Reginald D Hunter at the PFA Player of the Year awards: Right man, but wrong event at the wrong time

The Independent's Sam Wallace, who was in attendance at last night's awards, provides an insight into events

Watching Reginald D Hunter at the PFA awards on Sunday night, I was struck by the fact that here was a talented, interesting comedian whose material required careful consideration. He was challenging. He was on the edge. He was the right man, albeit at the wrong event at the wrong time.

Hunter is a black American comedian who was born in Georgia but is a long-term resident of Britain and a regular on Have I Got News for You. He began his act by explaining that he used the word "n*****", or "n****", under its alternative spelling, liberally in his set. He said that he used it to refer to all races and all people. He said that he knew very little about football.

He went on to use "n*****" to refer to Luis Suarez in a joke soon after and there was a sharp intake of breath from the people around me.

Unfortunately, there is little room at the moment for nuance when it comes to English football. Certainly, in the independent regulatory commission ruling on the Suarez and Patrice Evra episode in 2011, the commission found "Whether the words or behaviour are abusive or insulting is an objective matter; it does not depend on whether the alleged offender intended his words to be abusive or insulting."

In other words, you can contextualise all you like, but a racial slur is a racial slur. Hunter, as he said more than once, during his set, is more accustomed to small comedy clubs, full of comedy aficionados, than big hotel ballrooms full of football people for whom the comedy act is something of an afterthought.

We should also remember that comedians are not governed by the rules of the Football Association, even those hired by the PFA - a small but crucial point in the circumstances.

I was made aware from conversations with people in the aftermath that some of the black people in the room - including Clarke Carlisle, the PFA chairman - had been unhappy at the set, although I did not see Clarke personally to ask him. Others had found it funny and perceptive.

Just for the record, Hunter also made an involved observation about Jewish people that I found more difficult to reconcile. He said that he had recently returned from touring Ireland, "or as I call it," he added, "the white West Indies". I think he was on pretty safe ground there.

It would have been a safer bet for the PFA to hire a comedian who did not stray into such awkward territory. It might have been kinder on Hunter not to expose him to such a difficult, albeit polite, crowd before he embarks on a national tour. He seemed to feel from the audience reaction that he bombed. My view would be that a lot of the audience, were interested by what he was saying but a little unsure how to react without offending others around them.

As for the boos for Suarez's name when he was announced as one of the players in the PFA Premier League team of the year, one should bear in mind that by that point drink had been taken. The room was full of Football League footballers unwinding after a long season, and a fair few corporate guests in a room of around 2,000 people. As one of the few who was stone cold sober, I could say with certainty that there was no maliciousness in the booing I heard.

It would be overstating it to suggest it was anything other than a boisterous reaction by those who felt they were on safe ground booing a man who has been universally condemned for his recent actions. When it came to Hunter's altogether more complicated act, even those who had had a few by that stage were not quite sure what to say.

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