Romesh Ranganathan at the O2 review: fresh comedy takes from an old heavyweight

 (Laurence Howe)
(Laurence Howe)

Stick a pin in the television schedule, and chances are you will prick a Romesh Ranganathan show. From The Weakest Link to his sitcom Avoidance he has become, well, unavoidable. If you look up the word ubiquitous in the comedy dictionary you should see a picture of the former Crawley schoolteacher.

But it's as a stand-up that the bespectacled entertainer truly excels. And, as he says at the start of his latest show Hustle, this is what he loves doing. He addresses his offstage workload towards the end of the gag-filled first half. Eating sticky toffee pudding on Saturday Kitchen is not exactly hard labour, he jokes.

It is a point he has to make because one of Hustle's themes is the idea that people work too hard doing jobs they dislike. He has had his share of dead end jobs in supermarkets and fast food joints. His trick was to do things as slowly as possible. By contrast, making people laugh is too much fun for him to feel like real effort.

But Ranganathan is being disingenuous. He clearly grafts at his craft, selling every relatable punchline with a crisp delivery here, a little act out there.

Another theme is the quest for happiness. He recalls watching the recent David Beckham documentary and wishing he could derive as much joy from cooking individual mushrooms as the ex-footballer. Instead Ranganathan only finds problems on his plate.

He still, for example, has a misanthropic streak, although now it is tethered to his mental health issues. He can handle structured social events but hates spontaneity. There should be a law banning friends from speaking to each other if they meet in the street.

Actually, even planned activities can be painful. One story involves a Portugal holiday with another family. On the surface Ranganathan was all smiles, but underneath he was raging about a 90-minute round trip across the Algarve to find a Burger King.

At times he veered towards generic midlife observational comedy, all marital squabbles and trying to bridge the generational gap with his sons. But his take remained as boxfresh as his white trainers, whether comparing modern rap to old school hip-hop or wondering why toilets are so archaic in the age of the iPhone.

He is hardly archaic himself, but at 46 feels he has peaked. He no longer wants new friends, no longer wants to improve himself and finds that liberating. This is what he is, take him or leave him. And what he is is a superb comedian. So I'll take him. You should too.

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