• Comedian Romesh Ranganathan is coming to Australia for the first time with his show Irrational. (Supplied )Source: Supplied
With his deadpan, droll and self-deprecating style, the British/Sri Lankan comedian is one of the biggest stars in the UK comedy scene. Oh, and he knows how to add fractions of different denominators too.
Alyssa Braithwaite

21 Mar 2017 - 2:48 PM  UPDATED 21 Mar 2017 - 3:10 PM

Romesh Ranganathan has had an unusual path to comedy fame and fortune.

Just five years ago the 39-year-old was a maths teacher at a school in Crawley, a town in West Sussex, in the south of England - an occupation not exactly rife with comedic opportunities.

"There's nothing funny about maths," agrees Ranganathan.

"There's stuff in the syllabus that lots of kids don't need to ever know, so trying to get bottom-level ability kids to add fractions of different denominators, why the hell are you doing that? The only reason to do that is to make teachers drink in the evening, that's the only reason I can see for doing that.

"There's lots of comedy in me trying to get the kids under control. It gives you crowd control skills, put in that way."

"I've got a lazy eye and I'm brown - I think that really helps. I help TV shows tick a lot of boxes. If they get me on then they don't have to worry about [their diversity quota] for a couple of episodes."

Having left his secure teaching job to try his luck on the comedy circuit, Ranganathan is now one of the most in-demand comedians on the UK scene, with regular appearances on quiz and panel shows such as QI and The Big Fat Quiz of the Year and The Last Leg, as well as a new chat show and a sitcom in the works, in addition to his regular stand-up work.

"I think diversity quotas have really helped me out, do you know what I mean?" he says, with a laugh.

"I've got a lazy eye and I'm brown - I think that really helps. I help TV shows tick a lot of boxes. If they get me on then they don't have to worry about [their diversity quota] for a couple of episodes.

"But honestly, it's an ongoing fear that I've only got a few months left of a career. That's really what drives me. I'm just trying to milk the cow as long as it's standing, you know what I mean? Who knows, in six months time I might have to go back to teaching."

It's not looking likely. In 2015 he performed in front of Prince Harry at The Royal Variety in London. And aside from preparing for his first Australian stand-up shows in April, Ranganathan is planning for a possible third season of his BAFTA nominated BBC show, Asian Provocateur.

The first season in 2015 saw him travel to Sri Lanka to learn about his parents' country and his cultural heritage after his mum started calling him a coconut - "brown on the outside, white on the inside," Ranganathan explains.

"We had this idea of going to Sri Lanka because I don't know anything about my culture," he says.

"My mum and dad came from a tiny village in Sri Lanka, and they had a really rural, basic life, and then they ended up coming over to England and being this really worldly, westernised couple. So to see my mum's journey, it made me appreciate them a lot more, to be honest with you.

"My dad's no longer with us, but I think it brought me closer to my mum, because I saw what she was about a lot more."

"So to see my mum's journey, it made me appreciate them a lot more, to be honest with you."

As she was the one behind the trip and deciding what her son should do to get a crash course in Sri Lankan culture, Shanthi Ranganathan, also stars in the series, playing herself - to great comic effect.

She's not a joke-teller, but is naturally funny in her brutal honesty, which people have been keen to tell her son.

"If I'd have known that she'd become as successful as she has, I wouldn't have put her in it," Ranganathan says, deadpan.

"I'm getting people saying 'she's funnier than you. She's naturally funny, whereas you have to try'. You smile and go 'Oh I'm really happy because it's my mum', but eventually it starts to grate a little bit because I've worked on a craft here, and she's just rocked up and suddenly she's got the same level of ability as me. It's not on."

If funny bones are genetic, Ranganathan's children should have plenty to work with. 

The father-of-three doesn't mind using his experiences as a parent in his stand-up routines, whether it be the frustrations of teaching them to read, or the differing likability of his kids.

And they are not at all impressed by their dad's fame.

"The kids find me embarrassing really. They don't think it's cool. But I quite like that," he says.

"You know how some people say, 'I don't want to be an embarrassing parent'? I really embrace that. I want to be really embarrassing. My eldest son's only seven, but when he starts bringing girls home I want to come downstairs just in a thong or whatever, and just really humiliate him."

"The kids find me embarrassing really. They don't think it's cool. But I quite like that."

Ranganathan will bring his stand-up show 'Irrational' to Australia in April, in which he explores the rationality of his world view.

Does the current state of the world make for good comedy? He thinks so.

"I think from the darkest times, that's when things become funniest - and that's when people are looking to laugh the most. If you're worried about the state of the world and then you go and watch comedy, I think it feels like more of a relief than it might otherwise," he says.

"Contentment is not good for comedy. If I suddenly became happy, then I think I'd have to quit. But luckily I'm a hugely pessimistic, negative person, so I can't imagine that's going to happen any time soon.

"When I was over in Sri Lanka they couldn't get that I was a comedian. The production crew would say, he's a comedian in England, and they'd say, 'How come he doesn't ever smile? He looks so serious'. They thought I'd be laughing and smiling all the time. They just couldn't figure it out." 

Appearing as part of the Sydney Comedy Festival, with an additional run of shows in Melbourne this April, this will be his first trip to Australia.

It's something that some of his relatives who live in Australia are not apparently all that impressed by.

"I've never been to Australia, and it's like a real point of contention, because I've got family over there and I've never been to visit," he says.  

"The first time I'm coming over is for work, so it doesn't look good, does it? That's somebody who has prioritised his life badly. Anyway, what are you going to do? It's booked now, I'm coming." 

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