The third of three Circuit Training chats conducted at the Larmer Tree Festival, just before the Fringe, I ended up grabbing Romesh Ranganathan just as he'd stepped offstage, which was slightly unnerving as he'd been in prime rant mode. The full anger-nathan.
Ranganathan was a maths teacher before his rapid rise to stand-up fame, and much of that onstage ire was about modern schooling, specifically the vagaries of trying to get your kid into one in the first place. Thankfully Romesh turned out to be a charmingly affable chap post-gig, and - cramped in a backstage tent - we talked teaching, the pitfalls of talking sport onstage, and advice for budding comedy writers (Romesh also being the host of Newsjack). But first, the Fringe.
So you're doing Edinburgh again this year?
Yeah, all of that you just saw was from my new show actually, it's about me trying to be a better person, it's called Rom Wasn't Built in a Day, ha! It's not a million miles from last year, but less about what's going on in my house and more looking outwards.
You're pretty candid about your nearest and dearest on stage - do you run it past them beforehand?
No, not really. My wife is generally [ok]. Everything I say is true, but obviously I'm giving a polarised opinion of what I think. She's very chilled about it.
It's obviously exaggerated...
Yeah. Although I talk quite honestly about my relationship, I would never go 'my wife's a fucking nightmare' or 'I'm trapped in this marriage' because that's not the case. I love my wife, but we have differences of opinion, and I don't think her opinion is any less valid than mine, but I'll just talk honestly. The argument is: 'it's not fair, your wife doesn't have a stage to express her side of things' - so, what I'm trying to do, hopefully, is show my faults as well, so it balances out.
Your rise has been pretty, well, 'meteoric' is the usual term.
It's been used in every blurb!
A flaming ball of comedy! Did teaching help you hit the ground running?
It did help in a way I suppose, because you lose the fear of talking in public. I used to do a lot of assemblies as head of year, and it's not comedy but you throw little jokes in, and you get a feel for it.
That's a tough crowd, particularly when you're teaching maths.
Yeah, it can be. I do think you've hit on a good point - I've taught a lot of bottom sets, and you know, a lot of the maths curriculum, if I'm being honest, is not relevant to those kids. Once they've done the GCSE they're never going to use that again. So you've got to try to get them engaged enough to be interested in it, and that's a challenge, and that actually gives you some transferrable skills for stand-up.
Because you know, if I talk about my life, why should you give a shit about that? But if I put you where I am, that's what I try to do, put you in my position, so you can appreciate what I'm saying. So when I talk about my kids, the ideal is that even if you don't have children, you can still go 'I understand where he's coming from.' Essentially I'm a guy that's the same as you, I've not suddenly become this 'father' guy.
There's an interesting bit about choosing schools - something you feel strongly about?
I guess, naturally, that happened, that I chose a school for Theo and it got closed down. I never go out thinking I'm going to deliver a message really, but I do think... I express what's close to my opinion about the subject. It's a very simplistic view that I'm putting out there, but I do think it's a valid question - 'why can't all the schools be good?' That's what I thought, 'why am I choosing?' I'm not equipped to choose the school.
It certainly went down well. Sometimes messages like that come across better from a comedian.
Yeah, but I don't actually think 'oh, I'm gonna blow some minds with my truth,' or whatever.
Speaking of flaming balls, it's interesting seeing you reference football on stage. I had to do a set about football last year and died on my arse - it's generally seen as a no-no.
I think the reason people say that is because, when you're at a weekend club and it's quite rowdy, when you go 'I'm an Arsenal fan', that can immediately create a problem. If they're really raucous, a load of pissed lads or a load of stags or whatever, and there could be a group of all Tottenham fans, and you say 'I'm an Arsenal fan' - it's hard.
And you've done that?
Yeah, if the gig's going a bit shit you think, 'I don't wanna risk this.'
You don't want to lose anyone else...
Exactly. The other thing is, I did sport on Stand Up For The Week, and as soon as you mention sport, some people go 'uuurgh', so you've got to be really confident that your sport bit is funny enough to overcome that prejudice.
Any other TV or radio stuff in the can, or in the pipeline?
We have a lot of budding comedy writers on the BCG forums - any tips for getting stuff on Newsjack?
I had to get used to it myself, because I was as new as anyone, I came into the show and they did a whole new version of it, they overhauled the show but still I didn't know what they were looking for.
But I think it is really important to follow the guidelines, whatever they send out is good to keep in mind. And if you can find a way of skewering an issue. One that pops to mind, and it's a shame I can't remember the writer's name, but we had a thing about [the Newcastle United manager] Alan Pardew...
You know Alan Pardew headbutted that player? Well this guy just did this thing where his wife's being interviewed, and Alan Pardew believes that's the way to do every task, he's making mashed potatoes and you can just hear him nutting the shit out of a load of potatoes.
So that guy just got to the bottom of the issue - 'wouldn't it be funny if that's how Alan Pardew saw that as the solution to all of his issues.'
You wouldn't get away with nutting someone anywhere else but football...
Yeah, so that sounds like a simple thing, but to get to the nub of the idea, it's actually quite a skill. So my advice would be, if I was submitting to Newsjack: number one, listen to the guidelines. But also, before you even start thinking about what the dialogue's going to be, just go 'what do I want to skewer here, what's my angle?' and then everything you do feeds the angle.
Too many people just go 'that's a funny joke, that's a funny line' - that can all come afterwards. What is the point you're trying to make? Then everything feeds that.
'Romesh Ranganathan: Rom Wasn't Built in a Day' is at the Pleasance Courtyard until the 24th August. Listing
Newsjack returns on Radio 4 Extra on the 25th September.