Ipswich-bound comedian Reginald D Hunter on his latest tour
American comedian Reginald D Hunter talks about the pursuit of truth, upsetting his sister and being too British.
IT may come as a surprise to anyone in the UK familiar with Hunter’s southern drawl and relaxed swagger that audiences back in the nation of his birth consider him to be too British.
He found this out when he returned to the US to play some gigs in LA at the kind of venues that aren’t printed in the comedy section of the city’s listings magazines.
“In America, people have a need to identify you quickly, work out what you are and what you represent. They try it most quickly through what you look like or what your accent is or what your clothing is; they need to figure out your type,” he says.
“A friend of mine said ‘you look and sound weird to them’. So after a few bad gigs I walked back on stage and said ‘I’m told I look and sound weird’. That got a little bit of a laugh. ‘Well, suffice to say I’m a mixture of country, n****r and a slight dash of Europe’.
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“Ater I said that the audience were like, ‘that’s plausible; ok, go’ and I was in there. I have American friends who tell me I’m now a British comic because of my manner and my sensibility. Yet my British fans point out how American I am. People hear what they want to hear, man.”
By the time the public gets a chance to see him in full flight with his debut live DVD, he will be on the last lap of his 2011 tour - Sometimes Even The Devil Tells The Truth.
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That sounds typically challenging?
“Since September 11 there’s been a lack of elegance about government deception. It’s been naked and half-done and ill-prepared, kind of b***s-out.
“When you listen to politicians or entertainers talking about profitability or collateral damage they’re telling you nakedly that whatever their interests are it is not for a collective good.
“Sometimes even the devil tells the truth. My sister got mad at me about the title as she’s a born again Christian. But to tell the best lies you have to have a basic understanding of the truth; blueprint-wise you have to know how that works.
“So as we move away further from the collective good and public discourse and more towards personal interest, people are losing any sense of the need to even use euphemisms any more; ‘we’re doing this, we’re drilling here’. Sometimes even the devil tells the truth.”
Having decided careers in the States as either a teacher or preacher were not his destiny, Hunter came here with a place at RADA in his back pocket.
It didn’t work out, but by then he had caught the stage-bug and decided to try a bit of stand-up in Birmingham and then on to London where the chances for aspiring comics were more plentiful.
Audiences seemed tuned in to Hunter’s passion, intelligence and attitude-shaking.
“British audiences reward cleverness,” he says. “And not everything that is clever is necessarily funny. American audiences do something different with cleverness.
“Sometimes I think they don’t register it, but that’s a gross assumption and a gross mis-characterisation of nearly 300 million people.
“It took me about five years to find any kind of stroke in the UK. It’s a very confusing place; there are many contradictions here, in terms of social manner and what means what.
“I came over with my research limited to having watched a handful of British films - The Long Good Friday, My Fair Lady and Salaam Bombay! and I thought ‘I’m ready’.”
A hit with the critics (his first three Edinburgh Fringe shows received Perrier nominations) and fans (each year in Edinburgh there has been an incremental rise in the size of venue he’s performed in), next month he releases his live filmed debut, shot over two nights at London’s Hammersmith Apollo.
“It was surreal, I’m still a bit traumatised about it; maybe three per cent traumatised. Everyone’s day has little traumas in it, like you have a car accident or someone yells at you at work and that can jar your spirit,” he says.
“All those things are curable by a good night’s sleep. You wake up and think, ‘now, something happened yesterday? Oh well’.
“One of the traumas of stand-up is talking to 600 people and going down great and suddenly you’re all by yourself; there’s something jarring about it.
“Stand-up at this level appears to be a soloist art form, but you have other people around you and not just people who know about being funny, but people who know about lighting and sound and it’s fun being part of a team.
“When I was a kid I watched baseball and at the end of the World Series the winning team ran on the field and hugged each other and went insane. I thought ‘I want to experience that. I want to climb on a guy’s back and roll over and pour champagne on his head, I want to know what that’s like’.”
When it came to preparing the content for the Hammersmith shows that will be spliced together for the DVD release, former flatmate and fellow comic John Gordillo, who has directed many of Hunter’s shows, was once again on hand with valuable advice.
“What we filmed were a lot of jokes and a lot of threads, but three days before we were due to shoot the DVD I had got a whole new set of jokes lined up. I am so glad John stopped me.
“I was on some trip, ‘I got to be myself! And be real! And be who I am today’. John was like ‘you do. But...not with these jokes. We can do what you want to do, but for this we need to get some of your other jokes’.
“It’s true of all of us, but especially true of me and my stand-up that I’m usually not always quite right about what is good about me on stage.
“When the qualities I think people enjoy are explained back to me, they are usually off or completely different. What you think is attractive about you is slightly different from what actually is attractive about you.”
Reginald D Hunter comes to The Regent, Ipswich, next Thursday.