Interview: Reginald D Hunter, comedian

Reginald D Hunter
Reginald D Hunter
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‘SOMETIMES even the devil tells the truth,” insists Have I Got News For You favourite Reginald D Hunter, and as if to prove the point, that’s the title he has chosen for his current show, which tours to the Edinburgh Playhouse, next Tuesday.

Explaining his choice, the American stand-up, says, “Since September 11, there’s been a lack of elegance about government deception. It’s been naked, half-done and ill-prepared, kind of balls-out.

“When you listen to politicians or entertainers talking about profitability or collateral damage, they’re telling you nakedly that whatever their interests are, it is not for a collective good - sometimes even the devil tells the truth.”

Delivered with his distinctive Southern drawl, there’s no mistaking Hunter’s Georgia, roots. The youngest of nine, he came to the UK at the age of 27, a place at RADA in his back pocket.

An actor’s life, however, proved elusive so Hunter turned to the stand-up circuit, where he has now enjoyed more than a decade of straight-talking success, not least by establishing himself as a regular fixture at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Indeed, his first three Fringe shows received Perrier nominations.

So at home in the UK is Hunter now that audiences back in the States consider him too British, as he recently discovered in LA.

“In America, people have a need to identify you quickly, work out what you are and what you represent. They try it most quickly through what you look like or what your accent is or what your clothing is.

“A friend said, ‘You look and sound weird to them’. So after a few bad gigs, I walked on stage and said, ‘I’m told that I look and sound weird’. That got a little bit of a laugh.

“I continued, ‘Well, suffice to say I’m a mixture of country, nigger and a slight dash of Europe’. After I said that, the audience were like, ‘That’s plausible. Okay, go...’ and I was in.

“I have American friends who tell me that I’m now a British comic because of my manner and my sensibility. Yet my British fans point out how American I am. People hear what they want to hear, man.”

British and American audiences also react to different stimuli, notes Hunter.

“British audiences reward cleverness. And not everything that is clever is necessarily funny. American audiences do something different with cleverness. Sometimes I think they don’t register it, but that’s a gross assumption and a gross mis-characterisation of nearly 300 million people.

“It took me about five years to find any kind of stroke in the UK. It’s a very confusing place. I came over with my research limited to having watched a handful of British films - The Long Good Friday, My Fair Lady and Salaam Bombay! - and I thought, ‘I’m ready’.

“It was surreal, I’m still a bit traumatised about it. One of the traumas of stand-up is talking to 600 people and going down great and suddenly you’re all by yourself; there’s something jarring. Stand-up at this level appears to be a soloist art form, but you have people who know about lighting and sound around you and it’s fun being part of a team.”

Hunter’s ‘team’ includes John Gordillo, his director, and writing partner Amanda Baker.

“The lessons that John and Amanda have taught me resound in my ears. The first big gig I did after the first Perrier nomination was at His Majesty’s Theatre. I’d never seen three tiers of people looking at me before. John and Amanda taught me that if you want to be a stand-up, you cannot be beaten by a building, you cannot let the prestige or the lavishness of a place intimidate you. As a stand-up you are supposed to have an inherent disrespect for every building you are in.”

Fighting talk, ahead of tackling the biggest traditional theatre in the UK.

Reginald D Hunter: Sometimes Even The Devil..., Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place, Tuesday, 8pm, £21, 0844-847 1660