Reluctantly calling bullshit on Reginald D Hunter

Reading instructions

  • If you are Reginald D Hunter and/or a very busy and important person, please scroll down to the last section of this post.
  • Everyone else: start from here.

Disclaimer one: I’m a journalist

I’m not saying this because I want your pity. I’m saying this because someone on Twitter last night looked it up and suggested that it means I have ‘an agenda’. This is not accurate. If I had had a journalistic agenda in attending Reginald D Hunter’s show at the Hammersmith Apollo last night, godammit I would have been there for free on a press ticket.

I was definitely not there for free. I was there with three friends for a fun night out at £25 a head in the stalls. YOU’RE WELCOME REGINALD D HUNTER.

Disclaimer two: I enjoyed 75% of Reginald D Hunter’s show

This was the third time I’ve seen RDH live in performance. I wouldn’t say I’m a superfan, but he has made me laugh pretty much consistently every time I’ve seen him on stage or on TV. Good job, Reginald D Hunter. Thanks.

Disclaimer three: I’m a feminist

This shouldn’t even be a thing. I just want to make it really crystal clear that if I criticise RDH’s material, it’s not a black-and-white case of ‘humourless feminism hates lovely RDH’, or even ‘As a feminist I will criticise any joke which relates to subjects about which I have strong opinions, like rape’.

Other people might have a problem with those types of jokes. I’m not one of them, and I don’t speak for them (or indeed anyone but myself). What I have a problem with is when the jokes aren’t funny.

So what the fuck happened at Reginald D Hunter last night?

There was a rape joke. It wasn’t very funny.

The joke was around a conversation between RDH and an ex of his,  who told him she had been raped by a near-stranger she met at a party. RDH’s telling of the story was compassionate – sensitive, even. At the end of the account of their conversation, he asks why she didn’t call the police. She gives reasons like not wanting to have to deal with the police’s judgement of her actions. Later in the conversation, she tells RDH that she can tell the difference between good and bad men, saying something like: ‘Well, you would never do something like that.’

To which RDH’s punchline was:

‘Well, if I’d known you wouldn’t call the police…’

The majority of the audience laughed. Just over half the people in my immediate vicinity did (far fewer than for previous jokes) and a few people sucked their breath in audibly, in an ‘Oh no he didn’t!’ kind of way. We were clearly in ‘edgy’ territory.

I didn’t laugh. I felt extremely confused and uncomfortable. As the laughter died down, a woman on the stage-left side of the stalls shouted the exact words I was thinking: ‘Not funny’.

It got worse

A stand-off soon ensued between the almost inaudible heckler and the very effectively-amplified RDH. He defended the joke, saying that its meaning was clear: that women in that situation should call the police. He also said, in an aggrieved way – clearly angry and frustrated at being misunderstood – that the heckler should know that he had discussed this particular joke with the rape victim in question, who had OK-d it.

The second heckler was a woman a few rows in front on me in the stage-right stalls. She piped up while RDH was addressing the first heckler, but was almost immediately silenced. Why? She was being assaulted. I doubt RDH could see this in the dark of the theatre, but the man sitting next to her was physically restraining her, covering her mouth with his hands. Not in a jokey way. The tussle was so violent I could hear her squeaking from six rows back. It lasted 15-20 seconds. When she finally fought him off, the man stood up and stormed out of the hall.

*Edit 7.27pm: ‘Assault’ isn’t my word. I was the word I heard used by two security guards talking to the woman after the show.*

As a rule, I don’t tend to cry at comedy gigs. So the fact that tears of rage and frustration were rolling down my cheeks within two minutes of the first heckle might give a clue as to how violent these exchanges were: both the exchange that had happened in the stalls and the angry shutting down from the stage that both hecklers were subjected to by RDH (or ‘the man with the microphone’, as I thought of him from this point onwards).

But comedians have to deal with hecklers, right?

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that if you deliver consciously edgy material that you know is likely to cause offence, you’d better make it pretty fucking funny. And the joke that the second heckler was objecting to made the rape joke look like The Aristocrats.

The set-up was a bizarrely uncontextualised story about RDH apologising to his niece for touching her inappropriately while she was in her early teens and he was in his late teens. Punchline: she had no idea what he was talking about – hilarious! Segue to disappointing Bill Cosby gag and ZERO explanation of why RDH is not in jail.

RDH knows he’s likely to cause offence with this kind of joke (not least to victims of rape and paedophilia): he even has a bit in his show about the ‘trigger words’ that ‘set people off’. You’d have thought the least he could do would be anticipate criticism, and then deal with it calmly and appropriately – he’s the one with the power and the microphone, after all. But both hecklers last night were shut down viciously with a angry, defensive response that incited the rest of the audience to come down similarly hard on them.

At one point, I remember RDH suggesting that it was the first heckler versus the entire room (incorrect) and that this said something about the validity of her complaint (also wrong). He told the second heckler that it was people like her who made him wish he was back in Moscow (the location of a previous tour he’d joked he was sent on for bad behaviour). These lines earned him boisterous cheers, which continue on social media even now. On Twitter the hecklers have been called ‘bitches’, ‘feminazis’, ‘narrow-minded’, ‘an embarrassment’ and ‘a hindering embarrassment to women’ (that last one by RDH himself, not exactly proving himself a gent in the face of criticism). God knows what they’ll call me if they read this.

From rape joke to close of gig was an ugly spectacle that left a bitter taste in my mouth –one that’s still with me more than 12 hours later.

Why am I writing this?

I feel deeply ashamed that I was too scared to add my voice to the voices of dissent last night. I stood by while those women’s objections were ridiculed and diminished, even though I knew in my heart that they were a valid response to poorly-judged material.

I want to apologise to those two women and to anyone else who also felt too threatened to stand up and leave, or to just say: ‘Actually, I didn’t laugh at that too.’ By staying in my seat, I made it easier for people to accept that the hecklers were stupid and wrong to disagree with what RDH said, or the way he said it.

I don’t want to pick a fight with Reginald D Hunter. I’m sure if we met in person we would much to agree on and laugh about. But I also want him to know that the two women he shouted down with his microphone last night were not alone in thinking that some of the stuff he said on that stage was bullshit.

Thanks for reading.

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Evolution of the amateur choir/orchestra tour as relayed via social media

2000: Photographs taken by geekiest members of ensemble, developed and stuck in album, thereby never being seen by anyone outside most reviled section of group (idea of ‘social’ media fairly ludicrous at this point)

2005: Photographs taken on digital cameras by geekiest members of ensembles, who by this point are the ones most likely to be at Oxbridge and therefore using a strange new platform called Facebook. Photos uploaded and ignored by vast majority of ensemble.

2006: Drunken tour conversations are now punctuated with ‘I’ll friend you on Facebook when we get back’. It in now genuinely easier for new people to learn their fellow musician’s names. Lines between geeky and less geeky becoming blurred.

2010: Photos of everything taken by everyone on the tour and uploaded to Facebook after the event in a zillion different albums showing the same events but from slightly different angles.

2012: Same as 2010, but people realise they can and should untag themselves.

2014: Everyone now has 3G, even in FOREIGN. Post-tour uploads now redundant as people upload the images to social media and tag as they take them. This becomes a real problem for people without 3G who lose the power to censor images of themselves until they get back to their computer.

2015: No-one bothers uploading photos to social media: they’ve already been shared via the tour What’s App group in real time. No-one outside the ensemble notices or cares.

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On being mistaken for a pregnant lady on the tube

Baby on board badge - Just fat - C Em MathewsThe first guy to offer me his seat was quite young. That raised alarm bells. Usually it’s older gentleman who leap to their feet when they see a woman standing (presumably for fear her uterus may be heading southwards in a drippy fashion).

I smiled a no and went back to the Evening Standard. But a couple of minutes later, a young woman sitting just next to me at belly-button level leapt to her feet and gestured maniacally towards her vacant seat.

Even then, I was slow to catch on.

‘No… thanks… are you getting off?’ I stuttered – and then, as the horrible realisation sank in: ‘Do you think I’m pregnant?’

‘Yes, no worries! Sit down!’ she shouted over the tinny thumping of her iPod. I stared at her crazily (it may have been with only one eye) and watched as realisation began to dawn on her.

Seldom have I seen someone become so embarrassed, so fast. The colour in her cheeks rose faster than the sun over African plains at the beginning of The Lion King. She ripped her headphones out and started mouthing wordlessly. Time for me to say something.

‘I’m not pregnant, I’m just… a bit… fat?’ I faltered, realising as I said it that it was absolutely not the right thing to say. Actual tears leapt into her eyes. She started gabbling: ‘No! No way! Not pregnant? Not fat! Oh God! You’re not fat! I’m so sorry!’

I pressed the woman back into her seat, apologising profusely for embarrassing her, thanking her for her kindness, and congratulating her on her public spiritedness, before breaking eye contact as soon as was logistically possible and returning to the paper.

But the words swam in front of my eyes. In a frenzy of mortification, I cast around the carriage, searching desperately for a trough of Monster Munch into which to sink my face.

Big mistake. The gaze of every single person in the carriage was fixated on my abdomen. As soon as they clocked me looking, they instantly looked away to their own papers, feet, or the buttocks of strangers at eye level.

I clutched the base of the Standard to my stomach and pretended to read (again, probably with just one eye).

How could this be happening? I couldn’t possibly be that fat. In fact, I’d lost a lot of weight over the last couple of years and am now a size 14 (the slimmest I’ve been since I was 14). But that’s obviously not good enough if I look pregnant. And not just a bit pregnant – enough to make two sober and presumably rational adults assume that I am pregnant enough to need to sit down on public transport. That’s, what, like, seven months?

Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my GOD.

Maybe I am pregnant. Maybe I am one of those women who gives birth on the toilet having never realised they were up the duff in the first place. Maybe I’m actually nearly full-term, and only modesty and poor self-esteem has kept me from this realisation until now. Yes. Yes!

Maybe not.

I try to catch a glimpse of my reflection in the window behind my benefactress’s head and instantly regret it.

Huuur (I say, internally). Huuuuuuuurrrrr. There is a definite bulge, which is emphasised by my slouch against the pole. I immediately stand to attention – still the bulge remains.

This is a dress I bought to go on holiday in 2012, when I was a size 16-18. It is from Joules. It is orange, it has an empire line and it is a size too big. The empire line used to hug my ribcage: now it hangs loosely, creating a pouch of material around the mid-region.

Oh Christ. It’s just the sodding dress. It’s the DRESS. For fuck’s sake, I’ve worked hard and lost all that weight only for my clothing to attack me when I least expect it.

The world is suddenly a brighter place. The woman who offered me her seat has either gotten off or died – I don’t know which. I resolve to burn the dress as soon as I get home, change trains at Edgeware Road and start thinking about other situations me and my dress could put ourselves in. Smoking outside a pub whilst necking vodka has a certain appeal.

By the time I disembark at Gloucester Road I am resting my hand contemplatively on my belly.

Kyle. That’s a good name for my vodka baby.

Image (C) Em Mathews

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Are YOU a chicken washer?

FSA do not wash chicken

It all started when the Food Standards Agency issued a press release warning people against washing raw chicken, to mark Food Safety Week 2014. What can I say? Those guys really know how to celebrate.

Chicken washing, they said, is a practice that can actually increase your chances of contracting campylobacter food poisoning due to the danger of contaminating work surfaces, clothing and other foods with splashed water.

On Monday, quite a few of the papers – including the Telegraph, MailMirror and Metro – picked the story up. Ha! I said. I am not the FSA’s target audience! Who are these so-called chicken washers? What person in their right mind would even consider washing a chicken? I scoffed (quite literally, as the evening’s menu turned out) and thought no more of it.

Then Tuesday and this article by Tim Dowling in the Guardian on alternative food hygiene practices happened. I posted it on Facebook with the textual equivalent of a droll chuckle, and waited for the reassurances to flow in. And they came – believe me, they came. But so did the chicken washers.

“Well, it’s how my Granny and Mum prepare chicken and fish, so I do the same. It’s never done us any harm. No plans to change. Definitely not as a result of a news article!”

“Haha! I always thoroughly wash chickens too!”

“I know that some halal and west indian cooks favour washing any and all meat, but often in lemon juice rather than water.”

“My mother always does, learnt it at her knee!”

“Give it a couple of months until this same advice is reversed. Still washing my chicken…”

“I once washed a bird when I was a vegetarian teenage nanny. Grim, but funny making it wee itself by running water through the neck.”

Again, my reaction – and that of many of my Facebook friends – was one of complete amazement. But chickens are ALREADY clean! we raved. It’s not like the bird, once plucked, is allowed out to roll around in the dirt one last time! Chickens aren’t carrots – they’re not sprayed with pesticides prior to sale! What are you LIKE, you crazy chicken washers?!

Then on Wednesday, the Evening Standard announced that over half of Londoners – 51% – confessed to having washed their chicken in the last few months.

Seldom has my worldview been so comprehensively challenged.

It has never once occurred to me to wash chicken. Not once. Yet now it seems that just over half of everyone I know has been doing it ALL THE TIME.

People I thought I knew – friends! – have all this time been standing at their kitchen sinks washing chickens. A sizeable proportion of all the dinner parties I have ever been to have been given by chicken-washers. Who knows – there might even be chicken-washers in my own family. It could be IN THE BLOOD.

When the story first broke, it was easy to write off the chicken washers as weirdos. When I realised there were a handful of them, I began to think that perhaps I should stop thinking of them as weirdos and instead start treating them like an unfortunately persecuted minority group. Now, I’m starting to wonder: am *I* in the persecuted minority group?

The Food Standards Agency has caused me to doubt not only long-standing friendships, but the essence of who I am and what I believe. This is JUST how Truman must have felt at the end of the film.

Do you wash YOUR chicken? Tell me. I need to know the truth.

A version of this post featured on the Huffington Post UK on 19 June 2014.

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Review: Gareth Malone’s Voices at the Hammersmith Apollo (21/5/14)

Gareth Malone merchandise (C) Christina Kenny

Bouncers. Merchandise. Excitable women. The opening night of choirmaster Gareth Malone’s UK tour had all the trappings (if not the ambience) of a pop concert, right down to the T-shirts on sale in the foyer of the Hammersmith Apollo. If that boy ever gets laser eye surgery, he’s in trouble from a merchandise perspective.

Last night’s concert was the first of a 14-date UK tour to promote Malone’s new choir and their album, Gareth Malone’s Voices, released on Decca last November. The programme promised to combine tracks from the album with new material and Malone-fan favourites including the Military Wives’ 2011 hit, Wherever You Are.

The first night of a tour is never without technical issues, and the choir was somewhat underamplified in the concert’s opening number. But they soon got up to speed. Highlights from the first half included a great arrangement of Fleetwood Mac’s You Can Go Your Own Way and an unexpected yet perfectly serviceable performance of Justorum Animae by Renaissance composer William Byrd – a salient reminder of Malone’s background in classical choral music.

The choir were amplified throughout – necessary, given the scale of the tour venues, but purists may be irritated by the ample use of reverb*. Some of the technical effects were fun, though – particularly the beatbox loop which was put to good use in Lord’s Royals and Malone’s party piece for audience and choir, Stand By Me.

Audience participation proved key to the evening’s success, and it was here that Malone’s skills as a showman came to the fore. Not for nothing is he billed as ‘the nation’s favourite choirmaster’. Admittedly, this critic’s cathedral choir-trained hackles rose when the audience was first called on to join in, but Malone’s charm and enthusiasm were genuinely infectious. Before long I was singing along with the rest of the audience to Sting’s Fields of Gold, though not quite dancing in the aisles.

The audience included several choirs on nights out, including representatives of at least three of the country’s 80 Military Wives choirs. Yet even non-singers (like the group of sheepish Curtis Brown execs on my row) responded unconsciously to Malone’s theatrical flourishes. We are, after all, a well-trained audience, with 14 series of Malone’s choirmastering antics under our belts. As Malone himself quipped towards the end of the concert: “A Gareth Malone audience is a better class of singing audience.”

The second half opened with a really excellent turn from the Citibank choir, who featured on Malone’s Sing While You Work series (Voices will be joined by a different community choir on each night of the UK tour). The highlight of this half was an arrangement of  Keane’s Hamburg Song, set with lush, Eric Whitacre-like harmonies. This was followed by a similarly Whitacre-like number by Paul Mealor (him off of the Royal Wedding) which gave the choir the opportunity to prove their ‘straight’ singing chops.

Overall, the quality of choral singing was high, with a particularly luminescent first soprano section who managed to float the top notes pleasantly without sounding shrill. There were also a number of outstanding solos from within the choir. Voices are an attractive and of course a very young bunch of singers (a Hi-de-Hi! joke from Malone went down far better with the audience – average age 45 – than with the choir – average age 21).

Though they handled the more classical rep ably, the choir seemed much more comfortable (and perhaps better rehearsed?) with the pop, right down to the ubiquitous ‘vocal gymnastics whilst pawing at the air’ moves that most of them had down pat. Yet their communication with conductor and audience was impressive: proof that when a choir comes out from behind the score, both sound and performance tend to be incomparably better.

While there were a few technical distractions – persistent feedback, soloists fiddling with earpieces and some frankly bizarre lighting choices – the evening overall was jolly good fun. Malone & Co. clearly have what it takes for a successful pop tour – hummable tunes, the opportunity for a singalong, and impressive compèring from an exceedingly likeable showman. Four stars.

* Purists should perhaps ask themselves why there are there in the first place

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Made In Chelsea: The Next Series

Made in Chelsea - C4

I recently read a news article on the Daily Mail website that caused me to rethink everything I thought I knew about reality TV phenomenon Made In Chelsea. That is to say: everything.

Three years after the show started, I am still almost totally in the dark as to what it all means. Sure, Binky is cross with Alex for joining in with an orgy at Spencer’s place – but do these people really exist? Are their problems real? Do they have separate mobile contracts for their non-MIC lives? Do they HAVE non-MIC lives?

The treatment I wrote for the series three years ago still works, apparently.

Scene one: early morning in Candida’s bedroom

Candida sleeps fitfully and alone. The camera sweeps across the bedroom floor, which is littered with designer heels, abandoned wisps of expensive lingerie and small piles of cut diamonds. In the foreground, a Blackberry rings on silent. The film crew decide that Candida needs her rest and do some close-ups of the illuminated display, which records seventeen missed calls from Cosmo.

Scene two: Fenestra’s mum’s kitchen

Fenestra and Gusset perch on bar stools at the semi-precious stone-inlaid breakfast bar, sipping Civet lattes as they discuss the events of the previous evening (a swanky party held to promote Wiggy’s new handbag range). Both agree that the bags on display were hideous, and Wiggy herself sick-makingly mankazoid. The girls agree that Wiggy should be brought down a peg or two. Fenestra has the brillopants idea of writing a post for herSloane About Town blog insinuating that Wiggy takes inspiration for her handbags from the high street.

Scene three: Cosmo’s SW3 pad

Cosmo redials Candida on his mobile, but hangs up guiltily as girlfriend Plummy enters the room. Plummy carries a designer bag that contains a teacup piglet wearing earrings and a tiara. Seeing Cosmo’s guilty expression, Plummy challenges him over the call. An inexplicable lapse in continuity means that she soon has Cosmo’s solid gold mobile in hand and is checking his dialled numbers. A short yet unusually resonant argument ensues (Plummy can be heard as far off as Ladbroke Grove) and Cosmo storms off, snatching up a white mink top hat from the coatstand as he leaves.

Scene four: a squash court, somewhere posh

Cosmo and Spackers play squash. The game is intense: the boys play so hard and with such skill that the ball is never quite visible. The camera lingers on their impressive musculatures, which are surprisingly defined given their stated occupations (Event Organiser and Professional Hairdo). Spackers, whose initials are embroidered on his super-luxe sports togs in platinum thread, advises his friend that he may well have behaved incorrectly with regard to his conduct towards Plummy and Candida: ‘You were, well, to be honest, bang out of order, mate. Sozzlebiscuits.’ A bead of sweat rolls down Cosmo’s forehead onto his cheek and solidifies into a perfect pearl.

Scene five: back at Cosmo’s pad

Plummy is lolling on a lizardskin beanbag nibbling at a Fabergé egg when Cosmo returns to the flat. Despite the presence of the camera crew, she extracts an Awkward apology and a promise that Cosmo will not see Candida again unchaperoned. She then departs for Harvey Nicks leaving Cosmo to read another text from Candida: ‘Coming 2 one’s gig 2nite? Bisous, Candy XxXx (The Rt Hon Lady Minge)’.

Scene six: a grimy Mayfair pub

The whole gang are gathered together for Candida’s musical debut. Spackers, Fenestra and Gusset bitch over gold-flecked mojitos served by monkey butlers, and are joined by Fumbles, Twinkle, Gimpy, Biffles and Stinky, who have all been on a unicorn shoot at Vulva’s country estate. Jonno, the show’s only black character (drafted into the second series to help meet industry targets), enters the bar to a chorus of ‘yo’s and fistbumps from the established cast. At this point viewers can press the red button to self-administer a lethal overdose.

Candida trips onto the stage to general applause, peeping with difficulty through Swarowski crystal-tipped eyelashes. Tremblingly, she puts her full, sensual lips to her silver kazoo. The first song brings the house down: everyone agrees that her soulful interpretation of Jack Johnson’s Who Gives A Fuck should totes deffo secure her the record deal she’s after. Yet Candida looks troubled. Her eyes, now bleeding freely, scan the crowd as she launches into her second song.

The performance is lacklustre until Cosmo bursts in, whereupon Candida perks up noticeably and brings Goldfinger to a rousing finish. Cosmo leaps onto the stage and is leaning in for the kiss when Plummy storms in. The camera zooms in as he looks frantically from Plummy to Candida and back again. Background music rises to a crescendo. Plummy’s pig climbs out of its bag and craps emeralds all over Cosmo’s shoes.

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Video: Arcade Fire’s ‘We exist’ – does it celebrate gender diversity?

The comments and incredibly close like-to-dislike ratio on this vid on YouTube shows that it definitely splits opinion – and not along the lines you might expect.

But I enjoyed it, and I think you might too. Let me know.

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