Madison Gallup ’18 / Emertainment Monthly TV Editor
Emertainment Monthly, as an extension of Emerson College, believes in bringing innovation to communication and the arts. As an entertainment journalism publication, we feel that we have an obligation to highlight when innovation, diversity, and inclusion are brought to the entertainment industry by Emerson alumni.
“And if you suppose your speech is normal, it’s ‘cause your impediment is listening.”
These are some of the particularly powerful words from George Watsky’s spoken word poem “S for Lisp,” which echoed around the Cutler Majestic Theater where the 2010 Collegiate National Poetry Slam Finals were held. The video Watsky uploaded to YouTube of this performance has over 2.5 million views. Watsky, an Emerson alum, was happy to share his insights about his alma mater, his music, and his future creative plans with Emertainment Monthly.
Many of his followers came to know Watsky from a video he posted titled “Pale Kid Raps Fast,” though it has since been removed from his channel because it barely scratches the surface of where Watsky’s talents truly lie.
It isn’t always easy to hear what Watsky is actually rapping about at the speed he is capable of speaking, and his lyrics deserve to be heard by anyone listening. They can be poignant, hilarious, inspiring, or all of these at once. Watsky’s experience attending Emerson in Boston played a large role in shaping the 29-year-old rapper from San Francisco into the performer he is today.
“I found Emerson through a Google search of art schools in Boston. I knewI wanted to study performing and writing and I knew I wanted to be in Boston, and when I found Emerson, it was the perfect school. I applied early action– Emerson was the only college I applied to.”
Fortunately, Emerson thought George Watsky was pretty great too. He was accepted into the class of 2010, and he wasted no time in taking full advantage of the many clubs and organizations offered at Emerson. He even helped to create a new group during his time there called the Random Arts Delegation (RAD), an organization that is no longer around. He describes RAD as “a collective of artists who put on multidisciplinary scripted shows in the cabaret.”
But the organization that most affected Watsky was NewFest–a group of students interested in theater and playwriting that produce a student-written play each year.
“I was involved in NewFest for three years, first on the crew, then in the workshop, and finally as the playwright my junior year,” Watsky said of his time in the organization.
Watsky could also be found participating in the Emerson Poetry Slam team, performing with Emerson Stage (he had a small part in their production of Much Ado About Nothing), hosting different radio shows on WECB and WERS, pitching at the Austin Film Festival in a competition run by Jim Macak, and playing hockey with his friends as a part of the underground hockey league they ran on the frozen pond in the Boston Commons called the Midnight Hockey League (MHL).
Even balancing all these various activities and groups, Watsky still found the time to make some memories in Allston. When asked if there was something he learned while at Emerson that shaped one of his songs or poems, he responded, “My weekend experiences in Allston probably crept into my song lyrics more than my actual classes. No further comment.”
That being said, Watsky knows his classes left an impact on him too.
“Almost every class I took at Emerson has had some kind of relevance to my career. The screenwriting and playwriting classes have turned me into a better and more flexible writer, and the acting classes taught me to be a more engaged and present performer.”
Watsky entered Emerson as a BA Acting major, but “switched into interdisciplinary studies writing/acting at the suggestion of [his] advisor Ken Cheeseman and under the wing of Andrew Clarke.”
He says, “[Switching majors] was the best decision I ever made at Emerson and allowed me to gear my classes towards the type of work I wanted to be doing.”
Some of Watsky’s favorite classes he took at Emerson include TV Comedy Writing with Martie Cook (“It’s hard to beat writing a Futurama episode as a final project”), Playwriting with Andrew Clarke, Stage Combat with Ted Hewlett, and Dialects with Amelia Broome, though he says he could list ten classes because of all the great professors he had.
When Watsky graduated, he went to LA to begin writing and auditioning in the hopes of making it as a screenwriter or an actor. He always had a passion for music, but viewed it as “the biggest pipe dream” of all his aspirations.
“When I first became a music fan, the internet hadn’t yet opened up all these avenues for non-traditional artists to build careers. When my music took off, I really tried to grab hold for dear life since that world places more of a premium on getting started young than dramatic writing. I definitely plan to go back to other types of writing at some point.”
When asked what advice he would give to people looking to work in the digital media realm or the music business, Watsky says to “stay adaptable.” Even though this is advice he has a difficult time following at times, he knows a flexible attitude is important for a world that will continue “evolving rapidly.”
“I’m a reluctant adopter of new platforms, generally dislike posting on social media, don’t like doing branded content, and my tastes don’t often match up with the super-short-form content that’s crucial these days. My stubbornness has closed off certain opportunities for me and I would encourage people to learn from my shortcomings and stay flexible as the world morphs around us.”
Watsky’s latest album is called All You Can Do, and he worked with some very talented people (including some fellow Emersonians) to create music videos for seven of his songs. When asked if there was a song he wanted to make a video for, but hadn’t gotten the chance to, Watsky replied that he wished he could have made a video for every song.
“I love the music-video-making process and I hemorrhage all my savings on shoots. I wrote treatments for ‘Tears to Diamonds,’ ‘The One,’ and ‘Boomerang,’ but by the time I could have shot those videos, my album tour was over and I decided to save my time and resources for new material.”
Recently, Watsky moved to New York City for a change of scene. While he has not yet had the chance to work with his dream collaborator, Paul McCartney (“If Ri Ri could make it happen, maybe there’s hope for the rest of us”), Watsky was invited by Lin-Manuel Miranda to be a part of the “Ham4Ham” show before a performance of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton.
When asked if the show had inspired him to explore a more theatrical format for his own music, Watsky said he doesn’t see himself going in that direction.
“I love theater and I love music, but at least at this phase in my life, trying to conceive and mount a big Broadway show isn’t in my plans. Lin-Manuel Miranda, in addition to being a hip hop head, grew up as a Broadway musical-phile, which, to be honest, I’m not. I loved Hamilton, I loved Book of Mormon, I loved West Side Story–I have an appreciation for the craft of the genre, but to do a show like that right, I think the author has to truly love the form and throw themselves into the creative process with passion, commitment, and belief. Hamilton took Lin seven years from conception to Broadway. It is the ultimate slow payoff and I have too many other forms I want to try to tackle first.”
We are looking forward to these new forms Watsky will be tackling in the coming months. In fact, this June, be sure to look out for How to Ruin Everything, a book of essays Watsky is publishing through Plume/Penguin Random House. This book will be closely followed by a new album in the summer “and plenty of videos with it.”
Whether Watsky goes on to compose with Paul McCartney, write more books, direct more music videos, or become involved in some platform not yet invented, look forward to the exciting journey ahead for this Emersonian.