US comic relishes the stand-up buzz in UK

FOR many people, heading out on a 40-date tour might look exhausting, but Reginald D Hunter says nothing beats the buzz of stand-up.

“It’s the only time of day that everyone I’m talking to is smiling,” says the American comic who has been based in the UK for more than 20 years. “It’s the only time of day that people are very happy to see me – I can’t even count on that from my own family!”

His new show is called Facing The Beast and the star of TV panel shows like Have I Got News for You, QI, 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown and Never Mind the Buzzcocks,  underscores just what he loves about live comedy, by saying: “I adore the interaction with the audience.

Reginald D Hunter

Picture by Kash Yusuf

“What I live for is that moment where something comes out of my mouth or an audience member’s mouth that completely surprises all of us. You can’t orchestrate that. That’s when you laugh till there are tears in your eyes.”

The presenter of the BBC2 documentary, Reginald D Hunter’s Songs of The South, which charted the growth of American popular song, explains: “There was one moment where I came on stage when I was lean and pretty.

“A woman in the audience shouted out ‘Show us your c**k!’ I immediately replied ‘I decline to do that, mam, because it ain’t that kind of party. Let me ask you, ‘Do you go to strip clubs and shout out, ‘Tell us a joke!’?’”

On another occasion, Reginald recalls: “I walked onstage at a club and asked, ‘How much were the tickets?’ Someone shouted out ‘£14’. ‘Relax,’ I replied, ‘here comes £9.74!’”

Although he hails originally from Albany, Georgia, Reginald particularly enjoys performing in this country and explains why he has such a tremendous rapport with British audiences by saying: “I love the fact that they will hear you out. I’m a black man from the South of the US. I was born in trouble, and I don’t expect no game to be 50-50. All I ask is that I know what the rules are going in.

“In the UK, the rules are simply these – you can talk about anything you want, no matter how graphic or goofy, as long as you’re funny. But if you talk about stuff that isn’t funny and isn’t going anywhere, you will be asking the Brits for your ass back.”

The current turbulent era in politics both here and in his native US can, perversely, be good for stand-up, according to the 50-year-old. He says: “It makes comedians tougher and sharper, if you can survive and you don’t let it shrink your nuts!”

These troubled times are provoking extremely angry debates, and in Facing The Beast Reginald will be addressing that. The comedian’s eminently sensible response to the prevailing air of fury is simple: civility. He reasons: “If I wanted to question your view, I’d say, ‘Sir, you say that, but could I ask you this?’”

He adds: “There’s no problem on earth can’t be solved between two people by 15 minutes of considered chat – that goes for marriage, Brexit, or the Middle East. These things are easily solvable, but the fact that we have talked about some of these things for 50 years tells me that the powerful prefer the issue to the solution. It’s a matter of divide and conquer.”

As well as Brexit, Reginald will also be talking about how the right wing has triumphed in this native US, saying: “They worked out that they could never beat us liberals on civil rights or morality. So wisely, they decided they didn’t want to engage with that. Sometimes you’ve got to tip your hat to the devil.

“So this has been their strategy over the last 10 years. Our lawyer will stand up and say, ‘Crop rotation is not just good for the soil and the crops, but also for the long-term good of the earth.’ The right-wing lawyer will then stand up and say, ‘I love mom, apple pie and yabba dabba-do,’ and the judge will declare, ‘Case dismissed’.

“The right wing has been whupping us over and over with that since George W. Bush. It has culminated in Trump. He responds to morality and facts with anger-inducing, divisive nonsense.

“He can’t get us in the arena of facts and morality, so he’s moved it to a bullsh*t circus where all the laws of gravity are suspended and context doesn’t mean anything. All that matters are feelings, and perspective is greater than reality.”

But ultimately he says: “There’s nothing new under the sun. The only new things in the world are mobile phones and the internet. Everything else is based, as it always has been, on money, power, land and sex.

“The people who read Shakespeare will recognise that!”

Reginald D Hunter’s Facing The Beast tour arrives at the Princes Hall, Aldershot on Friday 3 May.

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