Comedy fest review: Reginald D. Hunter (trigger warnings)

by Lord Sutch

ReginaldDHunter_470x270So. Rape huh? Rape’n’niggers.

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.

Show details:

Reginald D Hunter, the New Zealand Debut

Hannah Playhouse, Wellington, 7-10 May, 7pm
Loft at Q Theatre, Auckland, 13-17 May, 8:45pm

Adults $37.00

 

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7 comments

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Archy May 8, 2014 - 7:03 pm

Call it out Sutch, nice one

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Terry May 8, 2014 - 8:14 pm

I actually have found a massive increase in reviewers mentioning sexism this year particularly from male middle aged bloggers. There is a disturbing trend of reaching for the moral high ground in comedy in NZ at the moment. I prefer to not close my mind to subject matter and let funny be funny and not funny remain not funny regardless of content

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Archy May 8, 2014 - 10:52 pm

“let funny be funny…regardless of content”?
Nah, fuck that. I want more innovative and creative funny.

Sexism and other forms of bigotry in comedy is sheer laziness. That kind of “boundary pushing” has been done to death – just like the banal scripts of Hollywood blockbusters, we’ve heard it all before.

Picking on the marginalised in our society is just another form of bullying. It’s beating up the weak kid and getting the cheap laughs from your mates. Using this type of material in a show normalises the ostracism of the groups concerned and reinforces loutish humour that we’re better off without.

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Kate May 9, 2014 - 11:49 am

Hi Terry,

I’m genuinely sad that “reaching for the moral high ground” is disturbing to you.

Surely comedy can be engaging, entertaining and enjoyable without being at the expensive of already marginalised people?

Just because some people find that material funny, doesn’t mean that it is ok.

I really urge you to think carefully about how it might feel to be a person in marginalised position – and how it might feel to have your life and experience exploited for an easy laugh.

I’m not trying to attack you – I’m asking you as a human being to put yourself in the position of another human being, to think beyond yourself.

How do you feel about the use of rape as a punch line, as the use of another persons extremely traumatic personal experience as material for comedy? Do you, as a human, think this is an ok thing to do to another human?

I very much look forward to your response.

Kind regards,

Kate

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Venus May 13, 2014 - 9:08 am

Absolutely agree! Great performer. But all the sexism and rape dialogue was OFF and really weird. Thanks for the write up!

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Benjamin May 14, 2014 - 12:27 am

Hi Kate

you self righteous attitude reeks of the kind of moral high ground that terry mentioned.

“How do you feel about the use of rape as a punch line, as the use of another persons extremely traumatic personal experience as material for comedy? Do you, as a human, think this is an ok thing to do to another human?”

how do i feel? i feel its as justified as any other entertainment medium. i feel its as justified as computer games as justified as painters as justified as game of thrones or dexter.

stop thinking that a comedian will ever be bullied by your pathetic ideas of how we need to veiw or speak about the world.

You dont find it funny Kate? Then dont laugh. Thats the only right you have. It takes an infantile understanding of what comedy is (with its many complex forms such as satire, where the comic often portrays the very qualities that he/she is criticising) to come up with your argument. It is depressing that such an angle has become the common default in n.z and just illustrates how far behind and conservative New Zealand is. we are still uptight when the rest of the world has learned to laugh.

“really urge you to think carefully about how it might feel to be a person in marginalised position – and how it might feel to have your life and experience exploited for an easy laugh.”

what kind of kiddie glove oven mitts do you want your artists to be wearing Kate?

i suggest you just stay home and stare at the sanitised drivel that flickers out of your television if this is the kind of concern you think performers are supposed to have towards the possible offence of hypothetical audience members.

the rest of us will be enjoying the iconoclastic risk taking that lies at the heart of god comedy.

And Reg D Hunter is a prime example of that. A superb comedian. N.Z is very lucky to have him here.

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The Ruminator :: Comedy Fest Review: Adrienne Truscott in Adrienne Truscott’s Asking for It (trigger warnings) May 7, 2015 - 1:45 pm

[…] year I saw Reginald D. Hunter as part of the Comedy Festival. His show hinged upon one big giant rape joke he did smack in the […]

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