- 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.