Since moving to the country in 1997, Reginald D. Hunter has become a stalwart of the UK comedy scene. The Georgia-born comic was nominated for the prestigious Perrier award in both 2003 and 2004, and awarded the Writer’s Guild Award for Comedy in 2005. At his best, Hunter is an outstanding performer – charming, funny, and brimming with intelligence. He has proved an astute commentator on race and class in both the UK and America, and manages to draw insightful comparisons between the two while avoiding all the obvious cliches. He is also one of the few comics who, historically, has dealt with thorny issues and made difficult jokes without falling into the that class of comedians whose entire identity and apparent sense of self-worth comes from causing offence (see: Ricky Gervais, Jimmy Carr, etc).
It is because of these high standards that Hunter’s new show falls especially flat. The name, ‘Bombe Shuffleur’, implies the comic is well-aware that the material is likely to garner controversy, and perhaps even welcomes it. The targets, however, are depressingly predictable and the jokes mostly uninspired. This feels particularly annoying following a rather self-righteous segment about how Hunter views himself as a ‘social-detective’ comedian, ‘taking on the cases others would prefer to avoid.’ There is one joke about trans women partaking in sports which feels tired and dispiriting in equal measure, as well as another about various sci-fi franchises being ‘stolen’ from male fans. In a manner fairly typical of many comedians of Hunter’s generation, women are routinely caricatured as hysterical and there are some uncomfortable laughs at his observations on the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial. Philip Schofield is the butt of an especially unimpressive joke about gay man, which closes a show suffering from a more general dearth of gags.
The best moments of the show are therefore when Hunter abandons these unimaginative tropes and moves into different territory. He explores the contrast between English and American actors attempting one another’s accents, and Britons’ penchant for critical self-evaluation – ‘it never occurred to me to hate myself.’ There is a good joke about conspiracy theorists in the US, in addition to some funny and sentimental recollections about Hunter’s later father. Hunter also makes multiple references to the overwhelmingly white make-up of the audience and the show is a good reminder of the crushing lack of diversity at the Fringe (something that groups such as Fringe of Colour and crowd-funding organisations like Best in Class are seeking to rectify). It also contributes to a slightly strange audience dynamic (one Hunter is not unused to) and nervous guffaws at every use of the N-word. He jokes this is a good tactic to deduce how many Tories are in the room. Nonetheless, these few moments of quality ultimately serve to highlight the underwhelming nature of Hunter’s latest offering.
Reginald D. Hunter: Bombe Shuffleur is at Assembly Rooms (Ballroom) August 25-28 at 21:10.
Image credit: Permission granted by author, provided to The Student as press material.