The Lenny Henry Show | Radio review by Steve Bennett © UKTV
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The Lenny Henry Show

Radio review by Steve Bennett

Considering the writers and cast of The Lenny Henry Show features a lot of up-and-comers, the style of this new Radio 4 series is remarkably old-school, dated, even.

The veteran comic is putting his money where his mouth is in giving a leg-up to a diverse range of talent, but you won’t notice much pushing of comedy boundaries in the outcome.

Of his familiar alter-egos, Delbert Wilkins hasn’t changed much in 35 years – though you’d probably be hard-pressed to find a London pirate DJ who bubbles with quite so much over-enthusiastic optimism these days. But old-timer Deakus is a highlight of the show - maybe not the funniest, but his gentle, wistful musings are a perfect fit for the era of social distancing.

But too often, comic muscles aren’t stretched to reach for an idea. Want a white middle-class trait?Quinoa, brunch and avocado (twice) are evoked – which doesn’t suggest much thinking outside the box. The Repair Shop may be a contemporary TV show, but the parody here could have come from almost any time in the past four decades as a woman takes in a priceless heirloom, only to have it ruined.

The over-long sketch about a black James Bond uses a few route-one gags and easy archetypes too, but at least they mixed with with some more creative elements. And you might see the payoff coming, but there is  conviction, and some point-making, behind it.

Some of the best skits have an element of racial commentary, such as the opener - probably the best skit in the show – about black superheroes, and the passive-aggressive ‘where are you "from from"?’ line of questioning gets another well-deserved satirical kicking.

Deakus aside, Sir Lenny never quite leaves himself out of the characters he plays, which is probably why he’s become such a national treasure as a personalty. He also gets to show off his considerable musical talents here, especially with the closing rap (and lest we forget, this Childish Gambino spoof from a couple of years back is one of the best things he’s ever done in comedy).

But this is too safe and familiar a show to reinvent his comedy career, not that was probably ever likely to be an aim. Instead, it feels like a  run-of-the-mill sketch show with a few breakout moments, but far from enough to make it a must-listen.

Review date: 25 Aug 2020
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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