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  Lenny Live and Unleashed Lenny Lenny Len, Lenny Lenny Len, Lenny Henry Show
Year: 1989
Director: Andy Harries
Stars: Lenny Henry, Robbie Coltrane, Jeff Beck
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Comedian Lenny Henry is being driven to his latest stand up gig by a boorish taxi driver (Robbie Coltrane) who recognises him and offers unwanted advice on what he thinks proper comedy should be, illustrated by a dubious anecdote. Lenny is only too pleased to arrive at the theatre, politely putting up with driver who proceeds to crash his taxi as he drives away, yelling back to Lenny that this is real humour. Once inside, he receives more advice from three of his comedy heroes, but he doesn't need it - he's good enough on his own.

Before stand up comedy videos really took off on cassette and later DVD, some people wanting their laughter fix would actually go to cinemas to see their favourite comedians in action, as filmed records of their act would be made to reach those places the stars would not have a chance to go. The most celebrated of those was Richard Pryor Live in Concert, which was obviously what Lenny Henry was hoping to emulate with this, a rare British try at the genre, although he had patently viewed the similar efforts of Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy as well.

We can tell that because through the magic of makeup he appeared as those three in the intro, doing his impersonations that had been part of his act for years. He had begun in showbiz after getting spotted on a TV talent show, and had never looked back, his keen gift for humour and immense likeability applied to a range of television and live shows. By 1989, when this was shot, his audience had grown up with him from kids programme Tiswas to the sketches of Three of a Kind to his later solo outings, and knew they were in safe hands, guaranteed laughs as he mined his past and pop culture for his material.

His co-writer here was Kim Fuller, who went on to be celebrated, if that's the right word, for penning Spiceworld, unfairly offering him a reputation for hackwork when as you could see here, combined with Henry's ideas he could be very funny indeed. For this kind of thing Lenny was always at his best when reminiscing about his formative years, and there was plenty of that as he recalls his bungling attempts to act grown up during his time as a teenager, but there were also political ideas too, though so well handled that he never came across as didactic even if the anti-Apartheid gags now seem more relics of the age than his others.

Where Lenny differed from those heroes he impersonated at the start (and longtime fans may have been wishing for an appearance by David Bellamy or Tommy Cooper) was that he interspersed his routines with character business, and many of those creations are given five minutes or so peppered throughout the more conventional stuff. Here he was able to examine his racial roots, never getting too heavy as his observations were affectionate which explains why he appealed to such a wide range of the public. Not that he was a sell out, he was simply in the trade of being funny, this was the man who came up with the best ever TV spoof of Michael Jackson after all, and his sense of the ridiculous is both well honed and easy to warm to. If a little of the material here is showing its age, enough entertained to be one of the better stand up movies to reach cinema screens, certainly one of the very finest British tries at the form as the star's energy and charisma was undimmed.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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