In the 25 years since moving to the UK from the US, three-time Perrier Award nominated Reginald has forged a reputation for delivering unadulterated comedy of the highest order. His TV appearances include Live at the Apollo (BBC Two), Have I Got News for You (BBC One) and 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown (C4), whilst he drew widespread acclaim for his two series for the BBC, Reginald D Hunter’s Songs of the South and Reginald D Hunter’s Songs of the Border.
Now, the Southern charmer returns to the live circuit with his all-new, UK-wide tour Bombe Shuffleur (The Cresset, 13 April). Always unafraid to tackle head-on the subjects the rest of us skirt around, Reg applies his no-holds- barred approach to the issues of the day: Climate Change, Mass Unemployment, Pandemics, The Rise of Global Fascism… you know, all those trivial, throwaway topics… Moment editor Toby Venables talked to him.
I know it’s a bit boring to start with ‘tell me about the tour’, but there haven’t been many tours in a while – so, um, tell me about the tour…
This tour is from my show Bombe Shuffleur. I will be shuffling bombs, and juggling dangerous subjects. It’s been challenging! I haven’t done it for over two years. But it turns out after three or four gigs I’m still pretty good at it. The audiences have been wonderful, fantastic, very generous. And I think them being happy to be out of the house and being around other people has to some extent worked to my advantage!
It’s been a weird old time, the last couple of years… What have they been like for you?
I imagine much like a lot of people’s – a lot of time home alone. I’ve enjoyed most of the lockdowns except for some of the last one. And because I’ve been grinding as a stand up comedian for about 20 to 25 years and just never really taking a holiday or vacation because stand up comedy didn’t feel like a job. It was too much of a pleasure. But you know, you’ve heard about some people who, character-wise, are well- suited to staying home all the time? I may be one of those people.
Well, obviously not a lot has happened in the last couple of years… Where on earth do you find things to talk about?
Oh, I was taught that stand up comedy is just blues without the music! All you have to do is just dig deep into your own life – and just, you know, look at television and go ‘Hm! Now how do I feel about that? Ooh – that’s how I feel about that! Then I will make fun of this…’ But, y’know, there are people who drop bombs and there are people who throw bombs but there are also people who keep bombs from exploding. I consider myself as a bomb shuffler because when you’re covering dangerous subject matter on stage, the trick is to not drop one. If you got ten bombs going at one time, you’re doing good if you can keep seven of them up in the air. I guess this title means something to me because I’m sick and tired of issues being difficult to talk about; it doesn’t matter what you feel about Brexit but it shouldn’t be this hard to talk about it. The same with trans rights: no matter where you stand on it, it should not be this hard for human beings, who have been talking to each other for centuries, to talk about. So I’m just going to be up there, dancing through these subjects.
I remember you saying you felt a bit guilty when 9/11 and Katrina happened, because you were in the UK and felt like you ought to be there. Did you feel similarly about about Trump?
I felt differently about Trump. Trump was the first time that I genuinely felt that I didn’t understand other Americans anymore. My own country was now becoming a foreign country to me. That’s how Trump made me feel. Actually, that’s a remarkable achievement.
What about when Black Lives Matter was unfolding? Your material digs into a lot of the issues that that was dealing with…
What I found really remarkable about the Black Lives Matter movement, is the extent that white American racists would go to misframe the debate in order to win. It’s like… You remember when Barack Obama first got into office, and he came in with this ethos of ‘You know, I’m sure that if somebody just calmly and patiently and rationally explains things to Republicans, they’ll come around…’ Um… No!
I know everyone always asks you why you chose to live and work in the UK, and I was going to ask the same – but it suddenly occurred to me: does that question really say more about us, wondering why anyone would want to come here..?
I tell you, when I first got to England in ‘97, from the time I stepped off the plane, everyone’s been like ‘So why’d you come here..?’ I mean, what’s so bad about ‘here’? Granted, this part of the world has a perfect weather for poets – but other than that, I just don’t get what the problem is! Living in this part of the world, you know, you can wake up every day and feel reasonably reassured that no matter how bad your day gets, you won’t get shot to death. And that means a lot to a black dude from the Deep South.
People often talk about differences in comedy between the US and UK, but do you see those differences?
You know, that’s a question I get asked, I think, maybe every interview. I get asked by Irish journalists ‘Is there a difference between Irish audiences and other audiences?’ English journalists ask the same. I have to say, the only people who aren’t concerned about how they compare to other audiences globally, seems to be American audiences… Overall, I think there’s small, slight quirks here and there, but generally people laugh at politics, religion, death and sex.
You live here, you work here, but what is it about the British comedy scene that makes you feel like this is an environment that you want to be in?
Well, I have to say that Britain does a better job of taking care of his old comedians than America does. I mean, if you make Britain laugh long enough, television or radio will find you an Emeritus position somewhere. And that’s the closest I’ve ever seen to a stand up comedian having a pension.
Do you find that attitudes to race are also different here from the US? Obviously race is an area that your material tackles…
I do get asked that a lot, and that’s asserted about me a lot – that I speak primarily about race. And I may be wrong, but from my own estimation being inside my own comedy, I think my topic range is wider than that. But I think, for whatever reason, for a lot of white audience members, maybe my racial commentary stands out more in their minds. But I’m quite rangeful, I like to believe. If ‘rangeful’ is a word? But one of the reasons that I love Britain is because it still feels like a place that no matter how mad people are at you, there is still a group of people that will hear you out. You can’t ask for better than that. Though also, I know I’m going good when at least one person in the audience loses their mind. When I’m at peak efficiency I should be upsetting people.
When you first came to the UK you trained as an actor at RADA, and initially had plans to go down that route. You’ve said in the past that stand up is your first love, but is acting something you’d like to do more of?
Acting is something I wouldn’t mind doing. But I think as I get older, I feel like I’m veering more towards wanting to be a writer. I’ve had that in me for a while. There are some ideas I’ve carried around through the years and stand up comedy may not be the best vehicle for them. It’s just sitting down and submitting myself to the discipline of it. One would have thought that I would have
been more easily able to do that during the various lockdowns, but Netflix is a mother****er… So yes, I would like to do some more acting, but I guess there’s some other things I’d like to do a bit more.But I tell you what, I hate spending all day on a movie set. It can be so long and boring, and you’re hanging around for 30 minutes work spread out across 12 hours. And I find that maddening. But, you know, if the project is right… Or if I get paid a lot of money – which is yet to happen in a movie – we’ll see!
REGINALD D HUNTER – BOMBE SHUFFLEUR
Wed 13 April
Book online or call: 01733 265705 www.cresset.co.uk