Reginald D. Hunter: The man from Georgia at home in the UK

Edinburgh Fringe 2007 'The Udderbelly'Reginald D Hunter''Pic Neil Hanna
Edinburgh Fringe 2007 'The Udderbelly'Reginald D Hunter''Pic Neil Hanna
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Reginald D Hunter is one of the most in demand stand-up comedians in the land.

That’s not surprising as he gives off a force field of magnetism on stage.

He can be summed up by all those words beginning with C: compelling, charismatic, controversial and, oh yes, completely hilarious.

The good news is, he is now embarking on a major new tour entitled, “In the Midst of Crackers,” which comes to the Alhambra Theatre in Dunfvermline on friday.

Over the past decade, the mesmerising American stand-up has become one of the comedy industry’s best-known and most distinctive performers. Although often fearlessly honest and often contentious, his material is always meticulously measured and carefully thought out.

Responsible for two previous sell-out tours of the UK and a bestselling DVD, Reginald D Hunter Live, the stand-up has performed all over the world in places such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand and South Africa.

A regular at the Edinburgh Festival since 2002, the comedian also appears frequently on such prime-time television shows as Live at the Apollo, 8 out of 10 Cats, Mind the Buzzcocks, Would I Lie to You? and QI. In addition, he is one of the best loved guests on ‘Have I Got News For You.’

When we meet for lunch in the run-up to the tour, he exudes charisma from every pore.

He begins by emphasising that he can’t wait to perform live once more.

“Stand-up comedy gives you such buzz. It’s a wonderful moment of reaffirmation. You’re standing in front of thousands of people who are laughing their heads off. They are the very same people I see in my daily life who don’t make eye contact with me. Suddenly I connect with them on stage, and that makes the pain of being among them all day-long worth it!

“Stand-up is such a thrill. It genuinely galvanises you. It means you can get out of bed for something you really care about. If I’m exhausted, the live arena is the only place where I can still find a way to do my best. It really doesn’t seem like work at all.”

Born and brought up in Georgia, Reginald has been based on this side of the Atlantic for the past decade. He loves the fact that we Brits seem to understand his sense of humour.

“People here get me – and that’s something I’ve never felt in Georgia. There my sense of humour always seemed odd. I was always being sent out of the classroom at school. Girls thought I was weird. There I was the outsider.

“Here my sensibility makes perfect sense. All my neuroses help me fit in here. I have felt right at home in Britain since the very beginning. This is the place that has given me the biggest opportunity. Did my great-great-grandfather have a relationship with a British person?”

Reginald adds that, “In America, I’m just another big black guy with dreadlocks. You can see that by the way the police look at me – ‘We’re gonna have trouble here. Somebody’s going down’. I don’t feel that sense of threat here. I just have a friendly chat with British cops.

“The things people like about me over here are the very things that got me beaten up and thrown in jail over there. All my sins over there become virtues over here. When my family saw me on YouTube for the first time recently, they asked, ‘Do British people really pay you for that?’ To them, I’m this guy who lies on the couch watching the game. The fact that I’m celebrated in London makes them think that the world has gone nuts.”

The stand-up goes on to outline the crucial difference between American and British comedy. “American comedians tend to laugh at others, while British comedians tend to laugh at themselves. You have the right to take the Mick out of others because you started with yourself. Americans haven’t learned that yet. A British comedian’s attitude is, ‘I’m an idiot, and by the way you are, too’.”

One word that often attaches itself to Reginald’s comedy is “controversial”, but he doesn’t see it like that. “In my experience, ‘controversial’ is when you say something which people find difficult to accept. It’s not fearless – you have just shocked them. So I’d say to them, ‘Now take a minute. Let the cold wind blow, it will be all right.’

“It feels tired to pretend that anyone in comedy is controversial. The only people who should be allowed to be controversial are politicians. If you find comedians mess up your day in that way, maybe you should get out more. It’s too much for you. Have someone get food for you.”

He continues that, “It’s hard to tell the difference between people who are genuinely shocked and people who feel they should be shocked and take a platform position on something it would be hard to disagree with. I think they’re simply calling attention to themselves – ‘look at me! I’m disgusted by this. You have to know that I’m a good person.’”

That’s not to say that Reginald doesn’t have boundaries. He reflects that, “Of course I have long dark nights of the soul where I consider where the line should be. I come from a very Christian, preachy culture. At some point, you have to answer for what you have said. So I do have those worries.

Sometimes I listen to old routines, flinch and say, ’Why did those white liberal people let me say that? They should have stopped me!’”

Reginald is reluctant to talk about an overarching theme in “In the Midst of Crackers”. “I’m sure there’s a theme in there somewhere, but will only discover it on tour. I genuinely don’t describe my act. When people ask me, ‘How do we categorise your comedy?’ I reply, ‘I don’t know, I haven’t watched it’.

So what’s next for Reginald? He doesn’t know. “We have this odd belief that we would have a greater sense of security if we could predict the future. A lot of people are always worrying about what they’re doing next. But I don’t plan the future because that would interfere with what is happening now. I prefer not to know what will happen. Then if everything goes wrong, at least it will be a surprise!

“I’m like those baseball managers. I just take it one game at a time.”