Lenny Henry is back before a home crowd this Christmas with the annual Rock With Laughter show. Emma Pinch caught up with him.

Lenny Henry sits back exasperated.

Hoarse from interviews, larger and more solid in the flesh than on TV, Lenny has done his ear-splitting 'waaaah' thing - describing a woman he saw having a live water birth for a new series on humour - and is suddenly lost for words.

A quote of his was recently dredged up in a national newspaper where he apparently added his name to the roll-call of comedians who have battled with depression.

"I can't do this zany, wacky, funny thing any more," he reportedly said, describing his own black dog. "I haven't been like that for a long time."

Lenny, 48, is at Birmingham Hippodrome to promote Rock With Laughter, and is currently mulling over which 'zany' character to do - the ever popular Delbert Wilkins is among the favourites - and the quote seemed at odds with his pronouncement. "You say one line once, and it comes back to bite you on the bum," he mutters, or as near to muttering as Lenny Henry gets, with his rich Dudley accent and exuberant volubility.

Then he says, with feeling: "It doesn't mean I'm going to stop doing stand up. I'll do stand up until I die.

"Richard Pryor was one of the funniest men on Earth. Stephen Fry is a genius. Paul Merton spent time in the Maudsley. It is a condition of humanity."

Unprompted, he expounds on his theme. He seems keen to talk about it and though still faintly defensive, it is heartfelt.

"I've found work and family incredible sources of inspiration and you do get out of it," he says. "People do look after you, you can navigate your way through it and you can come out on the other side. I know lots of people who have been down and it's no big deal as long as you don't self medicate out of it with alcohol."

Lenny's work with Comic Relief was therapy for him.

This year marks its 21st birthday, and it has raised #450million for charity, two-thirds for Africa and one third for local causes. Henry spends a lot of time investigating what the money does. He recently filmed, on and off, a documentary following a homeless 19-year-old called Jason, who had been kicked out of his home by his mother's new boyfriend. Lenny had got to know him.

"He was selling newspapers on the streets and suffering withdrawal symptoms," he says quietly. "He'd come off drugs because his girlfriend wanted him to and he died. He just died. Some people fall through the cracks." Lenny is silent for a second.

"Then you go to Africa and see kids stolen off the streets for slave labour who haven't seen their parents for two years. And you think you've been sad. That's what's great about Comic Relief. Even though you've been a bit sad, you see these kids who are sitting on a sewage pipe, and you think 'I can get up off my arse and use my skills as a communicator, and I can communicate just how terrible it is'. That kind of thing gets you through."

His marriage to fellow comic Dawn French saw the adoption of their daughter, Billie.

He has clear views on adoption, and with the current celebrity trend for instant 'rainbow families', a la Brad and Angelina and more recently Madonna, he is ready with an objective opinion.

"I'm sure her intention is great and I think that it's wonderful to give a child a chance of living a better life. But I think you have to be careful.

"People need to know why they speak as they do, and when they speak with a middle class accent, that's fine, but they have to know how they speak in Malawi and keep in touch with any family they have there, and know their roots."

Although he was due to dash back to the capital after his round of interviews for Rock With Laughter - which will feature Jasper Carrott, Jimmy Carr, Jethro, Bjorn Again and Birmingham Royal Ballet among others - he is spiritually never far from Dudley.

"Dudley is a touchstone for my comedy. As long as you have got your family you will never run out of material. I love playing to a home crowd. There is no comparison. People from Dudley will be at the show, saying: 'I've had to get nine buses and bring sandwiches.' It's going to rock."

* Rock With Laughter is at the NEC Arena from December 20 - 23.

Tickets are #27.50 plus booking and transaction fee can be purchased at www.necgroup.co.uk/jasper or from The NEC Arena Box Office on 0870 909 4133.