Taking a glance at the title of Reginald D. Hunter’s new show should reassure you that the UK-based American stand-up, writer and documentary-maker is still firing on all his provocative cylinders. Bombe Shuffleur may make you think of a different language, but it still has the word ‘bomb’ in it.
“There are people who drop bombs and there are people who throw bombs but there are also people who keep bombs from exploding. I consider myself as a bomb shuffler because when you’re covering dangerous subject matter on stage, the trick is to not drop one. If you got ten bombs going at one time, you’re doing good if you can keep seven of them up in the air. I guess this title means something to me because I’m sick and tired of issues being difficult to talk about; it doesn’t matter what you feel about Brexit but it shouldn’t be this hard to talk about it. The same with trans rights: no matter where you stand on it, it should not be this hard for human beings, who have been talking to each other for centuries, to talk about. So I’m just going to be up there, dancing through these subjects.”
Dancing through, around and right on top of tough issues has been Reg’s calling card since he emerged with a flourish on the British stand-up scene in the late 90s. Initially harbouring ambitions to be an actor (having decided that being either a teacher or a preacher back home in Georgia was probably not for him), he tried his hand at a bit of stand-up in Birmingham and seriously caught the comedy bug. He puts this partly down to a connection he had with UK audiences, a connection that he believes will be just as strong when he heads back out on tour.
“It was said of Martin Luther King that by 1967 he started to doubt the fundamental things that he believed when he got started in the 1950s about America being a place that would hear you out. It’s one of the reasons that I love Britain because it still feels like a place that no matter how mad people are at you, there is a still a group of people that will hear you out. You can’t ask for better than that. Though also, I know I’m going good when at least one person in the audience loses their mind. When I’m at peak efficiency I should be upsetting people.”
Sure, some people have been upset by Reg down the years (from the Professional Footballers Association chair who objected to a set he performed at an event to the London Underground bosses who banned one of his tour posters) but his work has been beloved by everyone from mainstream audiences to comedy commentators and plenty in between. One of the things that has been noticeable about Reg is his belief in continually debating with himself about his material. This means that Bombe Shuffleur on night one of the tour is likely to be markedly different to the show which ends the run.
“By the end of the tour, it’s no longer the show that you started with so you might have half a new show written already. It reaches a point by maybe gig 36 that you start to play around with what you’re saying and a bit that sprouts from an existing joke can become its very own thing. I’m at my best, stand-up wise, either performing or writing when I’m just this side of tired, not exhausted but just the place that makes you care a fraction less about what you say. There’s a layer of filter that you take off and you wish you could live in that frequency all the time.”
Like the rest of us, Reg has had to live in an alternative frequency over the past couple of years though his Covid experience was perhaps a little different. “I pretty much sailed through the first two lockdowns and I wrote a lot because I kept thinking that we’d be back to work soon. But it was on the third lockdown that I got out of the habit a bit, went through a difficult period when my father died and I just lay around and ate burgers and felt sad. But then eventually I woke up and thought ‘I need to shift this’ and got back on a diet of juices and berries.”
Now fully match-fit, Reginald D Hunter is all set to return to the nation’s live stages and get shuffling those bombs. “It sounds grandiose and I don’t want to sound like that, but I’ll be talking about those big issues, those things that are under-discussed and under-observed and that may fly in the face of popular convention. Part of being a stand-up comedian is not just being a contrarian but being a contrarian that holds a position which happens to be a truth and yet can still be funny about it. It’s about walking across a tightrope with nitroglycerine: how do I tackle this subject that everyone clearly feels this one way about but which has another aspect that is crucial to our survival to look at? How do I bring it up and risk my reputation by saying a particular thing and still getting them to go, ‘yes, fair enough’. That’s the trick.” In the hands of a comedy magician like Reginald D Hunter, those bombs might start to look a little bit safer. But they will certainly be a whole lot funnier.
Reginald D.Hunter tours with “Bombe Shuffleur” until April 30th 2022 and you can find information about dates, venues and tickets here.