08 May 2014

Reginald D. Hunter

Reginald D. Hunter
Hannah Playhouse
8 May 2014

Having read this review of Reginald D. Hunter's stand-up act just before leaving the house to attend his Wellington, I was rather worried that a large portion of his tour material would be excruciatingly awkward to listen to. Not to mention the fact that I was sitting in the front row, only five metres from his microphone stand - that had me doubly worried.

I needn't have gotten myself worked up. The American comedian, long resident and well-known in Britain, is a clever practitioner who knows which buttons to press in his 'liberal, white, uptight' audiences to get a reaction, but I don't think he is as reactionary or misogynistic as some critics claim he is. Whether it is a valid way to make a living to press people's buttons on sensitive topics to see what offends them - well, you'd have to ask someone who was offended by his sallies. Hunter is careful to lay the philosophical groundwork to refute in advance the accusations that he, for example, hates women. His material on the Oscar Pistorius trial is close to the bone but hilarious, and his stories of life in Britain and on his relationship with his family in Georgia are effortlessly appealing. His bemusement at the overheated furore over the resignation of Shane Jones was charming, as was his quip that the constant enquiries he had received about whether he liked New Zealand was like being in a relationship with a beautiful woman with deep insecurities. And, fortunately, he doesn't try to humiliate the front row for cheap laughs.

However, the most challenging section of the performance addresses the issue of rape, which sounds like a terrible idea for a stand-up routine. And perhaps it is, despite the skill with which Hunter discusses the societal responsibility to deal with the problem, and the conviction with which he reinforces the point he's trying to make with his narrative. The story he tells doesn't set up for a great punch-line - it's more like the audience is relieved to be getting out of that uncomfortable territory relatively unscathed. It's puzzling why he would choose to make this topic an important part of his act, but I can only wonder if it's both a test of his professionalism - the hardest act to sell in stand-up comedy - and also of his acting ability. Hunter trained with RADA when he was younger, and in the more heartfelt and serious moments I did wonder how much of the gravitas and emphasis was pure stagecraft. That said, Hunter seems like a genuine guy - just one who enjoys the intellectual exercise of stitching together an act out of the unlikeliest of material, that would stump a lesser performer.

Here he is on top form on Live at the Apollo in 2012, discussing patriotism, racism, internet trolls and Margaret Thatcher. It's more or less PG-13 material, with the usual NSFW language.

See also:
Comedy: Josie Long, 6 May 2013
Comedy: David O'Doherty, 5 May 2012
Comedy: Steve Coogan / Ed Byrne, 17 May 2009
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