has kind of a pragmatic working class town vibe to it. So, I remember running into kids who weren't very happy, kids that never wanted to show anybody their home. There's always been like a harder edge with people processing stuff. But that was all a part of the town. I mean, I'm glad that I was like that because I have a better, bigger perspective on what it's like to be human because of it.”
MTN NEWS: In the past you’ve mentioned to us that you want to give back to Great Falls. Whether it’s something like speaking at Great Falls High or bringing in artists and musicians from LA to show kids what’s possible out there. Is that still a goal? To give kids with similar backgrounds some of the same opportunities you had or that you wish you had?
RW: “I feel lucky because growing up at the time that I did, the school systems were so well-funded that we could do whatever the hell we wanted to do. Every kid could be in three or four different extracurricular things if you wanted to. So I feel like I came a time of abundance. But I know that that's that's decreased quite a bit in the last many decades. And so that's what gets me excited about giving back. I’d love to expose some kids in high school and junior high to some possibilities that they might want to consider pursuing when they graduate or even start to study while they're in school. Just to give more possibilities to kids to show them what it's like and what's possible out there in the art world. And so that is a big thing for me. I like to encourage kids to pursue science and art. And that's my major thing because we had great science programs and great art programs when I was growing up. So I want to continue that.”
MTN NEWS: And maybe the show or the book could be a springboard for some of those opportunities?
RW: “That's kind of the hope. Yeah, I really do hope that and I've been dreaming about that. I just had a meeting with some fellow Great Falls kids that made good. They teach at Pepperdine University and they still have a house outside Cascade. They want to create an artist retreat and I'm on an advisory board for it. It’s cool that other people are all about it, it's not just me. It's like there's some other people who grow up here that also want to bring in the arts and things like that. So it’s great. That’s what I hope.”
MTN NEWS: I know you’ve mentioned that if the show ever does happen, you’d like to film it here?
RW: I hope that I get to make the show. And based off of "Yellowstone" (TV show), I know that people were not happy with Yellowstone. Like all the Bozemanites were very kind of bummed about it. And I get it because it definitely boosted home prices and all that stuff and made it harder in many ways for people there. So if I do film in Great Falls and it makes sense, then I want to make sure that it works with the community, I want to have the community involved. So it doesn't feel like this bum rush of Hollywood you know? I don't want that at all.”
MTN NEWS: Let’s talk about your tour a little bit. It’s cool to look at the dates and venues. You have Seattle, New York, Boston, Chicago and there’s shows in Bozeman, Missoula and Great Falls to end it. Obviously the “Great Falls, Montana” tour kind of had to end in Great Falls right?
RW: “It had to. 100%. I'm so glad they did that. I didn't instruct them to do that, but I'm so glad I have booking agents like that because Great Falls has class, you know.”
MTN NEWS: You performed at the Newberry in December and I know that was the first time in a while you’ve had a hometown show in an actual venue like that. Was that a good experience?
RW: “We didn't have a venue for a really long time that could host comedy and music. And so the Newberry is very unique in that. And I'm so glad we finally got a place because I think before that I was at the 406 Club before that shut down. But I’m grateful for the Newberry they treat everybody really well.”
MTN NEWS: Your show is usually so improvisational. But with a new book, will there be some more directed material about Great Falls?
RW: “There'll be a little bit for sure. But I kind of focused on Great Falls in the book so I'm not like planning on making the show all about that though. There will definitely be some Great Falls moments. But then I'll just also just be playing off of what I'm feeling in that moment.”
MTN NEWS: Okay, rapid fire question time. What’s your favorite Montana city that’s not Great Falls?
RW: “The Lake Five Resort community in West Glacier, it’s something like 40 miles away from Glacier and I love it. Favorite larger city is Missoula. That’s an obvious answer for me.”
MTN NEWS: Favorite national park?
RW: "Glacier of course, even though there's no glaciers anymore."
MTN NEWS: Favorite restaurant in Great Falls?
RW: "I'd have to say Fifth and wine. They have great cheese. Zandy’s is no more. Ford’s has a really good hamburger and best coffee is Al Banco."
MTN NEWS: Favorite landmark in Great Falls?
RW: “It used to be the Stack, before they messed that up. I guess I like downtown, I like the Civic Center. I just love the architecture it’s so beautiful.”
MTN NEWS: Favorite hidden gem in Great Falls?
RW: “I’m an Al Banco head, just because that coffee is ridiculous. I live in Los Angeles and I travel around the world and have coffee in Berlin and New York and it’s completely on par, it’s insane. I like that they’re teaching Montanans about coffee. They’re not asking how many syrup pumps. It’s not a milkshake, it’s coffee. I also love Cassiopeia Books. I just like independent bookstores so I would say that’s a great place to spend time.”
MTN NEWS: Favorite high school mascot?
RW: “The GFH Bison is all I really know, the Mighty Bison. We had the Rams at East. But I like the Bison, the Bison is cool. It’s big, burly and no one knows what a Rustler was. I guess it’s a cowboy but it could be a bunch of things, like someone who’s really good at potatoes. My mom’s favorite burger was a Bison burger, so I like the Bison.”
MTN NEWS: Favorite Montana musician and/or celebrity?
RW: “I’d have to say Charley Pride, he lived in Great Falls for a bit so I’ll take it. He was a huge influence on country music. There are hardly any black musicians in the country scene so that was pretty cool. And then David Lynch, he’s got some Montana association. If that’s true, then David Lynch.
MTN NEWS: Did you have a favorite teacher growing up?
RW: “Yeah, there were two of them. Linda Lydiard who was had the head of all the orchestras in town. I was with her from Chief Joseph, to East Middle School and Great Falls High and sometimes we were really like fighting with each other. But she did believe in me and I have to give her a ton of respect for her patience and her ability to tolerate. So huge, huge hats off to her. And then Mrs. Steel from the drama department at Great Falls. Because she just allowed me to be who I am, and she saw that I love to improvise, and she let me do my own thing and never interfere. And she was always looking for cool stuff for me to do. So I have to give it up to her, too, because it's basically those two things that I used in my career.”
MTN NEWS: What would you tell the folks in Great Falls who might be considering picking up a book or going to a the show?
RW: “Give it a read and see if it resonates. There’s something in there for everybody, it’s definitely about my crew at that time. But I know a lot of crews in small towns we all kind of did similar things. And so I hope that they'll find it interesting to see another person's perspective that grew up here in a nontraditional way. But in a way, maybe it was traditional. I just hope the people will pick it up, find it fun and check out some of the bands. And then listen to me do whatever I'm doing when I'm on tour.”