We catch up with comedian Reginald D Hunter ahead of his stand-up show at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking…
The acclaimed comedian Reginald D Hunter has recently been on an epic road trip from North Carolina to New Orleans documenting the 150-year history of American popular song for a new three-part BBC2 series entitled Reginald D Hunter’s Songs of the South. In New Orleans, he got to interview the blues legend Dr John.
Reginald takes up the story. ‘Dr John asked me, “What do you do?” I told him I was a stand-up, and he replied, “So you’re a kicks man. It’s a very important job, providing kicks for people.” Is “kicks man” how I’d describe myself? It is now! I am hereby christened A Man of Kicks.’
Man of Kicks is a very good title for a comedian who has been furnishing British audiences with thrills for nearly two decades now. During that time, Reginald has become one of the best loved and most in demand performers in the country.
Deep thinking hilarity
Known for his distinctive take on subjects such as race and sexuality, he is often brutally honest and is sometimes viewed as controversial. However, his comedy is always meticulously thought out, and he has never been afraid to confront challenging issues head on, even when he turns his attention to his own beliefs. A widely-praised TV performer, Reginald is now returning to the live arena. He is hitting the road with a 45-date tour of his brand-new show, ‘The Man Who Attempted To Do As Much As Such.’
A comedian who crackles with charisma, Reginald is one of the most magnetic stand-ups currently at work in Britain. He manages the very tricky feat of making his audience think deeply and laugh uproariously at the same time.
The comic, who has also produced two very successful DVDs, Reginald D Hunter Live and Reginald D Hunter: In the Midst of Crackers, is equally compelling in person. Face to face, he sends off sparks like a Roman candle on fireworks night.
He is also appealingly generous with off-the-cuff jokes. At one point, for instance, he laughs that, ‘Whenever a politician says, “I want to spend more time with my family,” I think, “Somebody’s been sending pictures of themselves …”‘
Relishing his return to the stage
Coming back to stand-up after a period abroad making his TV series, Reginald is relishing the chance to appear on the British stage once again. ‘I love stand-up,’ says the comic, the broad grin on his face confirming as much. ‘Every time something new works on stage, it’s definitely a great high. It’s really satisfying.’
Reginald reckons that there is another positive aspect to performing stand-up. ‘It makes me smarter. I spend a lot of time alone in hotels and airports. When you’re locked away, you do a lot of thinking and come back smarter.’
The comedian loves to push the boundaries on stage. ‘I remember as a boy watching Richard Pryor and thinking, “That’s brilliant, but don’t stop there. Go further!” Now I try to create the sort of stand-up show I’d like to see – and then take it further.’
When he does take it further, of course, Reginald has in the past sometimes been accused of courting controversy. But the comic dismisses the charge with his trademark easy charm. ‘I mostly work in front of over-privileged white people, and they’re easily shocked by things they don’t already believe – “how dare he espouse that view!”
‘I get a sense of contrived outrage from them. It’s amazing how many people go out of their way to be offended by what you’re saying. There is also a group of people who believe that misrepresenting what you say is a weapon of debate. I hate wilful misconstruction generally, but I’m even less of a fan of it when it’s done to me. There are loads of people, too, who are intellectually vain and want to regurgitate what they’ve just read. It’s not evil, but it’s not for me.’
‘I’m not as ferociously angry as I was’
The comedian proceeds to reflect that, even though he still has his provocative moments, overall he has mellowed as the years have passed. ‘I’m not as ferociously angry as I was. I’ve now figured out the stuff that was making me angry. For example, political debate doesn’t make me mad anymore because I’ve seen through it. “That politician didn’t do what he said he was going to do? He’s surely the first politician in history to do that!”‘
A man who possesses a wonderful way with words, Reginald continues that, ‘It’s bad to be angry. Anger is very powerful, but it’s toxic. It’ll burn you out if you fly on it for too long. All your emotions are your children. If you leave them in the basement, eventually they’re going to grow up and hate you.’
Reginald has made very well-regarded appearances on TV shows such as QI, 8 out of 10 Cats, Would I Lie to You?, Live at The Apollo and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. But he has proved especially popular as a guest on Have I Got News For You.
The comic, who has a very British grasp of irony, explains why. ‘Because I don’t say much on that show! People say to me, “I know what you’re doing on Have I Got News For You. I admire your technique. You sit there looking totally uninterested – and then you pounce! It’s absolutely brilliant. I’ve never seen such a technique before on a panel show. It’s unprecedented”.’
The British Anoraks of Comedy
Reginald closes by underlining that he has a particular affection for British audiences. ‘That’s why I’m here,’ asserts the comedian, who hails originally from Georgia. ‘Britain is both my real home and my comedy home. British audiences like being surprised comedically. The problem with Americans is that they just want you to get to the funny part.
‘British people will come up to you afterwards and say, “I wasn’t sure about the punchline, but the bits before that were extraordinary”. There should be an organisation called the British Anoraks of Comedy. It’s very nice to get that response. In my head, the person I’m writing my shows for is British. If you make it as a comedian in Britain, then you can branch out to the colonies!’
Reginald goes on to explore the further differences between the UK and the US. ‘In Britain, you can be rude about the Royal Family. But if you say anything which they deem unpatriotic in the US, they say, “Get the hell out of here!” It’s easy to step on that fuse-box. Patriotism is the last refuge to which the scoundrel clings.’
The comic concludes that, ‘Unlike people in the US, Brits won’t say, “You’re too deep” or “You think too much”. I’m not a social outcast in Britain because I use words of more than five letters. That’s one of the many things I love about Britain.’ And that is one of the many things we love about him.
See Reginald at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, on Wednesday 3 June 8pm
Tickets £27.90 plus a £2.85 transaction fee
Box Office 0844 871 7645 (fees apply)
Groups Booking Line 0844 871 7601
www.atgtickets.com/woking (fees apply)