Astute, insightful and, above all else, hilarious, Reginald D Hunter has firmly established himself as Britain’s favourite comedian from across the pond. To celebrate his twentieth year as a working comedian in the UK, he’s heading back to Nottingham with his Facing the Beast tour…
How is everything going?
First of all, what sort of name is Ash Carter? That sounds like an action hero name. That’s the last thing a bad guy wants to hear in a movie: “You know that Ash Carter is looking for you…”
I’m afraid you could not be further from the truth… You’re about to embark on a new tour to celebrate twenty years as a comedian in the UK. How much has changed in that time?
The main thing that’s changed is that the world has lost its fucking mind. I started watching The West Wing again last night, and I was like, ‘Goddamn, that was just a whole other world’. Compared to now, Republicans look sane in that show. But that America seems to be gone.
What impact has that had on the comedy world?
More than anybody, comedians are acutely aware that we live in a world where, if you say the wrong thing, there is a cluster of people that feel that they have the right to take away your livelihood forever. For comedians that have deftness, and who can make a point with nuance, they’ll be ok. But the decent working comedians – those that interpret things the way we’ve always interpreted things – it’s just pulling their teeth. They’d rather not talk about an entire subject rather than do the tightrope dance trying to work their way through it. It ain’t good for society when society’s spokespeople are scared to speak.
Do you think that ‘offensive’ jokes and ‘inoffensive’ jokes all come from the same place of just trying to make people laugh?
That is a truth, and it is a great truth. But for me, a greater truth is that everything on Earth is supposed to be here. That includes kittens and cancer, and means humorous people have to share this world with humorless people. The consumer age is taking over everything; when people complain to me about my comedy, they don’t sound like someone that has a point about the philosophy or the morality of your joke, they’re coming at you as an angry consumer that wants a refund on their experience. I’ve said it to people before: if you don’t like the things I say, don’t ask me questions or come around when I’m talking. Jesus, I take the time to craft the words, and to say them just right, anticipating as many feelings and thoughts as I can. If I put that level of effort into constructing the words, am I supposed to perceive them for you too?
You once said that “if you get upset by something a comedian says, that implies your life is really good.” Why is that?
(Laughs) Yeah, I remember saying that. If you’re sitting in a comedy room, losing your mind and getting upset not because a joke is about rape, but because rape was mentioned in a joke, rather than going and comforting actual rape victims or protesting in front of Parliament, you might think you’re in the fight, but you’re far away from the front lines.
I take the time to craft the words, and to say them just right, anticipating as many feelings and thoughts as I can. If I put that level of effort into constructing the words, am I supposed to perceive them for you too?
What do you think fuels that sort of behaviour?
If you ask anybody to name who is responsible for the world being fucked up, we’ve all got an answer. I call it the ‘resident evil’, and what that does is put a lot of junk in the game to create confusion and distraction. It has convinced us to take everything personally, and to stop using our emotions to feel, and start using our emotions to listen. The resident evil’s greatest power comes from not allowing us to connect and join up. There is no problem on this earth caused by human beings that cannot be solved by human beings without fifteen minutes of honest, considerate direct conversation. The fact that these issues keep going on for years means that somebody wants the issue, rather than the solution. We’re being kept in perpetual issue mode, rather than resolution mode.
So it’s a societal issue?
I think society is unwell, in that our legal and political systems say that the ends justify the means. If you have the gift of the gab, or if you can hire a good enough attorney, it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, it’s just what you can get away with. That has bled into society at large. Our society is traumatised by a number of things, not least of which is finding out that our history is full of lies, prescription drug use is making people crazy and we have a lot of soldiers returning that are broken physically and mentally. All of that has got into the system, and during that time, we’re constantly having titties and ass blasted at us, and we are being made fucking crazy. I don’t believe that any of these things are an accident of man’s tendency towards violence, or that women are naturally crazy, or people are naturally greedy; I think people who are treated well, grow up to treat other people well. That’s consistently true. Not always, but consistently.
Do you think people are less willing to embrace new ideas or change their minds now?
Malcolm X changed his mind! This is what led to his death. In 1964, Malcolm X went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and when he returned, he wrote that over the last twenty years, he’d been preaching about the blonde-haired, blue-eyed devil that is the white man. But in Mecca, he saw Muslims that were blonde-haired and blue-eyed, and their faces didn’t tighten in recognition of him. He had to rethink his position that it might not be all white people. That’s when he came back and started saying that maybe white people could join his group, and the next thing you know, BANG! BANG! BANG!
How do you think this can change?
We all have to stop calling stupid people stupid, no matter how dumb they are. Because I have never seen a stupid person react well to being called stupid. When you tell racists that they’re stupid, it doesn’t make them change, it makes them double down.
Like a siege mentality?
It’s what the alt right does – and I’m not talking about the ones that are actually racist – I mean the ones that sound racial in what they’re saying, and get over attacked by the left. They get even more mad, and start saying, “Ok, fine then… fuck immigrants!” The resident evil has put a contagion in our language that keeps us constantly pissed off with each other, no matter what group it is. What the individual has to do is decide that they aren’t going to participate in that. You have to have your position, and state it if necessary in as polite a way as you’re allowed to be, and just proceed on. The thing you have to remember is to open your mind to change if you’re wrong, and otherwise, stand your fucking ground, mister.
I have the answers to all of these things in my show. It’s not about being right; I’m just trying to start a conversation. I’m a long way from being the smartest guy in the world, and I smoke weed, so if I can figure it out…
Reginald D Hunter will be bringing his Facing the Beast tour to the Nottingham Playhouse on Wednesday 22 May
Nottingham Playhouse website