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"What I’m essentially doing is polishing a turd": comedian Romesh Ranganathan opens up about rap battles and self-belief

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Ralph Jones
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"What I’m essentially doing is polishing a turd": comedian Romesh Ranganathan opens up about rap battles and self-belief

Chatting Peter Crouch, 8 Mile and people who dilly-dally, with stand-up and ex-rapper Romesh Ranganathan

Hi Romesh. I was sent Peter Crouch’s autobiography the other day. It’s one of the funniest books ever. Can you guarantee yours is funnier?

Probably not. It’s not up to me to say I’m funnier than Peter Crouch. Peter Crouch is one of the funniest human beings on the planet.

Did you employ a ghostwriter like he did?

I didn’t. Part-way through, I wished I had. I guess as a comedian I’m supposed to be able to write. I feel that footballers are judged unfairly: people go, “I bet they didn’t write it.” 

Nobody asks Stephen Fry to take a free-kick, so I think it’s a bit out of line.

Did you consciously choose to leave anything very personal out of the book?

My mum, brother and I went through a lot of difficulties in my teens. I had to double-check [before sharing] with my mum because it’s pretty brutal and I don’t think a lot of her friends know what she went through. My tendency is to overshare, I guess. If it was up to me, I’d be laying waste: “I thought this person was a prick; that person was out of line.” But you have to be conscious of the fact that you’re spouting forth without any right of reply. What I’ve realised with age is that most arguments are solved by you simply looking at it from the other person’s point of view. 

I’ve also started to give a sh*t about fewer things.

What do you still give a sh*t about?

I’ve become more conscious of trying to spend quality time with my wife and kids. The side-effect of that is that I become incredibly angry at anybody who I feel is eating up minutes of my time for no reason. If somebody doesn’t make a decision about what they want until they get to the counter, in my head I am decapitating that person.

Have you ever had the feeling that you’ve ‘made it’?

No, I haven’t actually had that. I’m not as good a comic as I want to be. I did have a moment where I was going to give up. We were completely broke, we’d had our car taken away and we weren’t able to pay the bills. I was on my way to Leicester for the Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year.

I phoned my wife and I said to her, “I don’t know why I’m doing this competition, I’m just going to do this one thing and then let’s have a chat about stuff.” And then I won that competition. It was validation at exactly the time I needed it.

You’ve done some rapping as well as comedy. How do the two worlds compare?

I was never going to be a rapper, but I’d done it at uni. A little while after uni I met up with a guy I used to go to school with who was a hip-hop producer. We made some mixtapes. I did battles and stuff like that. It’s horribly frightening.

I literally cannot imagine anything worse.

It’s just like 8 Mile. The crowd is as vicious as that. I think hip-hop and comedy have so many parallels: rappers talk about punchlines; a lot of rappers are really funny; a lot of the best lines in rap battles are the funny ones.

Presumably it’s easier to do stand-up once you’ve experienced a rap-battle crowd.

When you first start doing comedy, a lot of what holds you back is fear. And once you’ve overcome that, you start to make actual progress. Certainly, doing the rap stuff helped me to get over that more quickly than I otherwise might have done.

You’ve spoken about not particularly liking your appearance. How do you come to terms with those feelings?

I’ve got a lazy eye and I don’t feel that I’m a good-looking guy. Also, my physique’s not great. I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever thought I looked good. I wonder if that’s part of the reason I ended up becoming a comic. I’m not saying that I had a deformity, but it does affect the way that you carry yourself and the way that you think.

Taking pride in yourself does work, though. What I’m essentially doing is polishing a turd, but now I’ve kind of made my peace with it.

Romesh’s book Straight Outta Crawley is out on 4 October; he will be on a national tour with his show The Cynic’s Mixtape in 2019

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(Image: Andy Hollingworth)

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Ralph Jones

Ralph Jones is a staff writer for ShortList magazine. In April 2015 he won a seven-foot throne of dildos but he’d rather you didn’t mention it. He performs sketch comedy and is on Twitter at @OhHiRalphJones

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