Review: Pride and Prejudice and Niggas
By Shaun Hutchinson
Award winning comedian Reginald D. Hunter knows how to do his work. Advance publicity for Pride and Prejudice and Niggas, his West End debut, in the newly opened Arts Theatre, was boosted by Transport for London’s decision to ban the show’s posters on the Tube.
The show is not even about the ‘n’ word – but the 2006 Writers’ Guild Award for Comedy Writing winner does address the hypocrisy and double-standard of its use and of the still prevalent white supremacist and racist attitudes towards people of African descent.
This is an astute and thoughtful comedian, nominated in three consecutive years for the Perrier Award. The start of the show focuses on this controversial word which has become, in the space of almost two decades, the source of hot debate.
All time great rap group A Tribe Called Quest articulated the controversy best in the track ‘Sucka Nigga’, which addresses the [then] popularisation of the word amongst African-American youth. Before them revolutionary poetry collective Last Poets addressed the controversial term in ‘Niggers are Scared of Revolution’. Even comedian’s comedian the late great Richard Pryor, who kick-started the increase of the word in mainstream comedy culture in the 1980s, stopped using it later in his career. And in his performance Reginald D. Hunter follows in the footsteps of the comedy legend.
In a two part, almost two-hour set, the Georgia, USA-born charismatic comedian began tentatively, in a session clearly being used to find his feet and fine-tune his material. Some raw edges needed ironing out, but the low-ceilinged and intimate Arts Theatre, near full to capacity warmed to Hunter’s affable personality.
This comedian has no gimmicks as such - he just recites hilarious anecdotes of life. He addresses human weaknesses, insecurities and double-standards through perceptive observational comedy with two clear influences - Richard Pryor’s confessional bravery - and the late Bill Hicks’ say what I like, don’t give a damn what I say on stage attitude [and smoking on stage].
The performer, who studied at London Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts (RADA) and has done Shakespeare and Panto since arriving in the UK in 1997, fuses an engaging persona with brutal candor. This material is top-class; mostly focusing on our human eccentricity, the pervasive hypocrisy in society and the challenges of negotiating life’s difficulties.
Hunter, who has performed in Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand and South Africa, has established himself as a sought after headline comedian. His experience gives him a confidence on the stage as he relates sharply perceptive tales and yarns seamlessly on a range of subjects.
Some are apparently personal, others seem political – but all are relevant and cogent. His delivery - a sort of unrehearsed conversational dialogue in which he also spotlighted and engaged with the audience members - is confident and authoritative.
Using a combination of observation of the human psyche and our hypocrisy he moved effortlessly over subjects ranging from accusations of anti-Semitism to discrimination against red-haired people and Welsh ‘sheep-shaggers’ - with a whole lot more in between.
In the last decade, Black British comedy has grown and developed: Richard Blackwood, Gina Yahsere, Curtis Walker, Geoff Schumann, Kojo, Felicity Ethnic, Jocelyn Gee and others have carved out a niche for themselves with predominantly Black audiences.
Good comedy doesn’t discriminate as society does though. The performance and content is what counts - and recognition of the humour. But human culture is specific culturally and socially and there are national or cultural forms which reflect a particular experience, culture or practice.
No one is excluded from that deliberately. If you don’t understand then you don’t – it’s not racist or segregationist. Just a fact of life. It’s like language – if one speaks one’s language it’s not to exclude anyone– but a specific from of communication.
Just because we gravitate to what we know and understand - culture wise - it doesn’t make us a bunch of racists. We just love our people. It’s like movies or theatre or literature. We don’t restrict ourselves to what is ‘ours’ so to speak – but we feel an empathy with it, recognition and understanding.
In this sense Reginald D. Hunter merges pride in his Black identity and culture with mainstream credibility. What is more mainstream and credible than a West End show? He deserves the accolades. Check him out.
Reginald D. Hunter
Pride and Prejudice and Niggas
04 December 2006 – 23 December 2006
The Arts Theatre & Bar Great Newport Street WC12 7JB
Producer: Mick Perrin for JFL Live by arrangement with International Artistes
Shaun Hutchinson is The New Black Magazine's arts correspondent. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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