Reginald D Hunter: (that’s D like Degrading, Distasteful, Derogatory).
Worthing. Pavilion Theatre. March 2nd 2022. Bombe Shuffleur.
I’m not a fan of stand-up, but we needed a group night out and I mistakenly assumed that a Black comedian would be offering something interesting to us here in melanin-starved Worthing. When he opened with an anti-royalist joke and a poke at Brexiteers, I knew we weren’t going to be getting creative absurdist monologue or Afrofuturist mould-breaking humour, but I thought we’d be fairly ok.
The next day, Google told us that if we’d done our research more carefully (rather than trusting the venue to put on good entertainment) we would have known what this guy does – and saved ourselves a lot of money and shame/rage. Descriptions of his poor and insulting material and the reactions it arouses have been around for a while. Journalist Christina Kenny wrote this run-down of one of his rape jokes in 2015. The comments thread to her post throw up something added to the discussion from a woman who knew RDH personally and has been repeatedly harmed by his ‘humourous’ recycling of a private conversation about her experience of sexual assault.
After 20 mins of sitting and listening to this guy, the 4 of us walked out, shaken and feeling gut-punched sick.
RDH scratched hard at painful old scars from being bullied or abused, aroused a sense of shame and loss of racial pride in Blackness – and slapped us with genuine shock. Not good, edgy, creative, ‘shake-em-up’ shock, but that physical nausea that rises up when you simply cannot believe what has just happened. When the body autonomously goes into fight-or-flight-or-freeze mode and you have to listen to your bodily reactions and work out WTF is going on here.
This was 0% theatre of cruelty and 100% junior school from the 1970s.
Unravelling Race, Gender, Embodiment in Stand-Up
We travelled home bewildered, ashamed, sad. Angry.
When he started that joke about his mum not knowing who his dad was and eventually finding out his mum had been a whore, I was laughing at first, then I thought – should I be laughing? This isn’t actually funny – I’m a Black woman. Am I laughing at myself? Am I saying that the stereotype that Black women are whores and no Black kids have a dad around is true? I feel uncomfortable.
Yep. Cos it is Bullshit.
When he made a joke and used a violent epithet about people with learning disabilities – and then went on to say that it was OK, cos they wouldn’t be able to understand what was being said about them – well, that wasn’t funny and it was the last straw for me.
I’d been feeling like running away for 10 minutes already, but was held pinned to my seat by that English polite thing of not making a scene or disturbing other people. By the time he’d offered us his 3rd racial stereotype, a disturbingly violent anti-gay piece and then that bit of extreme nastiness about disabilities, my refusal to be part of this became stronger than my timidity.
Another one of us recounted that the experience of hearing jokes that referred to men hunting down gays to do violence on them with guns, had brought back some horrible old memories of being repeatedly bullied and physically abused at school for being gay and genderqueer. RDH – people do get queer-bashed and you know it. Nothing about that can offer any amusement.
Some Good Nights Out Around Worthing
What a difference from the space over at Brighton Ironworks, where we’d recently seen Queefy and sat gasping with laughter at genuine creativity and humour done with utter respect for Blackness, Queerness, Trans identities, femininity, disability. You don’t have to be crudely nasty or mimic the bully’s pose to be funny. Actually, Queefy with Rhys’ Pieces was way funnier. Inclusive and absurd, all at once. Intelligent.
We love a dodgy night out, a bit of humour and fun that’s far from ‘wholesome family entertainment’. But we also respect ourselves and the people who live around us.
The evening at the Pavilion, with RDH was a sorrowful spectacle of a guy playing to the worst and most regressive ideas about what’s funny.
Is he 8 years old? Are we in the school playground? asked one of our party, in disbelief at what was offered up as ‘funny’.
This guy also uses the N-word freely, in front of white folks. This was potentially reassuring to any white people who’ve been worried that they ought to stop using the word. The casual public use of this word can dangerously suggest that, actually, it’s ok. Must be, because – look, there’s a Black guy up there throwing the word around over and over and over. Desensitising the crowd to its horror.
Let’s reiterate, then: if you’re not Black, please do not ever use that word. It’s not OK. Yes, the word gets used in some music and in some Black social circles – and that’s a different thing. Context is everything (ask a sociolinguist or linguistic anthropologist).
Also, racism is not any part of ‘banter’ or ‘joshing’ (whatever the fools up at the Cricket Club might wish).
You don’t need Psych 101 to know that humour is a defence mechanism and that many of us have taken humour on as armour – even to the extent of self-hating and self-mocking ‘jokes’. You also don’t need to have read academic treatises on the ethos of stand-up – for so long dominated by straight white men and hostile to outsiders – to understand the dilemmas of ‘non-traditional’ entrants. Those outsiders do get in nowadays, but the easiest fast-track in still seems, horribly, to be to play the Master’s game: gurn and shuffle, abase yourself, tell them what they want to hear.
We were being invited into collusion with the worst side of human behaviours. We left.
Outsourcing Our Racism
As one astute young Black man in our party mused, as we tried together to disentangle what we had witnessed and to ease down the feelings of pain, nausea, shame, and rage that had been aroused – if you look at the venues where he plays, he knows well what he’s doing. A quick analysis of the tour venues suggests what’s going on here: offering worn-out stereotypes and 1970s style ‘jokes’ to audiences that are predictably going to be largely white, older, conservative. Oh – and as a side-bonus, he’s giving them the illicit thrill of hearing that N-word, so they can start being bolder with it again – because a Black guy used the word himself.
As Matthias Pauwels shrewdly terms it (in a subtle academic trawl through race comedy from early minstrelsy to late Dave Chapelle), whatever other layers of provocation or irony may also be intended – this kind of stuff is, inevitably, a contemporary phenomenon of ‘outsourced racism’.
Next morning, we all still felt shaken up and shocked. It’s easy to forget that outside your bubble, this kind of pre-millenial shit still passes as ‘funny’. We take it as a warning and a reminder that however nicely folks might act to your face, in private, many of them still love this kind of thing and hold attitudes that keep us unsafe.
£24.50 per head. A costly reminder.
The short review? Here it is. Feel free to copy and re-post.
Who is this show for? Bigots of all tendencies will find something here to smirk about. If your bigotry extends beyond banal sexism and casual stereotype, and on into the bloodsports of racial epithets, abusive and violent talk about LGBTQ folk – or even to rape jokes – then you will love this guy. If your humanity extends into kindness or your humour demands something more than recycled hate-tropes, you need to avoid.
Worthing, we hope that next time RDH takes a national tour, we’ll stand among the places where there’s no hope of rustling up enough support to sell tickets.