Gags galore on BBC

2010-04-26 08:06

I simply love British humour. Shows like Coupling, Faulty Towers and The Office – which shot Ricky Gervais to super stardom – far outweigh the ­juvenile comedy which often comes out of the US.

As from this month, BBC ­Entertainment kicks off its first Comedy Festival which offers ­viewers a chance to see a selection of up-and-coming British comedians as well as established ones live in ­action.

One of them is Lenny Henry. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Henry may not ring as familiar a bell in South Africans’ minds as Gervais or Sacha Baron Cohen.

He is ­probably most famous for his role in the movie True Identity in which he played an out-of-work actor who gives himself a make-over as a white man in order to land a role.

Nowadays Henry can be found at top ­comedy venues throughout the world playing to sold-out crowds.

Apparently being funny runs in the family: “My brothers and sisters are really ­funny, my mum was funny – my dad was a miserable git so he was funny.

“The family humour wasn’t ­people showing off – it was more ­a kind of self-deprecating humour, ­particularly if you ate too fast, or you did crap at school, or didn’t get out of bed in time, there would be ­something said that would tease you and put a firework up your bum. I think that inspired my comedy.”

Henry launched his comedy ­career back in the 1970s on the ­British channel ITV for the talent show New Faces.

Henry recalls: “The day I came home when I was 15, having done an audition for New Faces, it was like an alien had walked in because in our house you wouldn’t say boo to a goose. You could have knocked my mother over with a feather.

“She made me stand in the ­hallway and do my act. It was ­phenomenal. And she laughed as well! I was doing impressions and mimicry and telling jokes and stuff, and she was like ‘what’s come into my house? And I hope it gets me a colour TV’.”

British humour has changed since Henry first began in the industry 30 years ago due in part to political correctness.

He admits that it has been ­particularly difficult for women – he would know since he is ­married to one of Britain’s most ­famous ­comedians, Dawn French.

“Before the feminism stuff,” ­Henry says, “men would tell the jokes while their wives pulled faces behind their backs.

“Men still have that, and there’s still a slight prejudice against ­women being funny, but now ­women are feeling more confident in their ability to crack gags.

“I’m married to one of the funniest women in the world and I see her ­regularly surprise people with her humour and ability to think on her feet.”

Henry disagrees with the notion that underneath their ­jovial ­exterior, comedians are ­generally miserable.

“All comedians are human!” he exclaims, “They are perfectly ­capable of being both miserable and happy, thank you very much.

“I don’t care if a comedian is ­miserable or not. What I care about is if I paid to see somebody, they’d better be ­funny.”

- The BBC Comedy Festival runs until 14 May on BBC ­Entertainment ­weeknights at 9.30pm

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