Reginald D Hunter: Pride And Prejudice And Niggas

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Review of London run

This show has been getting Reginald D Hunter into trouble even before it arrived in the West End. In Edinburgh, political writer Johann Hari was so outraged by the perceived misogyny and anti-semitism that he called Hunter ‘a black Bernard Manning’; while in London his advertisements have been banned from Tubes and buses for fear the word ‘Niggas’ might cause upset.

Controversial is the tag most easily attached to Hunter. But controversy is simply an inevitable consequence of voicing strong opinions; opinions someone else might vehemently disagree with. Every comic with half a brain should be controversial; it’s whether or not they are gratuitously offensive, that’s the key.

You might justifiably level that charge at Hunter’s provocative title – as he freely admits: ‘Some of you are here just because of the title - that’s why I wrote the motherfucker’. But he’s got an answer for using what much of the media coyly refer to as ‘the N-word’, arguing that the discomfort it causes is more a consequence of white liberal guilt than black people feeling oppressed by it. Or, as he puts it more succinctly: ‘Don’t try to alter my vernacular because you feel bad.’

That’s the thing with Hunter - even if you don’t agree with what he’s saying, he always says it impeccably well, with considered opinions given added impetus by an alluringly laid-back deep Southern drawl. This show, for instance, includes the best use of the word ‘dastardly’ in a comic routine. Plus he usually backs his pronouncements with coolly considered logic, which makes for an intelligent, thoughtful set. Even when he’s not rattling off the gags, Hunter’s views are always interesting – making him a world apart from the idiotic, vacuous gags spewed out by the real Manning

The potential confusion with the fat, racist dinosaur, must come simply because Hunter talks comedically about race – even includes in the show a very fine Jewish joke, which he disingenuously ascribes it to a ‘friend’. In doing so he walks a moral tightrope, believing that racism is stupid but also that you can joke about race. He wants to have his matzah ball and eat it.

But to get bogged down in Hunter’s motivations is to miss the point, which is that he’s a compelling, original and very funny comedian. He tells things as he sees them, providing insight and laughs in equal measure and, for the time he’s on stage at least, offering a new, oblique way of looking at things.

Nor is it all about race, whatever the impression his press cuttings might give you, and he’s equally happy to share his opinions on women subjugating themselves through their obsession with their image or about parents who take fanatical, and tedious, pride in their children.

Yet for all the serious philosophising or big pronouncements on serious issues, the charismatic Hunter is playful, too, with a twinkle in his voice that gives away the fact he’ll often say something provocative as a tease, just to mess with the audience. But he needs the backdrop of solemnity for best effect, the show always works best when considering the big picture, rather than the minutiae of his own life.

This London production seems more robust that the Edinburgh version. The venue helps - a proper, intimate theatre rather than the Big Top feel of the Udderbelly – and his thoughts seem in slightly better order. The atmosphere feels more relaxed, too, with audience members not intimidated into interjecting now and then, or vocalising their approval – or otherwise – of the views being put forth.

But Hunter remains in absolute control, always taking the audience exactly where he wants them, a skill he uses to best effect in a powerful routine in which he recalls learning shocking facts about his idolised father. It’s an anecdote that packs a heavyweight punch and proves the perfect show-stopper for this compelling, exceptional performer.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
London, December 7, 2006

Review from Edinburgh

The title of Reginald D Hunter's fourth Edinburgh offering, complete with that naughty little taboo-tickling word on the end, sounds like one of those catchall phrases dreamt up months ago, well before the show was actually written. After all, it gives him a pretty wide brief ­ even if he does feel the need to apologise to any Jane Austen devotees who might have wandered into the purple upside-down cow by mistake.

If they have, they might be in for a surprise. Hunter would have no truck with the meaningful glances and coded dialogue of Austen's heroes. He believes in absolute, undisguised honesty ­ even if that's not exactly best suited to a harmonious relationship. 'Does my bum look big in this?' is always meant as a rhetorical question, but Hunter feels the need to answer truthfully, giving a very different take on the 'my wife's so fat' gags of old.

But he wants honesty without consequence, and that is rarely possible - a point he's happy to debate on stage, by rerunning an argument with his now-ex about that very topic. It's probably a more eloquent version of what was actually said, but gives him a chance to reassert his moral superiority.

For Hunter shares with preachers and madmen that unshakeable belief that he is one hundred per cent correct. Call it arrogance, call it confidence, but it means he's always got something to say, and enables him to push a strong, consistent viewpoint with conviction. Add to that his impressive skills as a performer ­ laid-back yet in control ­ and his seductive Alabama accent, languorous rhythms and distinctive turn of phrase, and you have a quietly powerful force.

There is a strange point midway through the show (which, incidentally, seems to be at least ten minutes short of its advertised hour), where he abruptly asks the audience: 'Have you ever seen your own asshole?' It's supposed to illustrate some great sociological point ­ although it is quite a convoluted link ­ but as he discusses the topic with someone in the front row, he adopts the thoughtful stance of a political interviewer politely discussing the weighty matters of the day. It shows how he can turn the charm up to 'full' when he needs to, to soften the subject matter.

He has prejudices of his own, of course, on marriage and the misplaced pride of parents, and he has a fine way of encapsulating his ideas. Many comics make a similar point on blasphemy, for instance but Hunter nails it most efficiently.

Does he always live up to those ideals of honesty he preaches? Possibly not. He excuses sleeping with an ex because of the shock of finding out what his father got up, sexually, in his youth ­ which sounds like tenuous mitigation.

But Hunter says what he says with conviction, flair, might and a great deal of humour. It's another strong show from this most absorbing and fascinating of comedians.

Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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