Game for a laugh: The PFA awards furore was a joke – and Reginald D Hunter makes the most of it

It was the night the beautiful game showed the race card. So how did the comedian at the centre of the storm move on? Paul Taylor applauds a dangerously funny man

Whichever way you look at it, the Professional Footballers’ Association scored a spectacular own goal this week and Reginald D Hunter – he of the dazzling, sweet-natured smile, the dreadlocks and the unhurried charm – was in no mood to let anyone forget that fact when he played to a packed, loudly appreciative audience at Cheltenham Town Hall on Thursday.

This was the first gig the black American comedian had done since his controversial performance last Sunday at the PFA’s Awards Ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel.

In Cheltenham, before his scheduled routine for his new tour (which is entitled In the Midst of Crackers), Hunter added a whole first half of very funny and agile-witted reflections arising from the affair. Yes, he liked to use the word “nigger” – he reported early on – but he is not trying to “reclaim” it, because, s***, it was a white invention in the first place.

It’s because of his unabashed use of the N-word at the footballers’ ceremony and because he was typically thoughtful and provocative about race, that the PFA has recoiled in horror. The agency through which he was booked– the London Speaker Bureau – is apparently alleging that he infringed an unwritten agreement about the kind of material he would perform, and there’s talk of him being asked to refund his fee.

Referring to “a big corporate ass-covering”, Hunter maintained that there were no “guidelines” to contravene, that is he known to be a man who’s fond of “swinging [his] nuts” and that what’s particularly dispiriting is that “even people who are supportive of me think that it was a mistake booking me”. Indeed, favourable online comments nonetheless bristle with notions such as that recruiting him was tantamount to “booking Frankie Boyle to entertain Mencap”.

But the ironies, I would suggest, go deeper than that. An organisation in charge of a sport that is not exactly renowned for its freedom from racism (either on the field or off) hires a black comedian only to disown him and to wax censorious because his work refuses to be pious about the subject of race or to eschew the N-word. It’s a bizarre and hypocritical scenario and it’s given me fantasies of some cock-eyed, through-the-looking-glass world in which, say, Hezbollah hires Jackie Mason to do the cabaret at its  AGM and then huffily demands its money back when he cracks self-deprecating Jewish jokes.

Political correctness – at its best a voluntary code of sensitive, verbally watchful respect for the otherness of people who are different from ourselves – can itself be guilty of discriminatory bad faith, along the lines of “I’m right-thinking. You’re politically correct. He’s a language-fascist.” And its obsession with linguistic purity can all too easily become a substitute for lifting so much as a finger where actually promoting cordiality, whether interracial or between mainstream and minority cultures, is concerned.

“You can make any word racist if you have the hate behind it,” declared Hunter in a set that is full of cleverly layered naughtiness – the line “If a movie were made about me, I’d want Meryl Streep to play me”, followed by a fantasy of what she might say about the part on her way to the Baftas – is funny on many levels (especially if you have seen Angels in America).

And he keeps skilfully steering the audience into morally challenging territory. Born in Georgia but based in the UK for more than a decade, the 44-year-old described how his own  attitudes towards what counts as racist have evolved and changed over time.

He recollected his adventures with the first woman he slept with (“it took three years”) in this country. She was white and in the course of their lovemaking, there was a moment when she asked: “How does it feel to be in the master’s bed?” “I was taken aback, right?” Hunter continued. “I mean, I almost stopped f***ing her.”

His point is that, back then, he thought that there was a racist edge to her query. Now he’s more inclined to see it as part of the exploratory quality of sexual (role-)play and experience in general. “We take chances; we explore dangerous corners... to see what would happen if we crossed the line.”

Comedy, like sex, is no great respecter of boundaries of taste or taboo. And offence and offensiveness aren’t, for the non-religious, objective phenomena. They exist in the ear and eye of the receiver.

Hunter talked of “these people who want to control people through anti-racism laws”. Of course, a situation can arise where the relatively powerless find themselves bullied into laughing at jokes made about them because they fear that by not doing so they will fail the “good sport” test. Equally, you can decide to take offence at anything, with horribly restrictive consequences to those who don’t agree with you.

Christopher Ricks, our greatest literary critic, once gave a talk about how all true comedy has to take the calculated risk of offending someone, and that most true comedy makes liberating, thoughtful play with the fact that everyone is a type.

“I’m a type,” he quipped with ironic mock-riskiness, “the type of bald septuagenarian professor who pretends to like Bob Dylan in order to come into contact with beautiful people, especially female.” Try passing on that wisdom to the PFA.

In Cheltenham, Hunter had, as his support act, an engaging and quick-witted Canadian comedian, Pete Johansson, who certainly got us in the mood with gags such as how, standing on top of the world’s tallest skyscraper in Dubai, he found himself thinking: “Well, mmm... but no, Christians would never fly a plane into a tower”. (Split-second pause.) “Unless there was an abortion clinic on the top.”

As Hunter’s fate this week emphasises, the world would be a more  rigid, doctrinaire place if only atheistic pro-choice activists would be prepared to admit to a jolt of stimulation from the way that remark is not  quite kosher.

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss