by Elliot Davies
On his 2015 UK tour, Reginal D Hunter remains one of the most engaging comedians currently operating, but some unreconstructed opinions lead to an overall air of disappointment.
This tour, entitled The Man Who Intended to do as Much as Such, feels like a victory lap. Earlier this year, Hunter presented an excellent documentary for the BBC, Songs of the South, and it’s likely that quite a few people are here because of that.
Quite what they’re expecting is hard to say. Hunter is wise to this, as he commences his show with a brief warning about his use of language, as if he’s letting those who’ve come fresh from his documentary that they should brace for something a little more extreme than they perhaps expected.
Hunter is a fiercely, proudly confrontational comedian. In April, he spoke to the Nottingham Evening Post about his upcoming gig:
I mostly work in front of over-privileged white people, and they’re easily shocked by things they don’t already believe – ‘how dare he espouse that view!’
“I get a sense of contrived outrage from them. It’s amazing how many people go out of their way to be offended by what you’re saying. There is also a group of people who believe that misrepresenting what you say is a weapon of debate.
Tonight, there is no outrage, and nothing’s shocking. Unfortunately, in place of anything truly stirring is an overarching air of deep disappointment. It’s not so much “How DARE he!”, as “what a shame that such a thoughtful, charismatic, mercurial raconteur should harbour such dated views.”
Hunter is not a misogynist. He clearly has the deepest of respect for his mother and his ministerial sisters, and he frequently condemns those who disrespect women. What he is, though, is a good old fashioned sexist, one with clear-cut ideas about the positions men and women should occupy in society, and one with an overall distrust of anything that should challenge the status quo.
Hunter doesn’t hate women. But he does hate feminists. And my god, does he let us know.
There’s a deeply tedious routine about the sort of porn feminists “must” long for. There’s an inadvisable implication that women “must” secretly long for beatings, and a downright baffling implication that feminists hate the idea that men raised by single mothers will grow up respecting women.
Jesus, Reg, what sort of strange Tumblr feeds have you been reading?
Worst of all, though, is a routine about “convenient revolutions”, and the demons we all hold responsible for the world’s ills – demons who Hunter lumps together as a catch-all “resident evil”.
His advice to men is to turn off the sports, turn off the porn, and turn off the Netflix – because the resident evil’s greatest fear is that two men from disparate backgrounds might one day meet up, and arouse thunder in each others chests.
But just when you think he’s on the verge of making a genuinely insightful and inspirational point, he goes on to offer his advice to women. In short, it’s “don’t have sex with bad men.”
That’s it? That’s the only role women can possibly play in the revolution?
Again, it’s not shocking. It’s not offensive. It’s not outrageous. It’s just disappointing.
It’s a damn pity that these moments should undermine what would otherwise be an uproariously entertaining, challenging, and edifying evening.
In the subdued second half of his set, Hunter muses more than he amuses, drifting from one long monologue into another, not quite caring that so many of his thoughts are left unfinished. Hunter’s deep, melodic voice is hypnotic, and at times it’s like listening to a long, smoking saxophone solo, with occasional fiery bursts of righteous anger.
We’re told the story of Walter White – not the terminally ill Breaking Bad meth dealer, but the NAACP activist who spent 1927 in the deep south, taking notes of lynchings and institutional racism. This routine is not played for laughs at all, and it’s as captivating as it’s disquieting. The denouement is that racism never went away, it just became more visible thanks to social media. And it’s here that you realise just how Hunter managed to develop a reputation as one of the finest spoken word performers of his generation.
I’m not about to suggest that Hunter should check his prejudices, or that he should rethink his stance on feminism, as to do this would not only suggest that he should be something that he isn’t, it would also pander to the “contrived outrage” he mentioned in his interview.
What I will say, though, is that when an evening in the warm company of such an intelligent storyteller is undermined by tedious forays into unreconstructed 1950s sexism, the lasting impression can only be one of disappointment.