Right now you can barely turn on the TV without seeing Bafta-nominated comic Romesh Ranganathan performing his brilliantly self-deprecating act, or appearing in his BBC show Asian Provocateur. The funny man, who hasn’t eaten meat since he was 12, is one of a growing number of vegan comedians.
“I think there is a link between veganism and comedy,” he told Vegan Life magazine. “To be a good comedian, in my opinion, you have to look at the world in an unusual way. You really analyse everything. If you look at veganism, and question how we do things, and how we should be living, veganism, to me, seems like the logical way. There are so many arguments for veganism, and none against it – well, apart from having to change some things that you’re used to eating.”
There seems to be something in that – after all, a growing number of comics seem to be shunning animal products and turning to cruelty-free living, among them Sara Pascoe, Carl Donnelly, Jake Yapp, Andrew O’Neill, and Simon Amstell to name but a few.
“I think it’s become a bit of a social thing,” Romesh says. “When I was thinking about becoming vegan, I emailed Sara Pascoe, and asked her if she could help, as she’d been doing it for a while. She sent back a really long email with loads of information – loads of really helpful advice. At first there was this slightly intimidating aspect, where I was going online and looking at forums, and seeing people say they’d eaten a vegan breaded cutlet, and they were getting pounced on by other people because that cutlet had palm oil in it. It was terrifying, and partly inspired the way I talk about veganism in my work, I want to talk about it in a way that isn’t preaching but is funny.”
Romesh believes the way people approach veganism can be very individual. “When you look at someone like Carl Donnelly, he has really embraced the culinary aspect of plant-based food, he’s really thrown himself into discovering and cooking with really interesting ingredients,” he says. “He was telling me about one dish he’d created using liquid smoke and carrots. It also had about 75 other ingredients in it, and it sounded amazing, but I couldn’t imagine cooking such complicated dishes. I’m no chef – when I come home late there are only a handful of things I eat. Curry is one of them – my mum has worked out how to veganise all my favourites, so that’s something I make quite a bit, stir-fries are another staple, and I like Mexican food. That’s about the extent of my cooking.”
Much of Romesh’s comedy is self-deprecating – why does he enjoy laughing at himself so much. He says: “I always want to be honest and so when I am thinking about writing I ask myself what my genuine feelings on a topic are. We all have low self-opinion when it comes to certain issues, and I find these can be the funniest things to write about – trying to express that esteem, and to be deprecating, is part of trying to be as honest as possible.”
Like all artists, he is constantly striving to improve. “I don’t think I’m honest enough yet – I am not the stand-up I want to be,” he says. “I hope I will keep getting better, and the more honest I get, the better my stand-up gets. The stand-up comedians I have always loved are the ones who dare to open up their world, and share it with their audience.
“I think you get better by continuing to push yourself to say the things you don’t necessarily want to say. You have to not be scared of presenting yourself in a negative light. I did a piece about teaching my kid how to read. I found the experience incredibly frustrating, I felt like, he’s not even trying to do it properly, he’s just guessing the most stupid words possible.
“The audience looked horrified. You have to put them in the position where they understand that I love my son, but this was really annoying. At first this kind of ended up killing the room. With pieces like that you work at them until you get them where they need to be.”
With a clutch of awards to his name (including The Times South Bank Show Breakthrough Award 2016 among others), Romesh’s popularity shows no sign of waning. He has appeared on The Apprentice: You’re Fired, as well as The Great British Bake Off: Extra Slice, where he wooed fellow presenters with his vegan brownies. The BBC recently screened the second series of Asian Provocateur, a show where his Mum sent him to visit Sri Lanka to try and connect with his Tamil roots.
“I generally do whatever jobs I think I’ll be good at and enjoy,” he says. “I used to watch and enjoy Bake Off so I did Extra Slice – it’s always about doing jobs I genuinely enjoy. If I think I can do it well – or at the very least give it a really good go – I will do it. There’s also that element of fear – all of this work, this career, could dry up and disappear tomorrow. With Bake Off I did get a bit of a pasting from the public because I was getting mocked for being vegan – but I really don’t mind that kind of thing. At least I am a vegan, talking about veganism to a mainstream audience.
“I think it’s a shame Mel and Sue, and Mary Berry have gone. It has always been a very unique show – most other TV is bang bang bang, it’s all about escalating the drama with jeopardy. There’s something gentle about Bake Off, so I hope it doesn’t go that way, needing to get bigger and more tense with every episode. It’s going to be a massive job to get it up and running on Channel 4, and I wouldn’t want to be the person doing it.”
When it comes to live performance, his schedule is packed. Extra dates have been added to his current tour Irrational in order to meet demand, and for those unable to get their hands on tickets, the DVD, filmed during his London Apollo dates, is available. “People will get a good sense of the show from watching the DVD,” Romesh tells Vegan Life. “Irrational is basically my views on various different things from coffee shops, to Isis, to Madonna. I am sharing my contrarian viewpoint. I guess you could say it’s a man ranting for a while. While being there in person is always the best thing in my opinion, the DVD will be as good a representation as it can be.”
For now, he plans to keep working on his comedy, becoming a better writer and performer, while watching others do their thing. “I do enjoy watching stand up, and if there are performers I really like, I will definitely try and go and see them live,” he says. “When I’m really engrossed in an act, I don’t analyse it – the people who are really good at what they do make it seem seamless, you can’t see the machinations behind what they are doing.
“I always find it easier to watch people who don’t do the same sort of stuff I do. I will go home and cry if I see someone doing something better than me.”
For more information visit romeshranganathan.co.uk.
Romesh Ranganathan’s Irrational is available to pre-order now and is out on DVD and digital download from November 21.