Interview: Reginald D. Hunter

I hate to say it – but if we wanna win, our side is gonna have to learn how to cheat fair and square.

Bringing his new politically-charged show to the Crucible Studio this month, Reginald D. Hunter talks British humour, what it’s like being American in the aftermath of the Trump election and how you just can’t escape from what you’ve said on the internet.

Your new tour is called ‘Some people V Reginald D. Hunter’. Where did the name come from?
The original inspiration came from ‘The People V OJ Simpson’, which I personally believe is a representation of a new beginning in America’s current troubles, with the election and all the issues with race relations. It set off a powder keg we are now dealing with. It was that, along with personal battles, particularly on social media and to some degree family or ex-lovers. I originally put ‘The People’ and realised that might be a bit pretentious; some days it might have felt like all the people, but I know it’s just some.

Talking of all the recent developments in America, can we expect that to form much of the basis of your new show?
Yes man, and thank you for finally understanding! I keep getting asked what the show is going to be about this time, like there hasn’t just been this crazy election. It’s like all of a sudden January 30th never happened. With this new administration there is something to talk about literally every day. As an American, everywhere I go people ask me what the fuck’s wrong with my president – like I am accountable!

Does it concern you?
I have days it worries me. I like the way the people are starting to talk and mobilise, and yeah, I think it’s going down between two parties in America, but not the political parties. It’s a populist time, between the progressives and authoritarians. At the moment, if you look at countries like France, Germany and here, the authoritarians are winning. You know why? Because essentially they cheated fair and square. I hate to say it but if we wanna win, our side is gonna have to learn how to cheat fair and square.

When you write new material, do you ever get worried about it being controversial or do you just accept there is always a chance someone will be offended?
I’ll tell you the truth. I’m 47 and I’m at the point when you look back and realise you have to give an account for everything that you say, whether that’s comedy, or to kids, or to a random person, or an employee. The problem with the internet is everything you’ve ever said publicly is there, like a fart that won’t disperse in a room your dad farted in back in 1986. You just don’t go into it and let it be.

With your comedy routines often containing socially and politically-charged content, did you feel it was natural to move into making a show like Songs of the South?
Oh, that was hard. Songs of the South was so fucking hard. I ain’t trying to big it up or nothing like that, but it forced me to go to areas where I knew real rednecks were at. I was raised not to go into those places and then all of a sudden the BBC are paying me to go into the heart of it! It was one of those experiences I was kinda forced into, but needed to have to evolve, and I am grateful for it now. But at first my agent had to pull me to one side and really convince me.

So the idea originated from the BBC then?
Actually, it was this production company that specialised in doing music documentaries and the owner liked some of my jokes. So they were like: “Hey, what if we put this southern dude with this southern music we’re talking about?” I only agreed to take the meeting as I take a lot of meetings for things I don’t think will come off. So I was thinking it would lead nowhere, and then – shit! The show was happening. Leave it to British people to teach me something about my own home!

Have you always wanted to do standup?
Well, I grew up in the Deep South surrounded by a lot of angry poor working class Americans and angry overeducated black women. Sometimes the easiest way to get away from a punch, without throwing a punch, was making people laugh. There was a lot of anger around and I didn’t want to get caught up in that.

How was your first standup show?
It went pretty good. If the first one didn’t go as well as it did I probably wouldn’t be doing this now – it wasn’t my dream to do it or anything. The audience knew I was a first-timer and were kind of on my side. I enjoyed it, and it was the first time I was good at something legal! For a long time I didn’t work in the States, as Americans found me odd.

Do you find it is a different humour in the UK?
British humour is much more self-deprecating, whereas American humour is much more about others, they deprecate other people. I would say British stand-up is a mixture of high ego and low self-esteem. It’s like: “Everyone look at me! I’m a bit of a twat. I don’t like myself.”

Has anywhere been particularly difficult to perform?
I did American military for a period, and yeah that could be stressful. Sometimes you would be talking about shit in the American government, with a few right-wing people in military uniforms staring back at you.

Do you often deal with hecklers?
Every day of my life, even before stand-up! My momma used to say: “N***as and bitches always got something to say” [laughs]. I deal with plenty of hecklers, I like a good heckle. I don’t like drunken heckles, though, because they never make sense, so I usually just give them a wisecrack then call security.

And finally, do you think the reason you sometimes attract controversy is because your jokes are misunderstood?
As my momma used to say: “It is one thing to misunderstand and one thing to go out your way to misunderstand.” It seems like a lot of people go out their way to misunderstand, that’s what I’m saying.

Catch Reginald D. Hunter at The Crucible Studio Theatre Sheffield on March 17, and at Buxton Opera House on May 27. For more information head to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

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