Dave Woodhall talks to comedian Reginald D. Hunter.
I’m deeply jealous of Reginald D. Hunter.
Not because of his talent, which is obvious, or his wealth, good looks, charm or attraction to women. No, he recently took time off from his comedy career to present Songs of the South, a documentary series about the music of his Deep South homeland. In it he got to talk to soul legends Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd, sat outside the Stax studios in Memphis. And he got paid. No man should ever deserve such fortune.
“Well, they were all right… That’s one way of looking at it… We were sitting out in the sun and I got the unique perspective of asking people the same questions that they’ve been asked many times before. I could see by the look on their faces. ‘Here it comes again…another one about Otis…’.”
Now it’s your turn to be asked questions you’ve been asked many times, so you’ll know how they feel. Songs of the South – not only did it have the best soundtrack for any documentary series, ever, but you were returning home. Was that the first time you’d gone back to work there?
“It was, and it took me to places I would never have gone if I were still at home. If I’d said to my family ‘Hey, let’s go to Gatlingburg, Tennessee’ they would have been like, ‘You out of your mind?’ And I think it’s a fair assumption that I would never have gone to see Lynyrd Skynyrd performing.”
It seemed you were very proud to be showing a part of you to the world.
“I was surprised that I felt so much pride. I realised that I had prejudices but I also realised that I had been living alongside these people a long time and while I’ve been living in Britain for seventeen years they’ve moved on. As you get older you get smarter”
Where is home to you?
“Maaan, I consider myself a comedy Richard Kimble. I’m looking for the one-armed comedian who killed my wife. I felt southern after the film, I felt a weird pull towards representing the south more.
“It didn’t feel like closure, it feels like I was doing something on the way to something else. I was holding to account whether that old southern feeling existed anymore.”
Living in Britain for seventeen years, there must still be things that surprise you.
“I hear words every day I’ve never heard before, strange customs and beliefs that survive in certain areas. The thing I like most about Britain is that no place in the world has as much concern about fairness. Sometimes y’all tie yourselves in knots trying to do it, but it’s the only country where decency gets such serious thought.”
And your thoughts on our political system?
“Well, I can’t understand why the Labour and the Liberal parties don’t work together . The Liberals have been out of power for almost a hundred years, you’d think that by about 1950 they’d have thought ‘Hey, this ain’t working’…”
You’re into the second half of the tour, The Man Who Attempted to Do as Much as Such.
“I’m not sure how far we’re in. One day a guy’s gonna say ‘That’s it, we’re going home’ but it’s going okay. Nobody’s been upset yet.”
Yes, your previous tours have seen words such as ‘racist’, ‘misogyny’ and ‘violent’ used to describe your act. Given that the curren tone is pretty quiet, have you mellowed?
“I don’t know. I’ve never called myself controversial, that’s certain white people who pick up on that. Some people like to be offended, I call them outrageous and some of them do turn up but I don’t know if they flock to my show. Maybe I’ve got less controversial, or maybe times have changed and white people have toughened up emotionally. Who knows?”
Is a comedian’s job just to make people laugh, or should you make them think as well? Would that be your legacy?
“I hope that when I die my headstone will read ‘He cared for justice whenever possible’. I don’t understand that legacy thing. To me it’s something that lives on after you, it’s your record and trying to shape it, I don’t understand that. I don’t think I make fun of people, I know I don’t try to hurt people and I don’t know what to make of things like that.”
Reginald F. Hunter plays Warwick Asrts Centre on 25th June. for ticket details visit www.reginalddhunter.com