News: Romesh Ranganathan on his Comedy Childhood: “Even then I knew I needed an angle.”

Report by Claire Smith.

Romesh Ranganathan was on the point of giving up comedy after the death of his father, he told an audience at Leicester Comedy Festival. 

The comic, recently named the hardest working stand-up in Britain, was in conversation with Festival Director Geoff Rowe (pictured with RR) at an event at the city’s Curve Theatre, which was part of the Festival's series of talks entitled Beyond A Joke.
He said winning the Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year award in 2013 was the thing which persuaded him to continue with a career in stand up.
Ranganathan said: “When I look back that was the turning point. If I hadn’t come back and taken part in that final I would have given up.”
The comic had left a steady job as a maths teacher to concentrate on comedy but was struggling to survive.
When he took part in the competition his father had just died, his car had been impounded and he was struggling to support his young family.
“I was thinking I had left a secure job and put my family in jeopardy.  I was at rock bottom,” he said.
“Winning the competition just happened at the perfect time.”
Ranganathan, who grew up in a comedy-loving Sri Lankan family in Crawley, said becoming a comedian had been something of a secret dream.
He had won a Pontins talent competiton aged eight by repeating jokes from the 3001 Jokes book in a heavy Sri Lankan accent. “Even then I knew I needed an angle.”
The comic began working on the open mike circuit in Brighton and London while still working as a teacher, but said it was hard to maintain authority after school students started turning up to his gigs.
For a long time he said his ambition was: “just to get good at it”.  And that: “I didn’t think I was going to do it as a job.”
But after encouragement from fellow comics including Seann Walsh, Jason Manford and Dan Antopolski he decided he might be good enough to try doing comedy for a living.
He had only just handed in his notice as a teacher when his father died unexpectedly. He ran into financial difficulties and began to feel he had made a mistake.
However after winning the Comedian of the Year award in Leicester his career began to take off.
Ranganathan said his Asian origins had not shaped his comedy as such - saying: “You have do what you think is the best stuff you can do, whatever it is.”
But he said: “I know that when I was growing up if there had been someone of Sri Lankan origin doing comedy I would have found it really exciting.”
The comic said his mother Shanthi’s success in his BBC travel documentary Asian Provocateur had taken him by surprise.  “If I had known that she was going to become so popular I wouldn’t have let it happen.”
He joked about the ‘hardest working comic in Britain’  tag. “That is based on the number of miles you travel between gigs.  It just means it’s a really badly organised tour - and that people won’t travel to see you.”

The Leicester Comedy Festival runs until February 26. Full details here.

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