Romesh Ranganathan was nine years old when he delivered his first stand-up set. “It was a gig at Pontin’s holiday camp and I loved it,” he says. “But I never thought about it one day being my job, it just didn’t seem a possibility.”
He talks about this and his unlikely switch from school teacher to comedian in Straight Outta Crawley – Memoirs of a Distinctly Average Human Being, his new book, published this week.
And he’ll be discussing his memoir when he comes to Sheffield next Tuesday as part of the Off The Shelf Festival of Words.
The book, he says, was brewing for a long time. “I was a comedy fan long before I did stand-up and I used to read comedians’ books and one of the reasons I started in comedy was reading Frank Skinner’s first book and Steve Martin’s.
“What I liked was even though I’d watched a lot of what they’d done you felt you were getting an inside track on their lives. So from reading those books I thought that people might be interested in my story.”
And his story is certainly interesting – he comes from a Sri Lankan background and grew up in West Sussex.
Initially he wanted his book to be funny. “When I started I wanted it to be full of jokes but Richard Pryor’s books weren’t always funny, not that I’ve got his back story, and I thought I’d include everything that I felt was important.”
Comedy has always been a big part of his life. “My mum’s a big fan of physical comedy and she loves things like Inspector Clouseau, whereas my dad and I were more into stand-up and I became obsessed with the idea of a guy standing there with a microphone.”
He worked as a maths teacher before taking the plunge in 2010 and becoming a comedian. For a time, though, he tried juggling both jobs.
“I thought I’d be a teacher who did a bit of stand-up, that was my ambition. But then it slowly changed. I was teaching at school and then coming home, quickly getting changed and going off to do a gig.
“I was doing two jobs. I say ‘two jobs’, one of them was making me money and the other was losing me money.”
At times it was a tough balancing act. “There were days when I was absolutely knackered and I needed about seven coffees before teaching Year Nines fractions.”
In 2013 he was nominated for the Edinburgh Foster’s Best Newcomer Award and two years later his BBC series Asian Provocateur was nominated for a Bafta and he’s gone on to become a familiar face on comedy panel shows like Mock The Week.
Despite the acclaim, he feels there’s more to come. “Being a comedy fan makes it harder. You know what you want it to be but you’re so far from it and I still feel far away from what I want my comedy to be. I’m nowhere near as good as I want to be, and for me that’s part of the enjoyment, knowing that I can be better.”
Romesh Ranganathan is at Sheffield City Hall, October 9, at 7.30pm. offtheshelf.org.uk