Viv Hardwick asks why the election of Donald Trump nearly made Reginald D Hunter quit comedy

HAVING spent all of 2016 repeatedly saying Donald Trump would not be elected president, US stand-up Reginald D Hunter admits that he almost felt like giving up the business of comedy when exactly the opposite happened.

“My new show was mostly written last autumn. Then Trump got elected, and I had to rewrite it very quickly. I’m almost ashamed to do stand-up this year. I’m amazed they still let me do comedy,” he says.

“When it happened, it took me two weeks just to get out of bed. I thought, ‘What’s the point of anything? The law? Sex? Jokes?’ It made me feel so down. Not because I was scared of his economic policies or his out-there views. No, I was scared by thinking, ‘What does this mean for humanity? At this point, we thought we were pretty smart. But if people can be so easily duped and pitted against each other, are we really any better than cro-magnum man.”

Born in Albany, Georgia, the 47-year-old has been based in the UK for the past 15 years.

His current tour, Some People v Reginald D Hunter, brings the comic to Newcastle, Durham and York in June. Originally he arrived in the UK, at the age of 27, to study drama at Rada, but switched to comedy full-time after accepting a dare to do stand-up... and ended up with offers like becoming a regular panellist on BBC1’s popular show Have I Got News For You, His current subjects include families, boyfriends and girlfriends and why the OJ Simpson case was, “The pivotal moment in race relations in America. It is still sending shock waves through the country today.”

But of course, Hunter will also be focusing on the man who is currently, for better or worse, capturing the world’s attention: Donald Trump. The tall, imposing comedian, says: “Trump is the elephant in the room, especially if you’re American. You’ve got to say something about him. And I’ll say I love him... not since Martin Luther King have I loved someone so much,” jokes the stand-up.

Having seen the three-part BBC2 series Reginald D Hunter's Songs of the South score a hit as he celebrated 150 years of pop music, travelling from North Carolina to New Orleans, the comic now has some insight into what makes Trump and his team tick.

“They really don’t know what they’re doing. At first, you were scared that they had some kind of master plan, like Spectre taking over the world. But no, they are just useless. Once revolutionaries get to power, they don’t know what to do with it. They didn’t realise how hard it would be and how scrutinised they would be.

“You can do what you want when you just talking to your people. But you can’t when you go outside your circle and say things to the media. You can’t criticise the people who have been running the country for decades – the Department of Defence, the Department of Justice and the CIA. They’re grown people. You can’t talk to grown people like dogs or children. Trump has already offended so many different agencies in Washington that I get the feeling they will freeze him out. They’ll take his proposals and act like they’re stuck in some committee.

“I think they made that decision right after the Inauguration. If the judicial and legislative branches don’t like what you’re doing, they can stop you. Just ask Obama. ‘Oh, your term is over now. But I was just going to do that. Oh man!’”

He won the Writers' Guild Award for Comedy in 2006 and has no qualms about taking on the “alt right” on Twitter. “I’ve been challenging their views. It has not been as upsetting for me as it has been for them. All you have to do to win is keep cool and state the facts – they hate that. It’s like holy water to a vampire. I figure if I can really argue my position with someone who despises the fact that I exist, then some of the places I’m visiting on this tour should be a piece of cake.”

The man who is renowned for his dry, deadpan TV appearances on shows such as QI and 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown, admits he’s not intended to return to the US any time soon. “I would have gone back ten months ago. But then there was an uptick in the number of black people shot by the police. So I stayed in England a bit longer. It’s funny, but it’s not a joke.Let me count the ways I love Britain. One of the things I love is that Brits come up to me and critique me to my face. They say, ‘I’ve seen you on Have I Got News For You, and I’m onto you. You sit there as though you have nothing to say, and then all of a sudden you pounce. I won’t tell anyone, but I know what you’re doing. It’s brilliant’.”

He loves the not-loudness of the Brits compared to Americans. “I like the ease of discourse and the fact that you can disagree without guns. I also love the fact that in Britain, you’re allowed to be openly smart. In fact, you can get laid in Britain for being openly smart. I can’t think of any other country where that’s true.”

Hunter also has a reputation for being controversial but claims that it’s not deliberate. “All you have to do is tell the truth and uptight, middle-class, white people will lose their minds. You don’t have to try and be controversial – just tell the truth. ‘My God, did he say that? That’s horrible.’ But in fact, in terms of controversy, I’m a watered-down lightweight compared to some of my family and friends”

The stand-up feels comedy can help to change people’s minds particularly when it’s part of sustained, articulate disagreement. “We can learn something from comedians that we can’t learn from our philosophers or politicians or intellectuals or clergy. If you animate a point with a joke, it really does sink in.”

He wants audiences to emerge from his shows feeling a little bit brighter about the gloomy news headlines. “I hope people will come away feeling less distressed about our current situation. I hope they can extract one or two methods to defend themselves against the rampant me-ism that is going around now. I think that the alt right and Trump and Brexit can only come about when there is a philosophy of me-ism, rather than us-ism.”

On his fan base, Hunter adds: “I love the fandom here. Now the people who liked me before are annoyed by the neophyte fans coming in – ‘I liked Reg before he went synthesiser’.”

  • Some People v. Reginald D Hunter tour dates: June 7, Tyne Theatre Newcastle (Box Office: 0844-249-1000); June 14, Durham Gala (03000-266600) and York Grand Opera House (0844-871-3024)