“AH, Mr Bond, I’ve been expecting you,” the voice says down the line, accompanied by a rich, almost childlike, chuckle.
I’ve heard this line a few times before but when Reginald D Hunter says it I find myself chuckling too.
The US-born comedian is taking time out from his new tour, The Man Who Attempted To Do As Much As Such, which started this week. As tour titles go it’s a bit of a mouthful, although apparently I’m not the first person to have pointed this out. “Yeah, a few people have said that to me. That’s what happens when a deadline catches up with you,” he says.
Hunter has become a household name in recent years on the back of his stand-up performances and appearances on popular TV shows like Would I Lie To You, QI and Have I Got News For You.
He’s known for his deadpan delivery and his willingness to tackle thorny issues like race and sexuality, topics that some comics tiptoe around. But he dismisses those who say he courts controversy with his trademark easy charm.
“I mostly work in front of over-privileged white people, and they’re easily shocked by things they don’t already believe – ‘how dare he espouse that view.’ I get a sense of contrived outrage from them. It’s amazing how many people go out of their way to be offended by what you’re saying.”
Hunter has been living and working in the UK for almost 20 years now, since he first landed here in the late 90s. But his journey to becoming one of the most recognisable, and popular, comics working in Britain today has been anything but conventional.
Born in a sleepy town in Georgia, he is the youngest of nine children. “My mum was 14 when she had her first child and she had me when she was 42.” Growing up he describes himself as a “silly little boy who watched a lot of TV.”
He had an inkling that he wanted to do something creative but wasn’t sure what. “I knew I wanted to do something and I’d explored the other options in the US like teaching, preaching and being a lawyer. I looked at acting and the roads you had to go down and I thought there had to be another way, so I elected to come here.”
It was a bold move, especially for someone who at the time wasn’t exactly worldly-wise. “Coming out of the Deep South I’d never left the US before. I come from a very religious background and I’d never really seen pop culture,” he says.
However, he quickly realised his acting dream was going to remain just that. “I can’t sing and I can’t dance, but I thought maybe I could act. The problem was there were a lot of dudes who were black and tall and they could sing and dance, and act.”
Instead he tried his hand at stand-up and recalls his first gig. “It was in a classroom and just before I went on I suddenly realised I didn’t have any jokes.” But rather than freeze he started telling stories and found, much to his delight, that he could make people laugh.
Like Jimi Hendrix and Bill Hicks before him, Hunter is bigger in the UK than he is in his homeland. But he’s happy with that and has grown fond of the people here. “I’ve been around the world and nobody agonises about fairness as much as British people do. I admire that because there are lots of places that don’t even have that conversation.”
• Reginald D Hunter plays the Victoria Theatre, Halifax, on May 8 and York’s Barbican on May 9.