The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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June 1, 2012

Joe Hadsall: Watts’ beatboxing talk not a stolen ripoff

JOPLIN, Mo. — A friend of mine sent me a video of Reggie Watts giving a Ted Talk that he said he was forced to admit he was amused.

Whoa, lots of background needed for that last sentence. Here’s the relevant bullet points:

  • I have friends, many of whom enjoy sending me random geeky things on my social networks. I love them all. The friends, not the geeky things.
  • Reggie Watts is a comedian. He has an impressive afro.
  • Ted Talks are a series of lectures published online under the tag, “Ideas worth spreading.” I’ve watched many Ted Talks and have never come away underwhelmed. Until Reggie Watts.

I know that Watts is a pretty funny comedian. Part urban, part obscure, Watts’ stuff is pretty intelligent. His Ted Talk, however, was a little too avant garde yet lackadasical. Randomly changing accents from British aristocrat to gangsta DJ, he babbled pseudo-scholar style and spoke circularly, as if mocking the intelligent people usually asked to give Ted Talks.

Then he used a looping device (geeky info: I think it was a Kaoss pad, but I never got a good look) and looped some beatboxing to make some full songs.

Don’t get me wrong: It sounded good. Watts is skilled with his voice. But I was underwhelmed, because Beardyman does it so much better.

What, more bullet points? Fine:

  • Beatboxing is the act of making drum and bass noises with your mouth. Biz Markie was one of the better ones in the ‘80s and ‘90s; others added bass lines and other sounds to make amazingly full songs from their mouth. (Geeky lesson: Want to get started beatboxing? It’s easy! Just say “boots, cats, boots, cats” over and over again.)
  • Looping is the art of making music by playing a phrase into a musical recorder, then letting the recorder repeat the phrase, allowing the musician to add another phrase, melody or other music. A Kaoss pad is a special kind of looper that allows a performer to add all kinds of crazy effects to whatever they record.
  • Beardyman is a beatboxer/looper whom I’ve written about several times in this column. Where Watts used one looper, Beardyman uses as many as five, a synthesizer and other electronic instruments to make his music. He has two main styles of show; a freestyle rave where he plays music for about 45 minutes non-stop, and a comedy/impromptu act where he takes audience suggestions and makes up full songs on the fly.

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