Lenny Henry talks about his two big lovesBy Becky Barnes
May 17, 2012
His infectious laugh has tickled crowds over four decades and now Lenny Henry is coming to Bracknell. Becky Barnes met him – and got the giggles
When I pick up the phone to Lenny, just a few minutes after our pre-arranged interview time, his booming voice needs no introduction: “Hi Becky, it’s Lenny.”
The pitch of my voice goes up a notch – well, I’m waiting by the phone in anticipation. I’m a trainee reporter and the biggest celebrity I’ve ever written about is a raven who starred in a Metallica video.
Thankfully, I’ve prepared a few questions and Lenny is on top form, even though he’s a bit jet-lagged.
“I’ve just got back from New York,” he says. “I watched One Man, Two Guvnors on Broadway – it’s great to see them become stars in such a short space of time.
“I love the show – it’s quite brilliant and very very funny.”
As something of a comedy legend, Lenny knows his funny stuff and his new show certainly won’t disappoint.
Cradle to the Rave is not only about his passion for comedy but also his occasional dismay at not pursuing a career in music.
“In the 1970s, there was a big fork in the road where I had to choose between comedy or music,” he explains.
“Trevor Horn (record producer) said to me I should take it really seriously but I chose comedy.”
The Dudley-born comic kicked off his early days of stand-up with impressions of Elvis Presley and Prince – “I wish I’d written Raspberry Beret,” he says.
The 53-year-old regards his music tastes as ‘eclectic’ and will touch on the reasons behind this in the performance.
“I talk about being a black teenager in the Midlands and growing up in the 1970s. My mum said we had to ‘hintigrate’,” he says in a Jamaican accent.
He goes on: “We integrate because when you’re young everyone has a musical tribe.
“Mine was soul and reggae but my white friends were into stuff like Bob Dylan, Black Sabbath, The Beatles. Music was currency – we said ‘I’ll listen to yours if you listen to mine’.”
The comedian, rated in 2004 as the 15th funniest black performer of all time, says he will also talk about his first experience of the fairer sex.
“Discos were the way you met girls back then – I had to teach them how to dance,” he laughs.
And his talents don’t stop there. He took up piano at the age of 40.
He says: “I have never played in front of an audience but I will be playing during the show.
“How good I am depends on how much I practise.
“I might play Blueberry Hill but be prepared for me to cry as it was my Dad’s favourite.
“Singing is a big deal – it is like you are naked.”
The comedian also turns his talents to another instrument, the ukulele. “I tell people I washed it and it shrunk,” he says, exploding with laughter.
Although it’s evident that Lenny is musically talented and could have followed a different career path, he seems to have no regrets.
“If I had gone into music, I might not have got so much success – comedy has brought my family many blessings,” he says.
“It meant I could pay for my mum’s care at the end of her life.”
He pauses and then adds with a cheeky glint: “I like doing comedy because it means I can take the p*** out of musicians.”
The man, who is also famously the face of purple-decked Premier Inn, says he might try a bit of rapping and impersonate Prince or Michael Jackson in the show.
It won’t be his first visit to Bracknell. He says: “South Hill Park Arts Centre is fantastic. I sometimes go there and surprise people and try out my jokes. I have always liked Bracknell.”
I have to ask where he’ll be staying when he comes here and once again his infectious laugh booms out of my handset.
“I’ll be staying at the Premier Inn,” he says.
So what has he got to say to people thinking about the show?
“It’s funny, funky, sexy, groovy, HURRAH!" he says. “Come and see it – it’s fabulous.”
- Lenny Henry: Cradle to Rave is at South Hill Park on Monday, May 28, and Thursday, May 31. Tickets are £15 on Monday and £16 on Thursday.
To book, call (01344) 484 123.