Reggie Watts is keeping very busy this year. In addition to his gig on The Late Late Show with James Corden, Watts recently kicked off his latest project hosting Comedy Central’s new series Taskmaster, which premiered just a few weeks ago and currently airs on Friday nights. Based on Alex Horne’s hit British game show of the same name, the half-hour series puts Watts in charge of judging how season 1’s five contestants – Kate Berlant, Lisa Lampanelli, Ron Funches, Freddie Highmore, and Dillon Francis – as they compete against each other “in a series of stupefying tasks.” I recently spoke with Watts about what it’s like working on Taskmaster, working out, how to get rid of the “little gremlins” inside your head, and, in the spirit of Mother’s Day, why it’s important for him to return home every month and spend time with his mom.
How’s 2018 been treating you so far?
It’s been good! It’s a lot of evolution and growth, and hopefully it will continue that way in a positive way.
So let’s talk about Taskmaster, which is a very silly show. For those who haven’t seen the original British version, how would you explain the show?
It’s a task-based light competition show that highlights well-known people’s more natural selves. I’m the “Taskmaster” – I’m the person who’s kind of judging how these individuals, the five contestants if you will, perform the same tasks separately. So they don’t know how each other dealt with a series of tasks per episode, and then we all review the footage together onstage, and then I kind of judge who executed the task best. There are no rules, really, at all, other than the task, and I just kind of grade on whatever I feel in the moment. So it’s pretty fun.
Do you enjoy judging people?
You know, I judge things a lot. I judge people, but I don’t necessarily judge what’s funny. I do like to judge, but at the same time, I also know that that’s not the full person, you know what I mean? So sometimes it makes it hard for me, in real time, to judge some things. It’s like “Well, this person’s got these qualities and this quality, so it’s hard to judge!” But in the case of this show, it was actually pretty easy because it’s all fun, it’s all lighthearted, and no one’s going to get angry because they weren’t chosen over somebody else. So that made it a little bit easier.
Were you fan of the original British show? I’m curious how you got involved in this new incarnation.
Yeah, I didn’t really know anything about it until it was offered to me, but I knew [creator] Alex Horne from the Melbourne Comedy Festival because we hung out together. So I had a huge respect for him and I think he’s just a brilliant, brillant man and just really funny at what he does, and so I heard about it and I got the clips, and that’s when it convinced me. I was like “Yeah, this is awesome, I love it.”
He brings a very dry, faux-pissed-off quality to the show that makes an interesting match with the personality you bring to the show.
For sure! Because he’s a very silly Brit. He uses very, very dry humor, and he’s just a master at that. It was fun not just to play off of him, but to learn to play off of him.
Did you have any input in the competitors who were chosen?
I suggested a handful of people – Ron Funches was one and Kate Berlant was another – and the others were brought in by Comedy Central, and they made a lot of sense and I dug who they chose. I knew most of them except for Lisa Lampanelli and Dillon Francis. Freddie Highmore I had met through The Late Late Show.
Ron Funches I love to watch do pretty much anything. He’s got a great laugh.
Yeah, I know. He’s the most delightful. [laughs]
The British version of Taskmaster has over 30 episodes now. Is this a show you can see yourself doing for more seasons?
Yeah, I can definitely see myself doing more of these. It was so much fun to do. It’s very in-the-moment, which is how I like to work, and the tasks are ridiculous. It’s just a bunch of absurdity, and doing it, I almost felt like this is a show I would’ve made for myself. So yeah, I definitely love to be a part of it.
Do you like being a host and overseeing things the way you do in this show?
Yes – I mean, to an extent. I mean, I didn’t really have that much to do with it in so far as what a host does, but in that position with cameras rolling, yeah, it was really, really fun. I love the idea of setting the tone – that definitely is an area that I thrive in.
Not related to Taskmaster, but can I ask you some questions about Instagram?
I’ve been following you on Instagram for a long time now, and there’s a few things I’ve always wanted to know. First, it seems like you have a complicated relationship with Instagram especially since they’re owned by Facebook. Do you think the good outweighs the bad?
I think so. I mean, ultimately it’s all up to who you follow and what you post and how you manage that. There’s definitely things that get in the way, though. Facebook has a way of just fucking stuff up, and there are definitely things they’ve done to the format – making it non-chronological and now “top comments,” which doesn’t make any sense at all – and basically they feel like a company that has extreme ADHD and they just can’t leave well enough alone. So that sucks, but I think content-wise, when you get beyond those things, yeah, the good outweighs for sure.
I also wanted to just ask you about your decision to start working out regularly. A while back there was a day where you started posting photos of yourself working out and lifting, and then those posts became really consistent, and now, you can see a really big transformation going back through these photos. Just as someone who follows the Instagram posts, it seems like working out has brought you a lot of joy and changed your life in a few ways.
Yeah, for sure. I mean in a way I’m still learning about it. It’s about creating consistency and making it a part of your lifestyle instead of it being like “And now I’m going to go to the gym!” and it’s kind of like this extra part, this thing that you’re adding to your life, you know? It’s really about “No, this is my lifestyle – I go to the gym. I go to the gym to work out, I go on hikes twice a week” – whatever it is, like brushing your teeth or whatever, you just kind of incorporate it that way. So that’s really the secret to maintaining that – you just have to absorb it as part of who you are.
That sounds easier said than done though.
📹 @jorgen.de.meyA post shared by Reggie Watts (@reggiewatts) on Feb 1, 2018 at 12:42pm PST
I mean, it just makes it sound so pretty and simple. Maybe it is though?
I mean, it is that simple! My trainer always says “It’s not easy, it’s simple.” And that’s true. I mean, most of the things we know that we should be doing to improve our lives or improve ourselves are pretty simple solutions and you just need to do it, but we tend to complicate it by throwing a bunch of obstacles in front of ourselves: “Well, I got a busy schedule and I never know where I’m gonna be!” or “I’ve got kids!” or “I’ve got a dog!” – you know, whatever it is, there’s always some excuse. The thing I’ve learned is that my biggest struggle is with food, and I can always rationalize it like “Well you’ve been working out for a while. You can eat like two cheeseburgers!” And every once in a while – everything in moderation, of course. You can’t not have fun and love living life, but you do need to get rid of those little gremlins and bad-advice versions of yourself inside of your head and just be like “I don’t need this anymore, it’s just complicating things.”
Just as someone who has followed your work and watched you perform a lot, I’ve always seen you as having this very cosmically wise, advice-giver quality that’s very comforting, but at the same time, we’re all human right? We all have struggles, we all mess up. What are the things that are still a challenge for you?
Yeah, yeah. Food’s a tough one. [laughs]
Food is fun.
Food is fun and it’s awesome, but you know. It’s funny – even if there’s like a bottle of ketchup or something on a table, I feel like what it must feel like to be an addict, where any hint of something that could divert you to bad behavior immediately creates this sense of dread. So if I see a bowl full of snacks at a studio like that I’m like “Ooooohh…don’t – don’t fall for it!” I’m such a wimp, really.
The other thing about your Instagram – and Mother’s Day is coming up, so this feels right to bring up – is that I love, love, love whenever you post pictures of your mom and when you go home to visit her. She seems like a fascinating woman, so in the spirit of the holiday, would you mind telling me a little bit about her?
She’s super cool and she’s from France, and she was just really generous with me growing up and had a very supportive outlook for me and my interests and made sure that she was protecting me. She was a very good protector and also a supporter at the same time, which is so crucial when it comes to parenting. I don’t know if I’ll ever have children, but I definitely recommend whatever she did for me to any parent, because she’s awesome. And she’s a character – she’s very much who she is, and she’s also a fighter and stands up for her rights and makes sure that people know not to mess with her. She’s a little old-school in that way. [laughs] She’s got a really good heart and is always looking out to create fairness for other people in their lives. And she’s also very generous, giving, very compassionate. So she’s a pretty amazing person.
It seems like you really make an effort to go back home to Montana a lot and spend time with her too.
I go back there a lot. I’m still trying to figure out how spend more time there, but I try to go back once a month, is the goal. But yeah, I try to spend as much time with her as I can. She’s getting older and she lives by herself, and I try to make sure she has people who are looking in on her and that life is easier and that the house is safe, stuff like that. I’m trying, from afar and as much as possible. She comes out here sometimes – she’s been out once, but I’m trying to get her to come out again, but her health makes it harder for her to travel.
Well she’s lucky to have you.
[laughs] Ah well, I’m lucky to have her. She’s so cool.
Bye greatest Maman in the world!!!♥️♥️♥️A post shared by Reggie Watts (@reggiewatts) on Apr 5, 2018 at 3:55pm PDT
Taskmaster airs on Comedy Central Friday nights at 11:00pm.