Rising to the Surface by Lenny Henry Review – The Breakthrough Years | Biography and notes

When comedian and actor Lenny Henry Attending the first meeting of writers in his early 1980s series of drawings, Three of a Kind, he and co-workers, David Copperfield and Tracy Ullman, were asked to talk about their vision for the show. Copperfield stood up and said he wanted it to be as funny as possible. Ullman said she didn’t want to play a sexy secretary, an annoying wife or any other feminine stereotype that was a staple of the era. Henry, who appeared on The Black and White Minstrel Show in the 1970s, stated that he didn’t want his race to be the butt of jokes: “I wanted the attitude toward black performers to change. It’s time we were the joke makers, not just take it. Enough was. enough.”

Rising to the Roof is the second installment of Henry’s memoir that started with 2019 Who am I again? Where this book covered his formative years, beginning with his parents’ arrival in Dudley, in the West Midlands, Jamaica, and ending in the late 1970s when he began establishing himself in the entertainment business, this covers his rise to fame, beginning with the children’s show Tiswas and moving into the mainstream with Three of a Kind program on BBC. In 1984, he had his first solo series, The Lenny Henry Show, which ran on and off for 20 years. We learn how, at that time, he also co-founded comic relief With Richard Curtis. met and married French dawn; wander as a pause; The theme of the South Bank Show was; Children’s Books Books. And unexpectedly, backing vocals were recorded for Kate Bush’s album The Red Shoes. There was also a failed attempt to conquer Hollywood with the comedy True Identity, in which Henry plays a con man who disguises himself as a white man to escape a mob. The script was terrible and he hated the lack of independence. “In my mind, I felt like I was going downhill toward a big wall in a car without brakes,” he recalls. The movie is duly noisy.

All of this is conveyed with characteristic fervor and self-deprecation, though there is an annoyance at being the only black comedian on British television with his own show in the ’80s and ’90s: “I was like Christopher Lambert in Highlander—”You can only be one.” But here we see him using his position to help others, setting up a production company and writing software with the goal of creating vehicles for black comedians.

Between the anecdotes and the stories of showbiz, there are also seams of gloom. Henry’s ambition has a feverish character; He never stops asking if he could do more or better, and reflexively says yes to everything. As a result, he misses his mother’s final years, and spends long periods away from French and their daughter Billy. In the epilogue, he conveys what he considers his greatest wisdom: “The work never ends. It will be there when you get back. So go and spend time with your family.”

Rising to the Surface published by Faber (£20). To support The Guardian and The Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

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