Romesh Ranganathan: laughing in lockdown and learning to DJ

Romesh Ranganathan: laughing in lockdown and learning to DJ
Romesh Ranganathan performs during the Teenage Cancer Trust comedy night, at the Royal Albert Hall, London. Pic: Matt Crossick/PA

Comic Romesh Ranganathan has been forced to confront a few home truths about his marriage while in lockdown.

The star, 42, is hanging out with his wife and kids - a lot - as the crisis brings a temporary halt to his stand-up tour and globe-trotting TV shows.

"People talk about the first thing they’’ll do when lockdown ends. I think mine might have to be to buy another property, or at least rent one out, just to give my family a couple of months’ break," he quips.

Even the garage - where the bearded vegan sometimes disappears to give his long-suffering family some respite - is out-of-bounds.

It’s now a makeshift studio, where the former maths teacher is filming the return of his BBC Two topical comedy show, The Ranganation.

The series features the star with 20 members of the public, dubbed "The Ranganation", who take a "sideways and topical look at modern Britain".

It is back for second series after the first instalment was a hit - only this time, because of social distancing, it is taking place from his home.

"Filming the show in the garage has been an issue," Ranganathan admits, "because I spent all this time thinking that my relationship with my wife worked despite me being away so much.

"Now we’ve realised it’’s because (we’ve been apart)!

"Now we’re together all the time the gloss has really come off me, for my kids and my wife."

In ordinary times, Ranganathan would go to the garage "for the benefit of my family" so they could "get a break from me," the father of three boys says.

"Now we don’t even have that! So I feel sorry for my family. They’re trapped with me. It’s awful for them.

"I’m very good in small doses. In large doses I’d describe myself as sickening!"

Ranganathan is also known for his Misadventures travel show, in which he holidays in locations which are definitely out of his comfort zone.

"My wife has said, ’’You’re still going to do travel shows when we get out and you’’ll be away won’t you?’’," Ranganathan says.

As well as preparing for the return of his TV show, the comic, who previously flirted with a career as a rapper under the name of Ranga, thought he would learn to DJ during the pandemic.

But that is not working out too well.

"I tend to find hobbies difficult because I lack the patience," he says.

When I suspected the lockdown was going to happen I thought, I’m going to learn to DJ. I said to my wife, ’’I’ll buy a load of DJ equipment’’

"She said, ’’That’s a great idea, you should do that.’’"

It turned out that Leesa thought he was joking.

"So we ended up moving the DJ equipment to the garage because she didn’t want it in the house," he says.

"She doesn’t want what little respect she’s got left to dissolve by watching me shuffling around in a midlife crisis trying to learn how to DJ.

"Now, because they’re using the garage for the show all the stuff has moved back in. It’’s a f****** nightmare."

As any fan of Ranganathan will know, another big relationship in his life is the one he has with his mother.

Shanthi has stolen his thunder, even if he doesn’t like to admit it, after making a "little cameo" in one of his TV shows.

She also appears in The Ranganation, alongside a "cockney geezer", "vicar’’s daughter" and other people representing a "cross-section of modern Britain".

She can "take me down and really puncture any kind of ego" and "eviscerate me without fear of comeback," the panel show regular says.

The pandemic has made him think about their relationship differently.

"I thought of phoning my mum as something you’re supposed to do," he says. "Not that I don’’t like talking to my mum, but you get caught up in life."

Now the situation has made him remember "how good it is to talk to people and engage".

Connecting with his mum, who still prepares "care packages" of Sri Lankan food for her son and lives just "down the road", does not always go to plan.

"I speak to my mum every day on the phone and we also started occasionally doing Zoom," he says.

"But my mum has absolutely no appreciation of where the camera is. I can be chatting to her chin for an hour."

On The Ranganation, the comic and his panel - who will be seen virtually from their homes this time - chat about everything from front-page news to smaller stories.

Memorable conversations from the first series included a debate about washing your legs in the shower - "a lot more people than I thought just allow their legs to be washed by the run-off", he says, and adults cuddling up with a soft toy.

This time, coronavirus is dominating the headlines but Ranganathan says they will talk about a "mix of things".

Sometimes with these topical shows you’’re worried that you’’re scratching around with stuff but with this one it’s the opposite problem," he says. "There’s too much."

He won’’t be shying away from comedy despite testing times, but hopes it does not get him into trouble.

"It’s a particularly British thing to use humour to navigate the things we are going through," he says.

"Every now and again, I really do fully engage with the horror of the situation and end up in some kind of panic spiral and can freak myself out quite easily.

"And I think talking about it in a light-hearted way is a nice form of escapism.

"There’s the old cliche that comedy is tragedy plus time. We don’t have that time. The show is going through it because we’re doing it on lockdown.

"You have to be mindful" of the situation, he says, adding he knows "you don’t always get it right".

"If I don’t get it right, I suppose they’ll nip it out in the edit - otherwise God help me on Twitter when it goes out," he says.

The Ranganation returns to BBC Two on Sunday, May 10.

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