Interview: Romesh Ranganathan – ‘I’m embarrassed to say it, but I thought comedy would be easy’
Acclaimed stand-up and TV presenter takes his irrational behaviour on tour
Is Romesh Ranganathan an irrational person or does everyone else simply have it all totally wrong? This is the dilemma which the Edinburgh Comedy Award-nominated stand-up is wrestling with as he brings us his third full solo show, filled with his own beliefs, perceptions and perspectives.
‘Irrational is about me working out my opinions and whether I’m the only one that’s got it right,’ he muses. ‘I talk about Gogglebox being a sign of the end of days, though its popularity suggests that I’m wrong and everyone else is right. But the idea that people are entertaining when they watch television is a fallacy. They need to set up a camera in my room and watch a chubby man vegetating in silence.’
Above all, Irrational will be driven by Ranganathan’s desire to breathe honesty into everything he utters in a live show. It’s even written on his body, with a tattoo of Richard Pryor (the comic who epitomised honesty on stage) adorning his arm. ‘I want to say things on stage that I wouldn’t have the guts to say in conversation,’ admits Ranganathan. ‘People say that I’m quite grumpy and negative on stage and that I surely can’t be like that off it, but I really am. I’ve done bits where I’ve perhaps talked about my kids annoying me and you hope that the audience realise that you do actually love your children. You can still be a good parent and be frustrated by your kids. But when you say that for the first time and don’t get it across properly, you can just seem like a horrible person.’
Whether he’s horrible or not is neither here nor there when you assess the speed at which Ranganathan has raced to prominence in British stand-up. Both his Edinburgh Fringe solo appearances have resulted in award nominations: a Best Newcomer shortlisting for his 2012 debut, Rom Com, and a 2013 main award nomination for Rom Wasn’t Built in a Day. As his star has risen, TV inevitably came calling with his CV now filled by an iPlayer short under the BBC’s Funny Valentines umbrella, regular appearances in The Apprentice: You’re Fired, while Asian Provocateur, his BBC Three travelogue about him heading to Sri Lanka for the first time and co-starring his mum, was received warmly in all quarters.
Of course, Ranganathan wasn’t always on the end of such praise. He started out with both a passion for stand-up and a strong belief that making a crowd eat out of his hand would be a cushy number. ‘I’m embarrassed to say it, but I thought it would be easy. So I booked this gig, wrote my set and looked forward to accepting the plaudits. Obviously I tanked. But I still enjoyed it and kept doing open spots and then I got to the final of So You Think You’re Funny in 2010. In the semi-final, one of the judges, Dan Antopolski, told me: “we saw you go on and thought, this guy is definitely going to be a comic”.’
And yet, it all might never have happened had he stuck in at school. Not as a kid, but as a maths teacher. ‘There was a running joke that I really wasn’t the best maths teacher,’ he recalls. ‘And I probably wasn’t as mathematical as most maths teachers. When it comes to preparation, these days I will sit down and think, “OK, I’m writing now”, but what I tend not to do is word exactly what I’m going to say. I’ll map out what the ideas are and what I think is interesting and then I’ll talk about it and hope that funny will arrive.’ Thankfully for Romesh Ranganathan and for us, his funny has been arriving in droves.