Night of the hunter

Brian Boyd talks to Bri­tish-based US co­me­dian Regi­nald D Hunter, whose lib­eral-bait­ing rou­tines on race is­sues have led to him be­ing la­belled “the black Bernard Man­ning”. Now he’s bring­ing his equally un-PC new show to the Cat Laughs com­edy fes­ti­val in Ki

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Comedy -

AT last year’s Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val, Bri­tish-based Amer­i­can co­me­dian Regi­nald D Hunter en­joyed a very suc­cess­ful four­week run with his show, gar­ner­ing good re­views and plenty ofword-of­mouth rec­om­men­da­tions. Ed­in­burgh had al­ways been a happy hunt­ing ground for Hunter see­ing as he has been nom­i­nated three times for the Per­rier com­edy award.

The prob­lems with his show only be­gan when he took it down to Lon­don later in the year for a three-week run. The same pa­pers that had glow­ingly re­viewed the ex­act same show re­fused to take paid ad­ver- tise­ments for it, and he was hav­ing a lot of dif­fi­culty at­tract­ing any sort of at­ten­tion to his pro­jected three-week run. The worst was when Lon­don Un­der­ground point blank re­fused to put up any posters ad­ver­tis­ing the show. How could things change so quickly? Hunter blames “pseudo-lib­er­al­ism” for the change. In the free-flow­ing creative at­mos­phere of Ed­in­burgh, his show’s ti­tle, Pride and Prej­u­dice and Nig­gas, hadn’t caused any prob­lems, but in Lon­don, the me­dia wouldn’t touch a show with that name.

“It passed with­out in­ci­dent for a whole month in Ed­in­burgh, then I get this sort of ban in Lon­don,” says Hunter. “You know, there are a lot of sound­bites made about racist lan­guage and a lot of plat­i­tudes also. What the me­dia likes to rep­re­sent is a nar­row and shal­low ver­sion of how hu­man be­ings talk and act, but I be­lieve our views are much more com­plex than that. Peo­ple should not of­fend each other, but we do it all the time – whether it be in­ad­ver­tently or in­ten­tion­ally. I find this lib­eral at­ti­tude about not be­ing able to say or use cer­tain words trou­bling. There is a great lie about racism and that is that any group can say ‘but you haven’t hurt like my peo­ple have hurt’, whether that be Jewish pain or Black pain. It was th­ese very is­sues I wanted to ad­dress – and I wasn’t go­ing to change the name of my show just to suit some other per­son’s idea of what word is or is not ac­cept­able to them. There seems to be this de­vo­tion to what the word used to mean. I’m not say­ing it’s a beau­ti­ful word by any means, but to deny its ex­is­tence is a pre­tence. Call it what it is and then move on.” What, though, if a white comic had used that show ti­tle? “If that hap­pened that would be a show I would re­ally want to see – my cu­rios­ity would be aroused.”

It’s not that Hunter goes out of his way to up­set or of­fend, it’s just that some of his ma­te­rial deals with how some white peo­ple are un­com­fort­able with some black peo­ple or some as­pects of black life.

He speaks calmly and in­tel­li­gently about the race is­sue and does not be­lieve in par­rot­ing or­tho­dox­ies about race re­la­tions. Not ev­ery­one sees it this way, though, and one reviewer re­ferred to him as “the black Bernard Man­ning”.

“I laughed when I heard that,” he says. “I wanted to use that on my posters, but my pro­mot­ers didn’t want me to. They said they didn’t want Bernard Man­ninglov­ing peo­ple com­ing to my show. I didn’t en­joy the com­ment. I hate to make an as­sess­ment based on just one ar­ti­cle I read by that reviewer, but I don’t think he’s a very con­sid­ered per­son – but that’s no rea­son for him not to talk.”

Orig­i­nally from a rural area in Ge­or­gia, Hunter went to the UK to study at the pres­ti­gious Rada act­ing school. “I re­mem­ber do­ing the au­di­tion for Rada in New York and that night go­ing to see my first-ever live com­edy show,” he says. “The comics weren’t very good and I thought it looked easy – how wrong I was. Af­ter Rada I ended up work­ing in pan­tomime and it was then that I thought back again to that club in New York and de­cided to give this a try.”

Hunter’s mus­ings on race, class, re­la­tion­ships and pol­i­tics are al­ways de­liv­ered in an al­most lugubri­ous man­ner – not some­thing you usu­ally as­so­ci­ate with co­me­di­ans. It sort of lends a “wise man” as­pect to his per­for­mance. “There’s noth­ing stud­ied about that,” he says. “Com­ing from a rural area, that’s the waywe talk. It’s just a slower speech pat­tern.”

Def­i­nitely one of the top acts at this year’s Cat Laughs com­edy fes­ti­val in Kilkenny, Hunter will be pre­view­ing ma­te­rial from his new Ed­in­burgh show. What’s your show called this year? “I’ve sort of used a ti­tle which re­flects what hap­pened to me over last year’s ti­tle,” he says. “It’s go­ing to be called Fuck You And The Age Of Con­se­quence.”

Lis­ten with­out prej­u­dice: Regi­nald D Hunter

Queen of our laughs:

Maeve Hig­gins

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