Romesh Ranganathan on cultural stereotypes, the experience of being vegan in Mongolia, and his upcoming book
FANS LOVE ROMESH Ranganathan for his dead-pan humour on panel show appearances and stand-up comedy gigs, but his travel show, The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan, shows us a completely different side of the British comedian. With an aim to investigate and smash stereotypes about different cultures, Romesh visits countries such as Zimbabwe, Haiti, Ethiopia and Colombia. But while doing so, he also has us in splits. Romesh is also known for his news-based comedy show The Ranganation, as well as Asian Provocateur, where he visits Sri Lanka to explore his heritage. We speak to the artiste about the most memorable moments from the shoot and what he’s been up to during the lockdown. Excerpts:
The issue of race and culture, especially on television, is at the forefront of our conversation right now. Did you get a new perspective on the topic through your travels?
The whole premise of the show is about cultural awareness and exploring preconceptions people might have about certain places. For example, I went to Ethiopia. The perception of Ethiopia, because of the all of the charity work that’s done and the media, is that of a famine ravished country and that there’s no reason to visit there. But our trip shattered that illusion. Also, when we went to Albania, it was a different experience. I don’t think Albanians are used to seeing brown people at all. I come from the UK, where there is racism of course, but people are generally used to seeing South Asian people and people of colour, but in Albania, they are not. So, you have to slightly adjust to their reactions to you.That’s another thing that came up on our travels, and we had to work around it. But there was a lot of changing of preconceptions when I started doing these trips and that was our hope with the show anyway.
You’re a vegan. How easy or tough was it to travel to all these countries as a vegan?
It depends on the country really. Some of the places were really tough, like for an episode we went to Mongolia. And Mongolia doesn’t really do vegetarian food. We had to carry a lot of dehydrated meals with us. And then obviously in places like the Arctic, where we also went for another episode, it’s even more tricky. But, on the other hand, there were other places that were really surprising. For example, Ethiopia has got amazing vegan options. They are quite religious there and they have a fasting period during which they don’t have any dairy or meat. Hence, every restaurant has a fasting menu, which is essentially vegan. So, it was a mixed bag, to be honest.
Which was the most daunting moment on the shoot?
(Laughs) There are a few of them that probably spring to mind. One is from the very first episode of the very first show, we went to Haiti.We visited a freshwater pool and there was a cliff, that people were jumping off the top of into the water. And my co-host wanted me to do that. I did climb the cliff, but I was too scared to jump. But I also didn’t want to climb down because the climb was so treacherous so I ended up just jumping. And when we went to the Arctic, we camped on the edge of the oceans. We were right on the edge where the ice meets the sea.
While, it was an amazing experience and we got to see some polar bears, the actual challenges that we faced in that environment — I don’t know if I want to go back and do that ever again.
Conversely, which was the most fun moment?
Lots of fun bits. In Ethiopia, we went to a church, that was at the top of a mountain and carved into the rock face. Seeing that church, in that scenario, is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. And it will stay with me for a very long time.
Tell us about your upcoming book, As Good As It Gets.
As Good As It Gets is a collection of life lessons, from my point of view. It is lessons of topics ranging from parenting and veganism to how men should dress at my age and long-term relationships.
How has the lockdown been? Have you picked up any new hobbies?
I have actually. My mum is obsessed with me not putting on weight. I think it’s her biggest concern. So, my wife and I have been doing a fair bit of exercise. It’s really embarrassing to do it on Zoom!
My kids are obsessed with the video game Fortnite. And since we’ve not been able to get our kids to stop playing, my wife and I have started playing it as well.
What can we expect from you in the coming months?
I was in the middle of a tour when we had to go into lockdown in the UK and so that’s all been pushed to next year. Originally, we moved the date to September, because people didn‘t know when we were going to come out of this; it was all so unpredictable. But comedians are itching to get back on stage, we are desperate to find a way of doing comedy
We’re also looking to try and hopefully do more of the travel show but try to work within the restrictions. The book’s coming out later this year. And then I‘m looking to go back on tour as soon as possible. And I would love to come and do a tour show in India, it’s on the top of my list, so I’m going to make that happen.
The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan airs on Sony BBC Earth