Classic Interview: Reginald D Hunter

Reg hunter
The current kerfuffle about Reginald D Hunter's recent gig at the PFA dinner is not the first time the soft-spoken stand-up has ended up in hot water. My interview with him here, from December, 2006, coincided with Hunter's posters for his show, Pride and Prejudice and Niggas, being banned from London Underground.

Reginald D Hunter is in trouble for using the N-word. The problem is, it's part of the title of his stand-up show, Pride and Prejudice and Niggas, which comes to London next week, and he wants to advertise it.

But his posters have been banned from the Underground for fear of offending commuters, and some newspapers have only agreed to print ads for it without the title.

Hunter is perplexed. "I thought you people were all cool," he observes, in a laidback, Deep-South drawl. He was born in Atlanta but moved to London in the late Nineties and, now 37, lives in Islington, where we have arranged to meet in a local café.

What he's most surprised about is that this objection should have arisen now, four months after he premiered the show - and title - in Edinburgh, where it won a Writers' Guild Award without raising an eyebrow.

"I can only speculate that this is a time where race is more of a heightened issue, because of war, immigration and a sense of 'let's not rock the boat; let's call people by their proper names so that nobody will bomb us'," he says.

"In an ideal world I'd get up, do my show, people make me mayor for a week then I go home. Instead I wake up five months after I wrote the motherf***** and people are mad."

Naturally, he hasn't missed the irony that, by banning his posters, Viacom, the company that owns London Underground advertising sites, has given him even better publicity. And it's all good material for his two-and-a-half week run at the Arts Theatre - "Now I won't get on to the actual show until the second half."

Hunter never meant to be a comedian. When he came to England nine years ago, it was to study drama at Rada. But after leaving he couldn't get any acting work and was sidetracked into standup - first in Birmingham, where he started out in the local club where Frank Skinner was the compere, then, back in London where there was more opportunity.

After that, he never looked back. He has twice been nominated for a Perrier Award, the comedy world's greatest endorsement, but the provocative nature of his act, particularly the way he would single out women in the audience and talk directly to them about their sexual fantasies, divided the judges.

While some accused him of misogyny, others championed his charm and effortless performance skills, which have led to him being lazily dubbed the Samuel L Jackson of stand-up.

Onstage he is one of the most mesmerising storytellers you'll encounter, drawing together the best elements of confrontational stand-up while tackling issues such as tolerance and the need for honesty. Now, having teetered on the brink of mainstream success for some years, he finds himself thrust into the spotlight.

The N-word issue is inescapable at the moment. Days after I meet Hunter, Michael Richards, the white comic actor who played Kramer in the sitcom Seinfeld, hit the headlines for using the word to silence black hecklers in his audience in the United States.

Read more here.

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