In a relatively short space of time, Romesh Ranganathan has raced to prominence among a new generation of British stand-ups. Both his Edinburgh Fringe solo appearances have resulted in Edinburgh Comedy Award nominations: a Best Newcomer shortlisting for his 2012 debut, RomCom, and a 2013 main award nomination for Rom Wasn’t Built In A Day. He’s also won prizes for best new act at Latitude and the Leicester Comedy Festival.
As his star has risen, TV has inevitably come calling with his CV now filled by an iPlayer short film under the BBC’s Funny Valentines umbrella, taking a regular role in the Jack Dee-hosted 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 (it’s all yours to download from the BBC Store).
And now for his new solo tour, Romesh is wondering whether he might be an irrational person or if everyone else has got it all totally wrong.
This touring show, the rather aptly-titled Irrational, is filled with his own beliefs, perceptions and perspectives set against how other people think about the same subjects.
‘The show is about my viewpoints on things and I’m working out whether I’m being irrational or whether I’m the only one that’s got it right.
‘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.’
Any comic who is on tour for half a year has a couple of choices with their show: maintain it as a fixed and finely-tuned beast with not a single word being changed; or play around with the script, rearrange or even ditch some routines when fresh material becomes available from current affairs and the outside world.
Romesh will be going full pelt on the latter. ‘I’ll talk about things that I find interesting at the time, so at the moment there are certain things that I’m thinking about that I wasn’t considering a couple of months ago.
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 amRomesh Ranganathan
‘For your own interest and to feel proud of the show, you have to keep it as up-to-date in terms of your thought process that you can.
‘Not that I disagree with them now, but there are things I have said in previous shows that aren’t interesting to me now – you want to keep it as fresh as possible so that you’re delivering it in the moment.’
Above all, Irrational will be driven by Romesh’s desire to breathe honesty into everything he utters in a live show.
‘I want to say things on stage that I wouldn’t have the guts to say in conversation.
‘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.
‘So, up on stage is basically me without the filters and concerns about what people will think about me – they’re removed and I’m expressing what I really think.
‘I’ve done bits in the past 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 first say that for the first time and don’t get it across properly, you can just seem like a horrible person.’
You will often hear justifiable complaints from within the comedy community about the difficulties of touring around the country, but when it comes to feeding yourself on the road, Romesh Ranganathan’s life as a vegan stand-up means he has more troubles than most.
‘The problem is if you’re a vegan, generally you have to be organised.
‘If you’re a vegan on tour, you have to be massively organised.
‘I’m not, so often I find myself in a difficult situation when it didn’t have to be.
‘The worst thing is when you’re coming home from a gig far away and it’s two in the morning and you’re starving: motorway services are not a vegan heaven.
‘Sometimes I’ll tweet to say something like: “Are there any good vegan places in Manchester?’” and people get almost insulted: “Just because we’re up north, do you think we won’t have vegan places?” “No, I didn’t mean that, I was just wondering”.’
The seeds for Romesh’s success were arguably planted a long time ago.
‘When I was growing up, I became obsessed with stand-up and comedy in general.
‘My dad was very into comedy, so I grew up loving it to the point that we went to Pontins holiday camp when I was nine or 10 and I entered a talent competition doing stand-up.
‘I memorised jokes that I’d read in a joke book and delivered them in a Sri Lankan accent.
‘It was quite a niche act.
‘But as I got older I never thought of it as a career path and when I was teaching I just thought I’d give it a go.’
His job as a maths teacher clearly helped him work a crowd, but it was a concern that he’d regret it if he didn’t at least try his hand at stand-up that pushed him to take his comedic talents on to the stage.
‘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 really tanked. But I still enjoyed it and kept doing loads of 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”.
That inspired me and it went from there.’
Given his possession of a mathematical brain, Romesh’s comedy preparation probably contains lots of graphs and arrows and laughter pie-charts, right? Well, no not really.
‘I’m probably not as mathematical as most maths teachers,’ he insists.
‘There was a running joke that I wasn’t the best one out of the maths teachers.
‘I will sit down and think “Okay, 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. ‘Sometimes it doesn’t but I find that if you’re restricted by your lines then you won’t ever try something different – a lot of the time, you write on stage when you explore an idea and they laugh.’
Once Irrational hits the nation’s theatres, it’ll be time for us all to be laughing again.
n Romesh Ranganathan’s Irrational is at the Kings Theatre, Southsea, on September 7 and 15, doors open 8pm. Tickets cost £20
Go to kingsportsmouth.co.uk or call (023) 9282 8282.