I'm Lenny Henry's Other Half. and Dawn French Doesn't Mind One Little Bit; SPECIAL REPORT WRITING PARTNER JON'S 20-YEAR COMEDY AFFAIR
Byline: BY LORNE JACKSON
IT was the hot date that was going to decide Jon Canter's future.
Understandably, he was a little bit scared. After all, he had never met the hook-up.
This was a blind date, arranged by a mutual acquaintance.
What made it even more nerve-racking was that he had agreed to meet at the other person's home.
Jon knocked on the stranger's door. A towering, grinning, young bloke answered. "Ow you doing?" said the man, in a fuel-injected, Dudley accent.
The hot date had begun.
It was 20 years ago - and Jon Canter had just met Lenny Henry for the first time.
Their love affair has been going strong ever since.
Dawn French, Lenny's wife, has no problem with the situation.
In fact, every now and then, she devours a succulent slice of Jon herself.
The relationship between Lenny and Jon is based on a passion for punch-lines.
They are comedy writing partners.
"I suppose you could say Lenny and I were computer-dated by a showbiz agent," chuckles Jon.
"A mutual friend in the business thought we'd work well together, so she set up a meeting, and I went round to Lenny's house."
Jon quips: "That was quite a risk, of course. You should never go to someone's home on a first date, because you might get pushed into a compromising situation you'll find it awkward entangling yourself from. But luckily Lenny wasn't too frisky!"
In truth, the men were like two lonesome pieces of Lego - and instantly clicked.
"It was a strange sort of situation, where we were propelled into a very sudden intimacy," says Jon, who lives in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, with his wife and daughter.
"But a strong friendship was quickly forged between us, and I knew I would be able to work with Lenny.
"I certainly got that right. We've been a team for 20 years."
Jon helps Lenny with his live show.
But in many ways, they form a highlyunusual duo.
Jon is a middle-class, Jewish, Cambridge-educated, Londoner.
Meanwhile, Lenny hails from a working-class, Midland background, has West Indian roots, and, after leaving school, leapt straight into the comedy circuit.
Which means that much of his material focuses on growing-up in a black household.
So how does Jon manage to provide jokes about a culture very different from his own?
"I don't tend to come-up with the initial material," he explains. "Lenny will introduce a comic riff, then I'll help to filter it.
"I see myself very much as one of those traditional Jewish craftsmen. You know, those little-old-guy tailors and jewellers.
"I do much the same thing with comedy.
I take a piece of material and shape it, polish it. Saying that, I've been working with Lenny so long, I now feel I've absorbed his history. Some days I'm positive that I grew up in Dudley, too!"
Jon continues: "I also initially added an educated edge to the material we worked on. …