Minority retort

Henry demands breaks for black comics

Lenny Henry has renewed his calls for the TV industry to offer more breaks to black comics.

But he says he doesn’t want people to be given special opportunities just because of the colour of their skin.

He said: “I'm a black guy, and I get to be on telly. But that's unusual, so you get noticed.

“Felix Dexter is funny, Junior Simpson is funny - why haven't these guys got TV series? There's something wrong. Good people aren't getting a chance.”

“I don't walk around outside Television Centre with a placard, but the entertainment industry really needs to change. Don't hold your breath, though.”

In the interview with today’s Independent, Henry also said whenever black comics do appear on screen, they are lumbered with the responsibility of representing their entire race.

“What I want is a show where people get the chance to do their thing without feeling they've got to carry the weight of the black and Indian and disabled consciousness on their shoulders,” he said.

“If broadcasting were more adventurous as far as ethnic minorities are concerned, they wouldn't be lumbered with what they think of as the politically aggressive, 'beat you over the head with a baseball bat' people wanting to talk about issues all the time."

Henry also thinks producers instantly stereotype black comics and actors so, for example, they rarely perform topical comedy.

"When they think, 'Let's have a black actor in to make up the numbers,' they can't help but power-dive into a lake of clichés. They say, 'He's black, so he's not a good father, and he has a domineering, church-going mother.

“I want to give a voice to the sort of people you wouldn't normally hear on telly. Usually, topical comedy is performed by geezers from Oxbridge raising an eyebrow or delivering a wry aside.

“But giving [elderly West Indian shopkeeper] Lister a voice is like having one of my uncles on telly pontificating, 'Osama bin Laden, where is he? Driving a cab in Ealing!'"


To read the Independent article in full >>

Published: 25 Jun 2004

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