Romesh Ranganathan has come a long way since playing forty seaters at the Fringe – nearly 6,000 people crammed into the Edinburgh Playhouse to see him play across two nights. Top stand-ups have rock-star status these days, something this comedian embellishes with a live DJ on stage to warm us up with classic hip-hop before both halves.
There’s an actual warm-up comic on this national tour too, George Lewis. Usually, these spots are a great opportunity to sample up and coming talent, but this bland set lacked oomph, its subtleties lost in such a large auditorium.
But Ranganathan, on the other hand, is a performer who knows how to reach the gods. Despite much of his humour coming from his dour incredulous facial expressions, he projects with his voice and physicality, so that the 80% of the audience who watch from a distance is still involved (a beautiful mime of an argument with his wife goes down a treat). Yet it’s not over the top at all. Just cleverly executed and well written.
The material focusses on his annoyance, spanning topics from Piers Morgan to his kids – the latter a long-standing source for his jokes. And while almost all his set consists of complaining, cynicism (hence the title) and criticism, the magic ingredient is that it’s enduringly warm. Ranganathan walks the knife-edge between sullen offence and big-heartedness. The total lack of pander to the crowd is refreshing. However, there’s a sense of graciousness and gratitude about his persona that seems very genuine and endearing. Timely caveats as he moans about his wife – he ‘loves the bones of that woman’ – ensure we relate to his niggles, rather than feeling alienated by his grumpiness.
Much of the night is unsurprising in terms of his material (racism, his family, body confidence issues), bar a section on climate change and society’s passivity. Subversively he muses that we’re just being told to recycle as a pointless activity to keep us occupied until what he suggests is now an inevitable global apocalypse. Taken at face value, this, of course, is a horrifyingly lazy stance. But by using his trademark apathetic vibe, he incites us to really examine our individual attitudes.
The Cynic’s Mixtape does not disappoint. It’s a solid set from a stellar comedian whose talent has undoubtedly earned his TV ubiquity. It may not be the most exciting of his shows yet, but then again, not every show can be.