That’s a bold statement to make isn’t it? Especially because I’m a white male. So really I’m the worst person to be making those statements. Why? Because I’m marginalising an already marginalised group. And did I make it funny? Did I make a political point? Are you enriched because of the beginning?
No. You’re probably vaguely offended and bewildered.
And that’s largely how I felt coming out of Reginald D Hunter’s show yesterday. Which was a shame because Reginald is a funny man, and he’s obviously a clever man, and he’s a nice man. I requested to review his show some time ago and hadn’t heard back come-yesterday. So I tweeted at him and the festival that I hadn’t heard, Reginald personally went out and sourced me a ticket to review him. So I was in a positive frame of mind heading into his show.
Also his show should perhaps come with trigger warnings.
His opening is wonderfully low-key. There was no intro, just some music, then not music, then Reginald shuffling onstage. And he creates quite a presence on stage. He’s a big black man from the United States. In New Zealand we don’t experience that sight a lot. And some of his earlier gags focused on perceptions and views that we in middle New Zealand would perhaps not consider. And I sat back in my comfortable liberal position and thought “here we go, this is going to be excellent.”
He liberally used the word nigger to refer to himself throughout the show and I thought about doing what I’ve seen other reviews do and refer to it as “the n word”, but we’re all grown ups here, we understand. He explains why he uses that word, and does so artfully and humorously so the audience remained comfortable. His riffs on subjects we don’t experience much of in New Zealand were brilliant. He showed an astute observational mind and made us confront some harsh truths about racism but in a very funny way. So far so good. He had a lovely folksy air about him with his southern-states drawl casting a lovely warm blanket around the audience. It made the confrontational aspect of his show just that much more jarring.
His long bit about Lance Armstrong was wonderful and I particularly enjoyed his piece on Oscar Pistorius. It started off fairly obviously and run-of-the-mill but then he pivoted ever so slightly and BAM exposed the audience’s prejudices that we probably hadn’t considered.
Then there was the misogyny.
Reginald attempts to address this head-on. Saying he’s often accused of being a misogynist, and whenever he’s interviewed he’s accused of misogyny and how he’s sick of it. He defines misogyny as “hating women” and he clearly doesn’t hate women so therefore it’s not misogyny. I don’t know if this is a wilful self-deception or if he genuinely believes it but it shows that Reginald isn’t perhaps in touch with the nuance of sexism. As soon as he introduced the topic of “pro-women women” the audience tensed and laughed nervously. Reginald interpreted this to mean that New Zealanders didn’t know that there were “pro-women women”, a naive perception that showed a lack of respect for the New Zealand psyche. That lil ol’ backwater New Zealand was blissfully unaware of the feminist movement.
He then had long pieces about rape. He tries to make this ok by employing a euphemism to mask rape but this falls somewhat flat. Then he tells a long story about a friend of his who was raped. The punchline of the joke isn’t about the rapist. Or rape in general. The punchline only achieves in marginalising the victim and asking us to laugh at her and her predicament. Unsurprisingly the crowd didn’t really go for it. But Reginald didn’t mind. He ploughed on, attempting to justify why he could tell this story and asking us to accept that it’s not the victim’s story to tell. He failed here too. In fact the audience was noticeably silent for long stretches during this part, and any laughter seemed a nervous release of tension than anything else.
What I found most fascinating was the power-play that was going on. Here you had a black man, a section of society that has been victimised and marginalised since forever, and he was hating on another segment of society who have also been down that road. And at the end of his pieces about women he would then refer to himself as a “nigger”, I think to remind us he was part of a repressed minority too and so he was able to say these things. But no, that’s not how it works.
Once again, I was struck by how technically proficient Reginald was. But again felt he was let down thematically. A lot of reviewers will say he’s clever and thoughtful and how he confronts topics that we don’t confront very well. Yeah he does, but he also doesn’t do it very well. There seems to be an alarming trend of sexism from the male comedians who are 40+ years old this year.
Hannah Playhouse, Wellington, 7-10 May, 7pm
Loft at Q Theatre, Auckland, 13-17 May, 8:45pm