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
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
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