Saturday, 7 January 2012


Saturday, 7 January 2012

I'm guessing this Friday night slot would have gone to Stephen K. Amos, had his own show not flopped so catastrophically last year. As people have commented below, this is actually a three-part comedy strand with Griff Rhys Jones and Jasper Carrott also being given the spotlight. So instead the BBC have revived their only other black comedian of note: the enduring Lenny Henry, who appears to have stopped ageing since 1995. The One Lenny Henry was a shamelessly old-fashioned mix of sketches and stand-up (practically beamed in from the late-'80s), but seeing as it was intended as a celebration of Henry's 37-year-old career it wasn't such a flaw.

Things began promisingly, with an amusing spoof of The Killing (hearing "Phantom Flan Flinger" spoken in a Danish accent made me giggle anyway), and a wise move to have Henry acknowledge that many people find him irritating. The quality of comedy in this half-hour wasn't great, and it definitely wasn't inspired, but it was functional and sometimes drew laughs from a recess of my brain where a Frank Spencer or Tommy Cooper impression is still a happy event. I have no idea what anyone under the age of 20 would make to the many callbacks to Henry's early career, such as resurrecting '80s character Delbert Wilkins (once a London pirate DJ, now a YouTube "star") or incorrigible ladies man Donovan.

But while there were sketches/jokes that would flop in the eyes of some people, others probably hit their targets: like a sketch with Ronni Ancona poking fun at Twilight (with Birmingham-born Henry as a "Brumpire" and his topless nemesis from "Werewolverhampton"), or the surprisingly funny appearance of Peter Serafinowicz as a white wannabe black man. A joke that may now feel tired, 15 years since Ali G perfected it, but you could tell the unlikely double-act of Henry and Serafinowicz were having good fun together. The show could have used more live studio sketches like that one, really.

British-Iranian comedian Omid Djalili also appeared, in a slapstick sketch where two cooks had an "inappropriate fight" in a kitchen, and I could imagine many children being amused by the live-action cartoon violence of sitting on a red-hot stove or people having food stuffed up their nose.

Henry's own stand-up was  the most underwhelming aspect of the show, as it was so middle-of-the-road you could see the white lines. One bit, about being jailed for the petty crime of pirating a DVD, has been done so many times before on-stage, by various comedians, that I'm surprised whoever came up with the routine hasn't started legal proceedings against a half-dozen performers. Still, Henry's been working a crowd for nearly 40 years, and he has enough stage presence and confidence to bulldoze his way through weak or naff material. I don't find him a particularly funny person, but I can appreciate he has a stage craft.

Overall, taken as a bite-sized family-focused half-hour, partly there to celebrate the career of a popular entertainer, who's still a rare black face in his particular field, I can't get angry about The One Lenny Henry's existence. It wasn't there to push boundaries or do anything unique and cutting-edge, it was 30-minutes of easygoing jokes and a few sketches to make you smile. I actually found it warmly nostalgic in a sense, especially because of the way it ended with a reworking of a popular pop song (Cee Lo Green's "Forget You"), which was the formula for every show like this back in the day...

6 January 2011 / BBC1