I have always admired Reginald D Hunter as a comedian who is controversial in the right way, and on Twitter and in interviews he comes across as a genuinely decent person. So I was hoping that the negative reviews the tour has received so far had just been based on bad nights and that this would be an opportunity to see a real master of the art at work.
The evening started somewhat unsteadily, with support act Tom Rhodes.
In contrast to his nonchalant friend, Hunter came on beaming, giving the air of someone who was truly happy to be onstage. He established an instant, easy connection with the audience and set about confronting the audience's Britishness with some sharp and downright hilarious lines. His observations when it comes to race are brilliant: drawing out self-aware laughs-in-spite-of-ourselves from the predominantly white crowd in a way that is not confrontational because of his natural likeability and charm.
This is a highly personal show, drawing a huge amount from Hunter's natural responses to events in his own life and his various relationship struggles, predominantly with his family. The show is called Facing The Beast, and he never explicitly names what the beast is, although at one point he alludes to there being multiple beasts, one of which is the deeply-ingrained and overt racism which still exists in the American Deep South - specifically his home turf of
I think the main beast Hunter is facing is that of fatherhood, being in the relatively unusual position of meeting his daughter for the first time now she is 17. Her many questions for him have prompted some recent self-reflection and in this he produces many interesting insights - and a few disappointing oversights. For example, his discussion of the Me Too movement, again from a highly personal perspective, seems somewhat to undermine the movement's motivations. Hunter was, so he claims, falsely accused of 'misconduct' by an ex who had reason to resent him, and who apparently threatened to end his career. Having built up the audience's trust, he has put us in the difficult position of seeing exactly where he is coming from, and yet, as my friend eloquently pointed out, it wouldn't have taken much to add a caveat acknowledging the seriousness of most such accusations.
While these hard-hitting subjects were handled more sensitively by Hunter than by many less skilled comedians, there were definitely moments when the amount of tension that was built up did not have the right amount of payoff when the punchlines came, which is surprising for a comedian of this level of experience and calibre.