Ahead of his headline show at the Vodafone Comedy Festival, we settled down for a chat with Reginald D Hunter, the American funnyman who found himself doing his first stand up gig for a bet. He’s known for not skirting around issues that he finds important, even if at times people find some of his darker humour a little uncomfortable. Yet there emerges a real sense of comic integrity when Reginald chats us through his use of stand up as a platform to discuss issues that many comedians might be inclined to shy away from. And let’s not forget that he had us in stitches.
So Reg, you were at Latitude at the weekend weren’t you? How was it?
Yes Ma’am…it was a little bit early in the day for a comic like myself to be performing – I don’t understand why people do that, book us like that, but nonetheless, it appeared to be very successful.
So do you prefer going on later, when the audience have got a few drinks in them?
It’s not that – in fact I don’t really care about that – I want the audience to be like they’re sitting at home, and I’m in their living rooms, so I want everybody to be maximum comfortable. Sometimes people, they bring kids and stuff like that. I don’t mind kids, but if you don’t mind them hearing all kinds of political stuff, discussing all kinds of pageantry, then you know, bring them but I don’t understand why somebody would do that with their kids. But, you know, I don’t have kids, so what can I say about it – I can’t really speak from the degree of any kind of experience.
Have you been to Ireland much before?
Quite a few times Ma’am. Might live there one day, I ain’t made up my mind yet. I’m going to go to one of the villages though, I ain’t going to be in the big city.
You talk about getting used to the British sense of humour, now that you live in England – do you notice any difference when you’re on in Ireland?
I have to say that everywhere I been in the UK and surrounding parts, everyone has an immense, almost nationalistic pride about their own sense of humour. It is particular, and grand, but not as great as they think. It’s just humour. Everybody laughs at pretty much the same thing – politics, and weirdness – it’s the same subjects, just different phrasing!
And with your more controversial jokes on stage then, do you like it when people squirm in their seats a bit? Do you enjoy that?
Well, I feel like if I just made people laugh and entertained them, and that’s all I did, then you’re only confirming what people already feel and think. And you know, there’s enough wrong in the world that relates to all of us ‘cause we’re in the world. And you can’t let people off the hook too much – we all need to squirm a little bit. We all need to be shown ourselves sometimes and not just constantly refer to our preferable self – image. So yeah, I mean, I don’t want make anybody unhappy – I want to be as liked and loved as the next person, but I don’t want nobody to like me just purely based on feeling flattered.
Do you get many hecklers? How do you feel about them?
Love them. I think there’s far more willing hecklers than I’ve had actually good ones; they are very willing in these parts of the world. Everybody’s willing to pitch in and lend a hand!
I was reading about you getting into comedy as a result of a bet really – when did you realise you could actually make a career of it?
After the first night!
Yeah after the first night I was thinking about it walking on the way home, and I didn’t really have any jokes, I just had, you know, an attitude. Willingness and an attitude, that’s all I had, and so, then I thought, if I work at it, there’s a chance I might get pretty good at it. And I just ran with that ever since.
And how about now before a show, do you script them, or how do you go about preparing?
No, I have ideas that I want to talk about, and I have maybe some jokes around that but I’m also actually interested in not just my own voice, or thought, or just airing my point of view. I try to make it as interactive as I can and time permitting, I try to make myself available after the show. Usually people just want, you know, pictures and autographs and stuff, and that’s cool, but you actually hope that somebody, at one point will hear some of your ideas and tell you what you’re missing, or tell you one thing, that makes you see it’s all wrong. You know – at least challenge you in another way. But most of the time, people just want a photograph, and that’s alright! But – comedy is very monologue based and I try to, as much as I can within the confines – make it more of a dialogue. And, I sound certain – and like I’m telling people things, and I’m actually looking for answers really. [Chuckles]
Aren’t we all!
No, no we aren’t! Some of us are quite happy with what we know. Some people sort of stopped looking around twenty!
So that’s after a gig – and how about before one – how do you psych yourself up for it?
I don’t have to psych myself up. I try to live my whole day being the person I’m going to be on stage. So I don’t have to do anything markedly different, other than change my clothes. You know, me talking on stage is no different to me talking to my mates in the truck on the way to the gig, or my mates back at the house. You don’t want to make it some other thing, you want to make it a part of the whole thing that your life already is.
Before you actually did it, had it crossed your mind that you might give comedy a shot?
When I went to audition for RADA, I had to go to audition in New York, and I hadn’t spent much time in New York, and my cousin said what do you want to do – anything you want to do since you’ve never hung out here before. And I said I wanted to go to a comedy club. I went to the Comedy Store in New York, and saw some of the most wretched comedy – it was sixteen acts. I remember at the end of seeing it – being so astonished at how bad it was; with no plan, I just thought to myself I can do this – I can at least do better than this. And I went away, not planning to do stand up, but feeling like unlike the stand up acts I’d seen on television, what I’d seen in New York was within my reach.
And since then, does it feel like the headline shows were a long time coming? Was there a bit of a grind on the way up?
Nope! When I started, I started in Birmingham – I spent my first eight months in the North of England doing comedy, and they didn’t have all the rules and structure that maybe say, London has. And so, they were cool with you turning up, if they didn’t know you, and if you were good – they didn’t care if ten minutes turned into forty minutes. And so, at first, I was new enough, and odd enough that I was afforded, perhaps more so than someone born here, I was afforded a lot of time to work out my stage issues rather quickly ‘cause I was given a lot of stage time. At first I loved it – I didn’t have those kinds of goals in mind, in particular like, becoming a headliner, or getting on a TV show – I was just surprised to find something that I was this good at, that I really like doing, and so, I was only focused on that. That’s what made other things happen for me quite rapidly. If you are able to enjoy what you doing and you put that first, over time you’ll be surprised to find that people will want to pay you. But if your goal is to get paid, then you know – how much you are allowed to enjoy your work, and how much you develop your craft may become compromised.
And do you get back to the States much? Or are you firmly settled in England now do you reckon – till you move to Ireland at least?
Well. I travel – I go anywhere where I’m welcome and, you know – I love doing stand up, and I love going to new places. But for pure logic, I broadcast from the UK. This is the place that pays me and invites me to be this version of me that the rest of the world occasionally wants a glimpse of. So the reality is that this is my artistic homebase, this is my broadcast home – this is where the batcave is – all of that. But when I earn enough money, I’m going to go to a little village, and I’m going to get me an Irish chick with a big ass. And we’re going to eat, drink, smoke, laugh, throw parties – and she’s going to make me smarter as an artist, and I’m going to back into the world and start comedically destroying niggas again!
Ha! And who do you find funny then – many of your contemporaries?
Oh sure! Jimmy Carr makes me laugh, Steve Hughes, Brendan Byrne, Jon Richardson makes me laugh…Frankie Boyle makes me laugh. There’s a lot people make me laugh when they ain’t trying, but I just not told anybody!
And what do you make of the Jimmy Carr tax row being all over the English papers at the moment?
The Jimmy Carr situation… I thought was a very pleasant news distraction from real issues, and as far as I know, he didn’t break any laws. Any comment that I would have about it does not experientially come from having had three million pounds to put anywhere. So I will only be commenting as someone who does not. That apparently, would make me biased.
Are you going to hang around when you’re in Dublin and see a few of the other acts? Do you enjoy doing that at festivals?
Ireland kind of feels like home, and when I come to Ireland especially – usually I come to do festivals, like the one in Dublin, and one of the reasons it feels like home, not just because Irish people are welcoming and straight – but you see comics that are like your brothers and your sisters and it’s like a family reunion. If it weren’t for festivals like this y’all might not get to see each other, you know. So I’ll get a chance to be with some of my comedy family. Most of my comedy family – we don’t see each other because when I’m working, they are too.
Reginald headlines the Vodafone Comedy Festival at the end of the month. For tickets, go to www.vodafonecomedy.com/Festival