Ir-romesh-ional?: image via The Reviews Hub

The Lowry
19th-20th September 2016

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub and published here.

It’s always exciting when a comic gets their gig started by chatting to the audience. Perhaps it helps them to get a feel for the crowd, but it also allows us to size up their comedy chops. How quick-witted can they be in response to new information? Can they make the simple facts of someone’s name, job, or hometown into comedy material?

When Romesh Ranganathan steps onto the stage at The Lowry, asking someone in the front row where they’re from, the response quickly triggers a heckle that gets a gigantic laugh in itself. It’s a nightmare for an inexperienced comic, but rather than let the heckler get the best of him, Ranganathan smoothly flips the moment on its head so that he’s back in control. Everybody laughs at his foul-mouthed, exasperated dismissal – even the man being dismissed.

Part of Ranganathan’s appeal is that carefully-balanced persona: equal parts hateful and lovable. He has a brilliantly twisted take on why he likes Starbucks despite their tax-dodging, for instance. But when he tells us in detail how much he dislikes one of his children, his invective is tinged with sarcasm and love.

Despite panel-show exposure and his own TV show on BBC Three, Asian Provocateur, Ranganathan’s stand-up still feels down-to-earth and covers reassuringly normal ground: his children, his relationship, the everyday frustrations of life as a Sri Lankan-British family man. His complaints about walking the long road to success, while his mum piggy-backed him by appearing in Asian Provocateur, are relatable in their bitterness, rather than entitled and whiny.

He has some great takes on UKIP and life as a second-generation immigrant, including one beautifully subversive moment where he turns racist logic inside-out to reveal that it’s a trap, not logic at all. A section on Madonna, while funny, is a little less spot-on: why acknowledge that ageism exists and older women especially are subject to harsh scrutiny, if your next move is to eviscerate an older woman in the public eye? In general, Ranganathan is fair-to-middling at “punching up”: targeting those with more power or privilege, rather than those with less. A routine about how he might “try being gay for a bit” is not as eye-rolling as you might think, astonishingly steering clear of any stereotypes.

Self-referential and self-deprecating he may be, but he’s never navel-gazing – unless you count the references to his middle-aged belly. There are a few clever callback references to earlier lines that give the show just enough structure to be satisfying. His fluid, conversational style belies the deftly-crafted comedy he fits into two 45-minute halves. It’s easy to see why Ranganathan has two Edinburgh Festival Awards under his belt and why his star is still rising.

Star rating: ***.5 Cynical yet lovable