The American comic Reginald D Hunter has gone through a series of emotions since Donald Trump took office as the latest president of his country, writes Richard Fitzpatrick
At first, Hunter – who lives in London – felt embarrassed. That feeling lasted from January until about April when it changed to numbness. Even when you’re depressed you can’t stay
locked in on the emotion, he says with a shrug.
“I live in England, and I travel the world touring, and every country I visit has plenty of things to be embarrassed about. As individuals, we all have stuff that we’re embarrassed about. Essentially, Trump is epitomising a moment in America where we have to have a good clear-out. We have to do this right now.
“Fat Pete Clemenza in the film The Godfather, when he was teaching
Michael Corleone how to shoot a gun, he said: ‘These things gotta happen every five or 10 years or so.’ In world history, every 50 to 80 years we have to have a blowout.”
One of the problems with Trump is that he’s so unpredictable. Hunter laughs when he compares Trump to the British prime minister, who has her own shortcomings, but with one advantage on Trump: “Theresa May at least speaks to you like you might remember the last thing she said. At the very least.
Hunters says that in his home place, people like Trump are called “AFS” — All For Self. “He doesn’t follow any particular ideology. He’s not particularly Republican or
Democrat. All he seems to be for is self-capitalism. Not even general capitalism — just self-capitalism.”
Trump’s marriage to Melania Trump — who unwittingly inspired a legion of supporters wielding “FREE MELANIA” banners during the Women’s March on Washington the weekend after Trump’s inauguration — is as mystifying to Hunter as it is to many other onlookers.
“We can only speculate,” he says, as to whether they have a marriage of convenience, “but it does seem interesting to me that just before he took office she announced that, ‘I’ll be spending more of my time in New York with the kid in school and stuff.’ My experience with women is that if a woman wants to be with you, she will make it work: ‘What is it? You’re in prison. You got Aids? Don’t worry, we can work around that.’”
Hunter is renowned for the savage, offbeat ways in which he tackles philosophical and social issues, especially racism. He has a knack for charging into less-travelled terrain with a persuasive, madcap logic. On Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, who promised so much as America’s first black president, it’s interesting to hear how underwhelmed Hunter was with his presidency. Obama flattered to deceive, he says.
“We all got played by him. I did,” he says. “I was suspicious in 2008. The exact same kind of momentum of the people mandate that he came into office with was identical to what Tony Blair came into office with when I first moved to Britain in 1997. They turned out to be roughly the same dude. I think it was Alexander Cockburn, the political writer and journalist, who said: ‘The oligarchs, the true powers in the world, are genuinely surprised by the masses about once every 20 years.’
“What’s weird is that the right-wing shit-storm aimed at Obama actually obscured from us a clear view of how diabolical a lot of his policies were. The Obama administration prosecuted more whistleblowers — people who have gone public with government malfeasance or surveillance programmes — than any other presidency combined. The Patriot Act remains in place; surveillance under Obama increased.
“Not only did the Obama administration not prosecute the bankers involved in the 2007 financial credit crisis, he employed a lot of people in his cabinet who were engineers of it — people from Goldman Sachs and such. Those are the people he turned the economy over to. He pretty much kept George W Bush’s policies. He was essentially George W Bush, but better at making speeches.”
Hunter, who was born in Albany, Georgia in 1969, is well over six feet tall. He moved to London to train at RADA as an actor, performing on stage in everything from Shakespeare to pantomime, the latter serving him in good stead for his conversion to stand-up comedy, which started as a result of a £10 dare.
He is one of only a handful of comedians who have been shortlisted three times — from 2002 to 2004 — for the formerly titled Perrier Comedy Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and has also picked up a Writer’s Guild Award for the writing on his show Pride & Prejudice & Niggas.
Hunter is known to wider audiences for his appearances on English TV comedy vehicles, most notably Have I got News for You, QI, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and a travel series a couple of years ago, Songs of the South, in which he revisited his old stomping ground, the Deep South.
He comes from a big family, being the youngest of his siblings, born when his father was 50 years old. Hunter’s mother has passed, but his dad, 98, is still truckin’, still joking. If his father’s timing is off with a joke, Hunter likes to kid him: “Don’t use that being nearly 100 years old excuse”.
“My dad still gets up most mornings and makes breakfast, and walks or sits in the yard with the dog,” he adds. “He’s still got his prejudices. The leading people on earth that my father is prejudiced against is Russians, and it did not start this year. This is a World War II thing my dad has.
“He has been warning me about Russians since I was 13. Earlier this year, when news about Russia influencing the US presidential elections broke, he looked at me and said, ‘Told you!’ When the Berlin Wall fell and they were talking about the demise of communism, I said, ‘Hey, dad, communism is dead.’ He said, ‘That’s what they want you to think, boy.’ ”
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