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Reginald D Hunter: A Mystery Wrapped in a Nigga

Note: This review is from 2004

Review by Steve Bennett

Reginald D Hunter is introduced with the words: "Please welcome the funniest motherfucking nigga in the whole room" ­ which might have been just a bit more impressive had the audience contained more than three black people.

But Reg doesn't want to be defined by being black, or, for that matter, by being American, or by being male. He wants to escape the group mentality that dictates what he should think and instead become his own man. That way, he reckons, he can bring about the changes in his life he thinks are overdue at the age of 35, and enable him to form a meaningful relationship with his girlfriend he thinks may be The One.

Yes, this is another high-concept show from the seductive Hunter, thoughtfully mixing the big issues with the personal, eloquently challenging the way things are.

His dedication to the cause of individuality doesn't stop him cracking the odd gag about the way the English, as an entire ethic group, are supposed to behave, even if it is affectionate. But he does also tackle one of the bizarrely acceptable prejudices of stand-up ­ gingerism ­ as well as the less obvious effects of herd mentality.

These first 20 minutes or so, in which he sets out his stall and outlines the premise of his argument are quick and funny, laced with a bright wit. This is never more so than when he tells of his encounter with a disruptive group of black people at a gig, reacting with putdowns he might come to regret. Though not enough to stop him repeating them here, of course.

Once he's won the audience's confidence in his comic skills, things ease back several gears, becoming more thoughtful and less funny, with long gaping periods without so much as a titter. But when he puts you in mind of the mortality of those you love, as he ponders his own mother's recent funeral, laughter is not going to be foremost in your mind.

His mother's death also prompted him to reconsider his relationships with women, seeing parallels between his behaviour and that of his father. Again, funny is not top priority as he instead concentrates instead on gradually unfolding an argument with intensely personal resonances for him.

Occasionally the mood is fractured with a laugh, it's true, but mostly the audience sits in rapt attention, a testament to Hunter's hugely charismatic presence and mesmerising delivery. This is a comedian who has come to conquer his instinctive fear of silence, even if the side-effect is a risk of self-indulgence.

Somehow Hunter dodges this trap, even when the material is solely about him, and not to any obvious comic purpose. That the anecdotes are confessional, intelligent and well-told are enough. Funny would just be a bonus.

His arguments don't come to much of a conclusion, either, simply leaving unanswered questions hanging in the air, but that is only a reflection of the fact that life often doesn't provide the neat endings an Edinburgh show can demand.

Yet for the flaws, Hunter's deliver and conviction make it a compelling show, falling short of a must-see, but certainly one that provides plenty of food for thought.

Review date: 1 Jan 2004
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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