In 1986, Frank Zappa released Does Humor Belong in Music? -- a smarmy, unfunny collection of borscht belt comedy and "Look, Ma -- I can play!" chops that answered his postulation with a resounding no. Fortunately, James Dewees, the hyperactive and wonderfully deranged mastermind behind Reggie and the Full Effect, is blissfully ignorant of Zappa's record. Instead of being discouraged by the late guitar god's failings, he has made his own way in the musical-comedy genre, successfully creating a Parliament-Funkadelic-like musical universe in which genres, characters, and bands are interchanged freely.
"It's kind of like having a split personality," Dewees says understatedly while en route from Houston to Tampa. A case study containing all of his musical personas would run a psychology department's entire faculty ragged. Just the active ones are enough to keep Sigmund Freud and his mother busy. When Dewees isn't performing with Reggie and the Full Effect, he splits his time playing drums for hardcore act Coalesce and (more famously) stroking the keys for emo stalwarts the Get Up Kids. "When I do Coalesce, I go as nuts as the next person," he says. "Then I'm the spazzy guy in the Get Up Kids who jumps up and down. I already do those things in a band. I do Reggie to play something different."
Different it is. Started as a vehicle to perform tunes too silly for the Get Up Kids, Reggie and the Full Effect soon took on a life of its own. Its first record, 1999's Greatest Hits 1984-1987, intertwined dopey love songs, hilarious snippets of drunken guys carousing outside Get Up Kids' shows, and a manic synth rave-up called "My Dad-Happy Chickens."
2000's Promotional Copy further upped the ante. The opening track, "A.C. Lerok... Bitches Get Stitches," has Reggie getting shot in a drive-by à la the movie Colors. A menacing '80s-era hip-hop track lulls the listener into thinking a beat-down is going down. But instead, the rug gets pulled out. Two irresistible boy/girl weepy pop punk songs, "From Me 2 U" and "Congratulations Matt and Christine," dance down your ear canal as you curse the banana peel Reggie has left for you. The fourth track, "Something I'm Not," drops evilly molten guitar riffs and satanic screams for the first minute, until Dewees'/Reggie's sweet voice and analog keyboards jump in, creating a sweet/sour vibe that Helmet's Page Hamilton wishes he still had. While that's more diversity than 99 percent of what's in your local Best Buy, that's just the jumping-off point for Promotional Copy. The 11th track, "Gloves," introduces Fluxuation: a nu-romantic synth pop band-within-a-band that would fit right in on a Berlin /Psychedelic Furs bill. Fluxuation's fey Eurotrash stylings are done well enough to make Deiter touch his own monkey. But one band-within-a-band isn't enough. "If we didn't do all three, it wouldn't be the full effect!" Dewees explains. His third persona, a Finnish dark-metal band called Common Denominator, comes screaming out on track 14, "Dwarf Invasion." Without a doubt, it is the album's greatest triumph. Trying to deny the song's retarded charm ("You are very small /You can barely stand up to me/You can't play basketball! This is Dwarf Invasion!") is like denying the sky is blue.
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In the three-year interim between Promotional Copy and Reggie and the Full Effect's latest CD, Under the Tray, Dewees and his bandmates in the Get Up Kids became international emo-punk superstars. Now freed from the rigors of having to scratch out a living, Dewees spent his time on the tour bus thinking up new ways for Reggie to push the envelope. Under the Tray's descriptive packaging (the CD is attached to the bottom of the tray, giving the façade of an empty jewel box) has confounded countless reading-impaired punk kids. "We got lots of returns on Promotional Copy from people who didn't want some sort of promotional record," Dewees cackles. "So this was the next step." To promote the record, Reggie and the Full Effect made a video for the second track, "Congratulations Smack and Katy." The video's John Hughes-like treatment of Romeo and Juliet would be standard video fare -- if it weren't for the giant jar of peanut butter playing Romeo, a giant jar of jelly playing Juliet, and two slices of white bread portraying the jelly jar's disapproving parents. "I was driving down the L.A. freeway and thought, 'What if peanut butter and jelly fell in love?'" Dewees recalls. "This girl in the UCLA art department made the costumes. Getting into them was really bizarre. I was like, 'Look! I'm jelly!'"
Not content to leave the costumes on the video set, Reggie and the Full Effect are currently touring as a three-act musical spectacular. In addition to the main attraction, both Fluxuation and Common Denominator are on display in all their costumed glory, despite the efforts of thieves in Fort Worth, Texas, who recently ran off with the band's costume trunk after its gig there. "There was no backstage and the security guard was scooping chicks," Dewees laments. "I always think that's what they're doing. If you go to the Foot Locker in the mall and no one's behind the counter, you can always find the guy in the referee outfit by the food court looking at girls. I can't imagine why some kid would want a Fluxuation costume, but they did." Thankfully, the thieves didn't make off with Dewees' most prized possession, Common Denominator's sword. "I bought it at Medieval Times in Anaheim," Dewees crows. "There's a big pro sword shop there. You get to meet the knights. They have names like Ingmar. They're the true Scandinavian dudes. When they die, they go to the hall of their ancestors. They couldn't speak English. They drank vodka cranberries and told me, 'I love your television; eet's very cool.' Then they do the jousts and kick ass. It's an experience. I saw it all!"
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