Reginald D Hunter interview: 'No matter how clear I am, people misinterpret'

He's been branded a racist and a misogynist, and that's just by his fans. It's all in a night's work for the controversial comedian

In an empty corner of The Ivy Club in London, the comedian Reginald D Hunter yawns expansively, and passes a hand over his face, losing his fingertips in the scratchy unkempt grey mass of his beard. He is tired and weary, and for a few minutes now, as he recounts just how tired and weary he is, the man looks far older than his 44 years.

“It's tour fatigue,” he says. He's currently halfway through his latest, In the Midst of Crackers, which has just been released on DVD. Yeovil was last night; Canterbury looms. “It's a known phenomenon. You start losing things. You're always late. You get this blank look.” He demonstrates the blank look, with some conviction.

But there is another reason for the fatigue. Hunter, so warm and cuddly on Have I Got News For You, has become this past year what surely all comedians (save perhaps for Michael McIntyre) crave to be: controversial, headline-grabbingly so. The current tour is prompting an awful lot of online traffic, some of it scathing.

“These last few weeks I've experienced a whole new tension at the shows because of all the social-media fun and games I'm having,” he says. Rarely does a man speak the word “fun” and make it sound quite so bitter.

At a show in Aberystwyth at the end of October, a woman called Jo Cooper, a woodlands project manager, walked out in apparent disgust, largely over his reliance upon the word “bitch”, and later vented that disgust on Facebook. She cited the “misogyny and violence” of his set, which was, in her summation, “a rambling, offensive, arrogant mess.” Hunter swiftly responded in kind. Referring to her as “Ms Chastity Fearbucket” and himself as “Dr Heathcunt Bitchspank III Esq”, he wrote, “I am pleased that my performance hurt you last night. You, and the rest of the bitches of your ilk… the ones who never want to solve issues, just have them, the ones who destructively presume to speak for all of femininity but only do for a few… tell them that I am coming to intellectually and emotionally mutilate their collective, dumb, divisive asses, too.”

The touchpaper duly lit, each successive show now crackles with anticipatory atmosphere. People are no longer attending his shows merely to laugh, he suggests, but to appraise and judge – and, the moment they take issue, to post angrily about it.

“What amazes me is that no matter how clear you try to make something, people will still misinterpret,” he says. Being referred to as a misogynist, he believes, is “rude, a huge charge, tantamount to calling a white person racist. It disturbs me how liberally folk dangle that word around.” Furthermore, he adds, “it bugs me that people who feel offended then have the right to be offensive themselves.”

But, I ask him, does he believe they may have a point? Is he ever guilty of offending people? “Guilty of offending people? The very question presupposes that offending someone somehow makes you guilty. See, I'm sure most of the people I'm offending were offended long before they got to my show. I'm just the latest platform for them to use.”

On the offensive? Reginald D Hunter on stage On the offensive? Reginald D Hunter on stage He tells me about a recent show in Croydon, where, close to the front, six “such women” were present. “They were sat there, arms folded, frowning. I don't know if they bought a ticket, or sucked cock… who knows. But they got in. They got in. I guess that since the whole social media furore, people are now coming to see if I really am extra crude, or if I have lost my mind, or whatever…”

He recounts that show to me now in detail, so much so you wonder whether he spent its entirety eyeballing them with a mixture of fear and suspicion. “Two of them may have cracked a smile by the end, but three of them, not even that,” he says. And the sixth? “The sixth walked out.”

This isn't, of course, the first time Hunter has found himself in hot water this year. In April, the man who once toured a show called Pride and Prejudice… and Niggas was invited to perform at the Professional Football Association Player of the Year Awards, in front of the premiership's multi-cultural elite. During his set, he liberally used the 'N' word, much as he always does, and the show, he relays now, went well. People laughed, applauded, posed alongside him for photographs. It was only the morning after, with the morning papers, that he realised his set had actually been a disaster, and that the PFA regretted booking him in the first place.

“I'm still learning why it was quite so controversial,” he says, shrugging what is clearly an habitual shrug. “Seems to me I tapped into a pre-existing anger happening with football, and football fans, in this country. I only get full appreciation of it when I talk to people like you – and I'm not being facetious, incidentally. But as far as the people who populate my world are concerned, it was just another gig.”

It's difficult to know how to buy this. Whether Hunter – who, in the flesh, is utterly charming, the archetypal, if not stereotypical, Southern gent – is merely playing faux naive here, while shrewdly realising – much as fellow comic Frankie Boyle (whom Hunter describes as, “a decorated admiral in our fleet”) does – that it never hurts to be talked about. To be, in inverted commas, “dangerous”.

“I'll be honest with you,” he says. “I've always preferred absurdist humour to humour revolving around race or gender. But that's what I'm saddled with because nobody else will talk about it. You want the truth, I'd much rather be talking about anal sex and farting.”

Hunter was born and raised in Georgia, one of five children. Being American, his childhood dreams were preposterous ones. “I wanted to become president, Superman, the next James Bond.” He was 20 before he realised he needed more achievable ambitions, and so trained to become an actor. But an acting internship in Jackson, Mississippi, left his confidence destroyed. “They kicked my ass,” he says. “But an actress, a white woman, did say I had a raw gift, and that I should go study in the best place in the world.”

Three years later, in 1997, he showed up at RADA in London, where one has to presume his confidence took a further knock, because he soon ditched acting altogether in favour of comedy. With good reason: he was funny. His shtick, which he debuted at a club in Birmingham at which Frank Skinner was compere, was essentially an American in England, far from home and perpetually confused at our endless idiosyncrasies. He then returned to London, and has been fine-tuning it ever since; he has been nominated for a Perrier Award three times. These days, he is a familiar face on TV comedy panel shows like QI, 8 Out Of 10 Cats, and Have I Got News For You. In the latter show, particularly, the matter of race is routinely, almost mandatorily, brought up. “If I ever talk to any white people in this country, and eventually they are going to initiate a conversation on the subject of race,” he says. Really? Surely his colour is not that much of a curiosity? “Well, you're talking to me about it now, aren't you?”

He is not, he points out, complaining. It's become his “thing”, just as Peter Kay might talk about garlic bread, and Michael McIntyre the perils of being a contented father and husband. It's made him who he is, and comedy, he says, is his abiding obsession in life, with all the negative connotations associated.

“I ask myself lately, when I look at my personal life...” Hunter, not too far off 50, has no children, is currently single, and the three times he mentions ex-girlfriends to me he does so longingly. “And I wonder whether I've paid too high a price. I've given a lot to this job, and I've made a lot of people who have tried to become attached to me learn to be patient. Which is difficult. I sometimes wonder if all this, what I do, is really worth it.” And his conclusion? He sighs. “Well, you have to remind yourself that, before coming to any firm conclusions, you first need to remember that, right now, you are tired, you are coming down from whatever last night's drinks were, you've got tour fatigue, you are lonely and horny. So accept that your mind might be compromised.” In other words, he'd rather not dwell on it for fear of arriving at an answer?

“Oh, you know, battling these demon chicks on the internet hasn't helped,” he says. “I work in a business where people are always trying to work out if you are a nice guy, or whether you are simply up your own ass.” As if to underline the fact that he is the former, he apologises for sounding so grumpy, and quite so defeated.

“By the time of my next tour, my nuts will be swinging again,” he promises, forcing up a smile. “But right now? Right now, I'm just tired.”

Reginald D Hunter's 'In the Midst of Crackers' is out now on DVD; he tours until 30 November (www.reginalddhunter.com)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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 children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on