Competing for the title of busiest man in comedy, LENNY HENRY, aka Delbert Wilkins, the Rev Nathaniel Westminster and Theophilus P. Wilderbeeste, is squeezing in a major Fringe gig between his film, TV and radio commitments. Mark Fisher competes for his attention with a traffic warden.


ello can I help you? I’m just unloading here. . . sorry, I’m being attacked by a traffic warden, excuse me. . . yes, OK . . . well, we’re only unloading and then we’ll go and park the car. . . well, that’s because I’m doing a show here, I don’t know if you noticed, and I have to unload the stuff out of the car otherwise I can’t get in, Ican’t do the show. . . I appreciate that, but unless we can do the get-in, I can’t do the show . . . he’s going to park the car in a second. . . OK, thankyou.’

That’ll teach Lenny Henry to use a car phone. Slap bang in the middle of our interview, he’s been interrupted by a Basingstoke jobsworth of a warden who scores twice in the yellow peril stakes once for nabbing an illegally parked car and once for nabbing a famous face. ‘Sorry about that,’ says Henry in his dirty Midlands drawl. ‘I don’t think people realise, whenever I’m faced with bureaucracy a tape recorder goes on in my head and I think, this is funny what can I do with this?’

If he does make use of the incident, there’s no telling where it might end up. He might have been off the TV screens since the last charity jamboree, but behind the scenes he’s surpassing even Ben Elton in quantity of comedy output. Like Bob Geldof, Jim Kerr and Midge Ure before him, Henry is increasingly known as the acceptable face of magnanimity, but he’s quick to point out that his career has been far from side-tracked. ‘If suddenly people think that all I am is a big red nose, they’re sadly mistaken,’ he says. ‘If you’re not doing some dodgy sitcom on the telly, people seem to think you’re dead, but I’ve been really busy. I’ve just made a film for Screen One called Alive and Kicking with Robbie Coltrane where I play a drug user/dealer and Robbie plays a drug rehabilitation guy. It’s really serious, heavyweight drama. I’m doing a sit-com, starting next year, which is going to be brilliant. I can’t tell you what the title is, because we haven’t decided ourselves yet, but I can tell you food plays a big part in it. I’m doing a special for Christmas and another one next year. I’ve organised a black writers’ workshop, I’ve done Comic Relief, I’ve made a documentary for the

8 The List 23 29 August 1991


South Bank Show about funk and I’ve done a radio play called AlmostAlways.’

Add to this a lead part in a Hollywood movie, True Identity, which he’s just been promoting in the States and is due for release here in September, and a spanking new 90-minute one-man show to put the icing on the Edinburgh Fringe, and you have one seriously busy comedian. Co-written with John Cantor, script-editor for Mel and Griff and Fry and Laurie, the stand-up show

is 100 per cent Henry. “I used to love doing a show where I just came on in the second half,’ he explains, ‘but I thought when I turn 30 I’m going to have to think about doing a longer show. You have to be more responsible, put away childish things. Sitting in the dressing room drinking cups of tea, slurping orange juice, while you hear some guy struggling away in the first half, I’m afraid has to go behind you. So I decided I wanted to do the whole show and it’s been very hard work.‘

Looking forward to the chance of interacting with a live audience after so much screen work, Henry promises a host of new characters to add to his ever-popular stable of spaced-out Rastafarians, doddery Caribbeans and narcissistic soul singers. There’s also a tangible political edge, appropriate for Britain’s foremost black comedian. ‘I do a police recruitment song, because they’re having such a bad time recruiting ethnic minorities,’ he says. ‘It’s based on a Shabba Ranks song, so I’m doing my bit by doing a rub-a-dub dub-wise version of how to get blacks into the police force. There’s quite a lot about criminality and the cult of the serial killer which has come on through Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Silence of the Lambs. And there’s a pointless rant about how black cabs in London spend five years doing The Knowledge and minicab drivers spend five minutes doing something called The Ignorance.’

Henry has come a long way since he came to national prominence on New Faces at the age of 16 with a set that fitted snugly into the tradition of white, racist comedy, be it his innocuous impersonations of Frank Spencer or more loaded characterisations of black stereotypes. Now at home with the Comic