Romesh Ranganathan: ‘I owe my mum a lot, so I basically now do whatever she tells me to do’

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  • Romesh Ranganathan, comedian and TV star, pays tribute to the women who have shaped his life and transformed his career

    Romesh Ranganathan owes a lot to his mother, probably wouldn’t be here without his wife, and aspires to be more like Kathryn Ryan. Here, the stand-up comedian waxes on the women who matter most to him, and why

    My mother Shanthi

    ‘Mum came to Crawley from Sri Lanka at 19 after marrying my dad. Later, Dad had financial problems and they split for a while. Our house was repossessed and we lived in a B&B until we got a council house. It was a struggle, but Mum just got her head down, found cleaning jobs and never complained. I owe her a lot, so I now do everything she says. She had friends over recently who wanted to meet me because they’d seen me on TV, so Mum made me drop what I was doing to go round. I was like, “Mum, I’m not coming over to do a PA.” But I went, much to my wife’s disbelief.’

    ‘Being a comedian is a very vacuous thing to decide to do’

    My wife Leesa

    ‘When I started doing stand-up, I resigned from my job as a maths teacher and, three days before I was due to leave, my dad passed away. I wasn’t able to focus on work, we couldn’t pay the bills and our car was taken away, but Leesa never showed a lack of faith. I felt I’d put us through a bad patch and not for a very noble reason – being a comedian is a very vacuous thing to decide to do – but she came to all my shows and gave me feedback. Without her support I wouldn’t have been a comedian.’

    Comedian Katherine Ryan

    ‘She’s a good mate, but I’d include her even if she wasn’t, as she’s one of the best comics around, all while being a single mum. When I started, I did one gig where she was on before me and she smashed it so much I didn’t want to follow her. She’s funny in her own unique way and that’s what I aspire to in my comedy.’

    Katherine Ryan

    Katherine Ryan: ‘One of the best comics around’

    Singer Sza

    ‘SZA’s album Ctrl is my favourite of the last year, because she’s honest to a fault. I strive for honesty because I think that’s where the funniest stuff comes from. In her music, she talks about her insecurities. We’re so used to artists who assert themselves in a “nothing can knock me” way, so I was taken by the vulnerability of this album. It directly impacted the way I write.’

    Actress Emma Thompson

    ‘She’s a hero. I know I should probably refer to Sense And Sensibility, but that scene in Love Actually when she opens the present and it’s a CD instead of a necklace… Normally, when celebrities talk about causes, I think, oh shut up, but Emma knows what she’s talking about. I was fortunate enough to meet her recently, and she was as magical as I hoped she’d be.’

    Straight Outta Crawley by Romesh Ranganathan (£20, Bantam) is out now

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