Comedian's southern discomfort
An apology from a comedian who is known for his divisive opinions on contentious topics seems a serendipitous way to begin a conversation.
Having stood me up the first time we try to connect, American-born, UK based comedian Reginald D Hunter is all contrite apologies when we finally do."I won't do it again ma'm," he says in his southern drawl.
It will be Hunter's first time in New Zealand when he arrives here for shows in Auckland and Wellington during the International Comedy Festival, beginning later this month.
Originally from the American south, Hunter, 45, has been a fixture on the UK comedy circuit since moving to Britain as a theatre student almost two decades ago.
A trained actor, he soon dumped this career path for comedy when it turned out he was actually pretty good at it. His intelligent, conversational storytelling style has seen him compared to Bill Hicks, with his routine centred on his out-of-place nature as an American trying to negotiate British life.
He's a regular on panel talk shows, such as the popular Have I Got News for You, and has been nominated three times for Britain's holy grail of humour, the Edinburgh Comedy Award.
And no topics are taboo. A random selection of YouTube clips show him Live at the Apollo in London discussing female drivers, abortion and rape.
In a show that made headlines last year, African-American Hunter repeatedly used the n-word during a performance at a dinner of the Professional Footballers' Association.
The football association - unsurprisingly, sensitive to claims of racism - lashed out against Hunter following the event, saying booking him was a "gross error of judgement," and many of those at the gig had found his humour offensive.
So is this what New Zealanders should expect?
"I tell you what, this they can expect. They can expect constant, relentless, comedic pressure, they can expect that.
"I'm not controversial, I just happen to talk to a lot of sensitive white people. If you've got a lot of sensitive white people there in New Zealand then it's gonna to be controversial, because they are very easy to hurt or be offended. I'm a grown man and I'm pleasant and I'm friendly, but I try to talk straight."
Talking straight extends to life outside his gigs, too. In October last year, an audience member took to Hunter's Facebook page to accuse him of "misogyny and violence," after walking out of one of his shows, describing him as arrogant and rambling.
Hunter wasted no time replying, sparking a social media storm that spilled into the broadsheets.
"I am pleased that my performance hurt you last night. You, and the rest of the bitches of your ilk . . . the ones who never want to solve issues, just have them, the ones who destructively presume to speak for all of femininity, but only do for a few," he wrote back.
His response is atypical in a public-relations driven society, where confrontation is actively avoided or perceived gaffes smoothed over.
But Hunter says that is part of the problem.
"Actually it was just a woman who was going out of her way to be rude, and I find her rudeness typical now of internet commentators.
"This woman and people like her are the consequence of people not doing anything about her, it's not the done thing. But it's like a spoiled child, of course if you spoil them they'll mouth off.
"She went out of her way to be rude, and I went out of my way to spank her ass."
Hunter has spent the last few months taking some time out to clear his head. He works hard, he says, and the best comedy comes to him when he consciously takes a break from trying to think of material.
"To watch the news and not trying to find a joke, to go on a date and not try and find a joke in it.
"You need to take time off to forget, so you can relearn. I'm sure astronauts take time off, and when they do they don't watch sci-fi movies."
At that, he laughs and breaks into song. "Everybody needs a little time away ..." he warbles, a spontaneous a capella version of Chicago's Hard to Say I'm Sorry.
He laughs again.
"At the end of the day, they're just jokes ma'm."
Reginald D Hunter performs at Auckland's Comedy Chamber on April 29-May 3, and Wellington's Hannah Playhouse on May 7-10. For more details, see www.comedyfestival.co.nz
Sunday Star Times