'I don't deny my blackness, but it doesn't define who I am'

Stand-up act Reginald D Hunter explains why nothing fuels jokes like a spot of angst
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The Independent Culture


This August poses a challenge for me. I arrive at the Fringe more sure of my unsureness than I have been before. Not only am I screwed-up but I'm not screwed-up in any way that's particularly original (a major but necessary blow to the ego).

As unpleasant as this sometimes has been, it's an amazingly good time to be me right now. Nothing fuels jokes like angst. I've had trouble before but my response to it is very different this time. As I look at the labyrinth of excuses that I have constructed for myself I see this in the wider context of groups I bear allegiance to and even many I don't.

My pain is greater than your pain: it's a little self-deception that many groups play to relieve themselves of the responsibility of empathising with someone who is not like them. It's a dangerous game as it further perpetuates the illusion of the exclusivity of pain based on gender, race, nationality etc.

To move beyond the doldrums in which debate has lain for so many years requires a willingness to divorce yourself from the things that are familiar and, therefore, easy. Otherwise you build a home in the hell that you know. So I'm less inclined to allow my allegiance to a group ­ be it American, black, male, whatever ­ to distort my objectivity. You can often be made to feel heretical when you don't. For example, I know blacks who support Serena Williams because she is black and Americans who are pro-war just because they are American. Which is absurd.

I was quite proud when I watched the Serena Williams game and found I didn't have a response to her based on her colour. I just got into how terrifying and dedicated she is as a player. I hope I'm graduating from feeling happy for "any nigger doing anything" as Richard Pryor said. You have to judge people by a higher standard than that. It does nobody any good if black people are in positions of power and doing the same incompetent job that white people are doing. In effect we continue to subjugate ourselves to the standards that we claim oppress us.

As stand-up comedians we have the opportunity to investigate infinite insights and possibilities. And in a year that has included two family members dying, stage time being lost and sexual activity being dramatically reduced (don't ask), I have had more time to think than in previous years of comedy.

I don't deny my blackness, it's a key part of who I am, but it doesn't define who I am. In fact I can't think of any one thing that does. There's something compulsive about the way I've behaved over the years and a lot of it still holds sway over me. I struggle with it. Especially now.

But old habits die hard. There's a lot in the show about that ­ how come bullshit behaviour hangs around long after the case against it has been argued, won and closed? Why is it so hard to change? Here you have the beginnings of A Mystery Wrapped Inside A Nigga.

'A Mystery Wrapped Inside a Nigga': Pleasance (0131 556 6550), Wednesday to 30 August

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