'Late Late Show' Bandleader Reggie Watts on Dual Role, 'Comedy Bang! Bang!' Influence

"I'm a combination of Andy Richter and Paul Shaffer in a way," says the musician-comedian.
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Reggie Watts

The Late Late Show's Reggie Watts already has experience as a bandleader — on a faux talk show, that is.

Watts has spent the past three years starring on Comedy Bang! Bang!, a podcast turned TV series on IFC that riffs on the traditional late-night talk show format, parodying everything from celebrity appearances to comedy sketches. In his loosely defined role on the latter, Watt's played the sidekick to creator Scott Aukerman, participated in sketches and crafted the show's original music, all of which have prepared him for his next act.

Comedy Bang! Bang! was the fake version of the real thing,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter of a gig that even taught him a bandleader's lingo, with terms including “play-in,” “play-off,” “transitions” and “bumpers.” He adds, "Though the thing I’m bringing to Late Late Show the most is my love of being silly in a context that’s kind of similar to what this show is."

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When James Corden’s team first approached him about a role on the British personality's forthcoming CBS show, Watts had been finishing his last batch of episodes for Bang! Bang!. At that time, he'd intended to take some time off to travel and work on some of his own creative video projects. Though that plan has since altered, Watts insists he’ll still be able to move forward with a version of it as his new commitment averages roughly four hours a day, significantly less time than he was putting into Bang! Bang!

Given Watts' range — he's opened for Conan O’Brien on his post-Tonight Show Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour, composed the theme music for Comedy Central’s Key and Peele and released five albums with his Seattle-based rock band Maktub — it's no surprise that Corden wanted more from his bandleader, much the way The Roots and Fred Armisen have become characters on The Tonight Show and Late Night, respectively. In addition to spearheading the music, Watts confirms that he'll be appearing in and pitching sketches.

Among his planned segments: “Question of the Day,” which will be similar to his recurring bit in Bang! Bang! where he ask guests a random (and almost always awkward) question. This time, however, the gag will take on a more serious, Weakest Link-style tone. Notes Watts of pitches like this one: “I’m really just donating ideas from what I would want to see as a viewer."

Having a dual role is something Corden was adamant about when he hired the Bang! Bang! vet. "James was like, 'This is your show, too, and we want you to contribute to everything creatively,'" recalls Watts, who says his Late Late Show house band will be "zany," "badass" and a bit like "the Muppet Show band." When asked where he'll fall on the spectrum of bandleaders, he suggests, "I’m a combination of Andy Richter and Paul Shaffer in a way." Since his new role won't be a big departure from past ones, he's hoping his fans will recognize him as the same guy —  just on a different show — when they tune in at 12:30 a.m.

Watts acknowledges that he was unsure about whether or not to take the job for some time, but says his decision became infinitely easier when he watched the CNN documentary series The Sixties. When he got to the part about the Smothers Brothers’ war with NBC over their variety show, he began to see how powerful the medium could be. “While the Late Late Show may not approach that level of heaviness,” he laughs, “I thought that if we made a sincere show — and had fun doing it — that it could actually alleviate some stress to whoever is watching.”

Watch Watts ask guests uncomfortable questions on Comedy Bang! Bang! to get a sense of what he'll bring to The Late Late Show:

Email: Bryn.Sandberg@THR.com
Twitter: @brynsandberg

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