‘My dad was a hero to me, but I also know he did some hor­ri­ble stuff to my mum ... his leav­ing us changed my at­ti­tude to things, I take noth­ing for granted any­more’

Fun­ny­man and first-time au­thor Romesh Ran­ganathan tells Han­nah Stephen­son why he still dips in and out of coun­selling and how hit­ting rock bot­tom shaped his life

Belfast Telegraph - - REVIEW -

He’s clinched his first TV sit­com, re­placed Jack White­hall as team cap­tain on A League Of Their Own and is work­ing on a new stand-up tour — yet dead­pan co­me­dian Romesh Ran­ganathan still wor­ries each job may be his last.

“Ev­ery day, I think to my­self: ‘This could be it, this could be the last day’. I’ve never had that mo­ment when I’ve thought, ‘Yes, I’m on the path now’.”

Just a few years ago, the sar­donic, hip-hop-mad fun­ny­man was on the point of quit­ting com­edy en­tirely, be­cause he wasn’t mak­ing any money and wanted to pro­vide some se­cu­rity for his long-suf­fer­ing wife, drama teacher Leesa, and their three chil­dren.

His co­me­dian pal Seann Walsh stepped in — rec­om­mend­ing him for jobs and send­ing work his way un­til he started mak­ing ends meet.

Ran­ganathan, who started off as a maths teacher, went on to clinch sev­eral com­edy awards, in­clud­ing Best New­comer at Ed­in­burgh, and then got the call for Live At The Apollo.

By 2014, his ca­reer had taken off — his pro­file fur­ther raised with the 2015 BBC Three se­ries Asian Provo­ca­teur, in which he trav­elled to Sri Lanka (and later to the US) to ex­plore his her­itage, egged on by his hi­lar­i­ous mother, Shan­thi, who many said stole the show.

“My on­go­ing mis­sion is to phase my mum out of the pub­lic eye,” he dead­pans to­day. “She’s got out of con­trol. The woman’s ego is a mon­ster. My main aim is to try to get her de­ported some­how. Then that’s the prob­lem solved.”

Of course, she fea­tures in his lat­est project — his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Straight Outta Craw­ley: Me­moirs Of A Dis­tinctly Av­er­age Hu­man Be­ing.

Ran­ganathan’s trade­mark cyn­i­cal hu­mour is ever-present, as he charts his life from his early years as a fat child with a lazy eye (the re­sult of a se­ri­ous in­fec­tion when he was three) grow­ing up in Craw­ley, West Sus­sex, to climb­ing the com­edy ca­reer lad­der.

But there are also some darker pas­sages. The most se­ri­ous up­set hap­pened in his teens, when his ac­coun­tant fa­ther Ranga’s spi­ralling debts re­sulted in the fam­ily home be­ing re­pos­sessed. A more crush­ing blow was dealt when he left his wife and sons to set up home with an­other woman.

Shan­thi, Romesh and his brother Di­nesh ended up shar­ing one be­d­room in a B&B while they waited for a coun­cil house and Shan­thi took on a plethora of jobs to keep the wolf from the door.

“It changed my at­ti­tude to things,” Ran­ganathan (40) re­flects. “I’d taken things for granted and it gave me an ap­pre­ci­a­tion go­ing for­ward.

I don’t take any­thing for granted now. We ended up go­ing to rock bot­tom and you have to make your way back up.”

He ad­mits it’s dif­fi­cult to write about his fa­ther’s be­hav­iour dur­ing that time, be­cause he loved him dearly (he died sud­denly from a heart at­tack, aged 70) and says he was a great fa­ther.

“My dad was a hero tome, but I know he also did some hor­ri­ble things to my mum. Hav­ing tried and failed to keep us afloat, his in­ten­tion was, I be­lieve, to off­load us into a coun­cil prop­erty and have a re­la­tion­ship with the other woman.”

When he didn’t con­tact the fam­ily for sev­eral days, Shan­thi con­fronted her hus­band’s lover to dis­cover that Ranga had been ar­rested for fraud. He was given a two-year jail sen­tence.

The fam­ily spent their Sun­days trav­el­ling to see him in Ford Open Prison in West Sus­sex.

“It was hor­rific. You just be­come numb to it,” Ran­ganathan re­calls. “The house gets re­pos­sessed, I get taken out of (pri­vate) school, then my dad goes to prison. It was a hor­ri­ble time. Those ex­pe­ri­ences def­i­nitely had a pro­found ef­fect on me.”

Yet, go­ing to jail re­sulted in Ranga re­al­is­ing the er­ror of his ways, ditch­ing the girl­friend and re­turn­ing home to rec­on­cile with his fam­ily. He spent the rest of his life try­ing to make things up to them, be­com­ing a fi­nan­cial direc­tor of a book ex­port com­pany, which he bought out and then sold to buy a pub. Ran­ganathan prac­ticed his stand-up there, stag­ing reg­u­lar gigs.

“I loved my dad and we had a great re­la­tion­ship at the be­gin­ning and at the end — there was just a hor­ri­ble mid­dle bit,” he says. “He was a flawed hu­man be­ing.”

The ex­pe­ri­ence af­fected the co­me­dian deeply, though. He sought coun­selling at uni­ver­sity, at the height of the fam­ily prob­lems.

“I was strug­gling to process it all and ev­ery now and again, things get men­tally dif­fi­cult. My brother of­ten says to me that he thinks what we went through per­ma­nently messed us up a bit. He be­lieves we’ll al­ways be slightly dys­func­tional.”

To­day, he dips in and out of coun­selling.

“The Sri Lankan cul­ture is funny about men­tal health. The idea of see­ing a coun­sel­lor is like you’re say­ing that you’re in­sane, but I think it’s a re­ally ben­e­fi­cial thing, which is why I got in­volved with CALM (he’s an am­bas­sador for Cam­paign Against Liv­ing Mis­er­ably, a char­ity ded- icated to pre­vent­ing male sui­cide).

“I got in­volved af­ter a friend of mine killed him­self. It’s im­por­tant for peo­ple who are go­ing through men­tal health is­sues to take ac­tion. It shouldn’t be taboo. If you need help, you should seek it out.

“I had pe­ri­ods when it was go­ing dark in my head. If you feel like things are go­ing against you, any­thing can trig­ger you go­ing back to that headspace and you be­come less func­tional. Ev­ery now and again, you feel de­spair.

“If I go through pe­ri­ods when I’m strug­gling, I do go back.”

Ran­ganathan says now that, if he hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced trauma, he wouldn’t have been a co­me­dian.

“My ex­pe­ri­ence of co­me­di­ans is that they are slightly wired in­cor­rectly, or some­thing has pushed them off-kil­ter a lit­tle bit and I think, if it hadn’t have been for what hap­pened, I wouldn’t have ended up be­ing a co­me­dian.”

His first sit­com se­ries starts on Sky One later this month, a semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal tale of a man who re­luc­tantly takes over his late fa­ther’s pub, much to his fam­ily’s de­light and his own cha­grin. Sky has al­ready com­mis­sioned a sec­ond se­ries.

“I’ve not done much act­ing, apart from play­ing a man with a screw­driver in his chest in Holby City, which was pretty well re­viewed, so I’ve got a re­ally good cast to com­pen­sate.

“But if I can’t play grumpy and in­dif­fer­ent, then we’ve got a prob­lem.”

Laugh­ter lines: Romesh Ran­ganathan and (be­low) with his mother Shan­thi, fa­ther Ranga and brother Di­nesh

Straight Outta Craw­ley: Me­moirs Of A Dis­tinctly Av­er­age Hu­man Be­ing by Romesh Ran­ganathan is pub­lished by Ban­tam, priced £20

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