Five years ago, Romesh Ranganathan was a maths teacher in Banstead, Surrey, a village so small and nondescript it literally doesn’t qualify as a UK ‘town’. He hadn’t yet performed in front of Prince Harry. He hadn’t created a BAFTA-nominated TV show co-starring his own mum. He hadn’t been shortlisted for Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards. And he certainly hadn’t sold-out three headliner shows at the Hammersmith Apollo. Five years later, all those things have happened. It’s a rise that has you scrabbling for words like ‘meteoric’, so I was pretty excited to join the packed-out crowd at The Arts Centre Pavilion, all of us queuing up to see his latest show, Irrational.
It was a motley crew, ranging in age from a baby (no joke – the best heckle of the night was a loud gurgle right in the middle of a punch line) all the way to grey-haired pensioners, which probably speaks to Romesh’s broad appeal. His style is world-weary cynic meets gruff East London geezer; I clocked the first “bruv” at about three minutes in. But his current runs a little deeper than your average observational comedian.
Irrational isn’t strictly speaking a new show, and you might recognise the odd bit from Youtube clips or Romesh’s appearance on BBC panel shows. But it doesn’t really matter. He’s performed the set so many times that the timing is damn near perfect, digging deep silences between set-up and punchline that only seem to amplify the inevitable payoff. Some of his best material concerns his kids and the pitfalls of fatherhood. Turns out Romesh and his wife were so smug about how well the first child turned out that they decided to double down. It didn’t work.
As good as Romesh is (and he is very good) he doesn’t quite hit the Olympian heights of, say, your Dara O’Briains. It’s not an entirely fair comparison – Dara has been performing since the early 1990s – but you can still feel daylight between the consummate pro and a guy still honing his craft. There’s a gap there that has something to do with audience stamina: after Romesh’s 60-minute set I was satisfied, but ready to leave. Dara could have performed for three hours straight and I would have happily eaten a power bar and strapped in for three more.
None of that really matters at the end of the day, of course. The rise of Romesh has been incredible, and he has the talent to go as far as he wants. Time will tell just how far that is. One thing’s for sure though: that would have been the best maths class of all time.
Romesh Ranganathan – Irrational is on at The Arts Centre Pavillion til April 23