INTERVIEW: Rosanna Rothery puts the questions to Lenny Henry about his new stand-up show POP LIFE
FOLLOWING rave reviews for playing Antipholus of Syracuse in The Comedy Of Errors at The National Theatre, Lenny Henry returns to stand-up with POP LIFE, a joyous, freaky show about how music goes better with everything and how it affects all our lives. The stand-up routine features Lenny playing the piano in front of an audience for the first time, after having recently passed his grade 4 piano exam.
How does POP LIFE differ from your previous show Cradle To Rave?
It's almost completely different. This show is a remix of Cradle To Rave, which was a theatrical show based on my beginnings in showbiz and also on the later years of my life.
POP LIFE has become a joyous evocation of everything I love about music (Prince, Amy, Stevie, Mumford and Sons, Roxy Music, Pogues, Freddie Mercury) and also some of the things that drive me mad about music (James Blunt, the song Donald Where's Your Troosers?).
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If you had to choose just one song to be the soundtrack to your life right now – what would it be and why?
Brian Eno's Discreet Music. It's an album of ambient sound and tones – and it's been the background to my studying (I've had a BA in English literature and an MA in screenwriting since 2000).
You seem to appreciate many genres of music – is there anything you really can't stand?
I'm not mad keen on avant garde jazz or modern opera. Or the girl who sings the Womp Womp song.
You've always flirted with singing – do you regret not making it your main passion/career?
No regrets. Comedy paid for my mom's treatment and 24 hour care for the last seven years of her life. I have no complaints about my chosen career.
Music obviously manipulates the emotions – can it also be therapy? Is music your therapy?
In many ways yes. It makes me feel good. It can bring me up or bring me down. It's like brain food: all the things Marvin Gaye was talking on What's Going On?, the sheer depth of thought on a Bob Dylan classic album, the experimentation on a Chick Corea set – these things can stretch your brain and perhaps even make it function better.
What stretches you most – Shakespeare or comedy?
Apparently the famous actor Edmund Kean said on his deathbed "Dying is easy, comedy's hard". Shakespeare really does give your brain a workout. The words are such a support for the actor. However, as long as you've learnt your lines, you pretty much can't go wrong. Being funny is work.
Having got such rave reviews for your acting, does it feel good or strange to be back doing grassroots stand-up?
I'm saying that all of these things that I've done career-wise in the last few years are all "all the same Len" whether it's learning the piano, playing Othello, writing screenplays or doing stand-up comedy. It's all me being interested and learning as best I can.
What inspires you to keep learning?
I don't want to get bored. I'd like to leave this existence a better person than when I entered it.
Do you enjoy returning to the West Country?
Sure. I've spent a lot of my life in the West Country. What's not to like? It's gorgeous and so are the people.
What do you think people will like about the show?
I've often been told that when a comedian speaks about the subjects he loves, it is obvious to the audience because of the enthusiasm which can be felt from the stage.
Whenever I've done stand-up on TV or live, people always say "that bit you did about music was brilliant" or some such variation. They've always commented on the music bits in that way. I just thought: "How cool would it be to do a whole show about music?".
And I've had my wish. Cradle To Rave was a more serious theatrical exploration of my relationship with music. But POP LIFE is a stand-up comedy show where music is the jump off point for me to discuss any subject I wish. Also, The Return of Sex God Theophilus, P.Wildebeeste! And, I get to play the piano (briefly - let's not go nuts here) for my dad.
It's me doing lots of jokes about music. Follow me on Twitter people. For tour details see www.lennyhenrylive.com and follow me on twitter @IT ISLENNYHENRY
Lenny Henry brings POP LIFE to the Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple on Wednesday, November 21. Tickets: £25.50. Box office: 01271 324242 or visit www.northdevontheatres.org. uk