Romesh Ranganathan talks Asian Provocateur: “My mum is the main star… I’m not happy about it”

Ranganathan wants to know how different life would have been if he'd grown up in America - and if he can leave his mum in a retirement home for the duration of his next trip...

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Romesh Ranganathan has (begrudgingly) accepted that his mum was the “main star” of the first series of BBC3’s Asian Provocateur – so for his new North American adventures, Shanthi is coming with him.

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“I’m not happy about it. It’s one of those things where she became a success… unfortunately.”

Turning all Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors on us, Ranganathan’s on a mission to see what his life would have been like if he’d grown up in America. Because, while many of his family live in Detroit and holiday in Florida, he lives in Crawley and holidays at Butlin’s. 

As with the first series, this isn’t a straightforward travel show. It’s not all breathtaking views and life-changing experiences. In fact, Ranganathan kicks things off by trying to palm his mum off on a retirement home in Florida.

“The edit to that is going to be crucial,” he laughs.

But while Ranganthan struggled to even get a US visa – an embassy official deemed his claims of comedic work unlikely because he was “not funny in the slightest” – his mum emerges as a “social chameleon” and fits in with everyone. This includes, much to the music-lover’s dismay, a group of Mexican hip-hop stars.

“I’m really into hip-hop, I thought that they would be the people I’d connect to more than my mum. But no, they just ended up loving my mum. In fact, one of them had a go at me for the way I was talking to her. 

“They just see a grumpy sort of fat man having a go at this wonderful woman…”

Despite her confidence with people, Ranganathan says Shanthi is not a confident traveller. One evening he finds her stood outside a lift confused by which button to push (“Well, one says ‘up’ and the other says ‘fire alarm’ so let’s figure out which is the most likely one to press…”) and says he essentially becomes a walking Siri.

“I love my mum, but like, going travelling with your mum it’s not ideal, is it?

“She’s constantly asking me questions like I know the place,” he explains. “We’ll be in the bar and she’ll go, ‘Where are the toilets?’ I’ll say ‘Mum, I’ve literally just arrived in the place at the same time as you. I don’t know if you think I’ve got some sort of awareness like a Jedi of where the toilets are…”

As well as getting a taste of what life is like at a university fraternity (“I just thank my lucky stars that my dad chose Crawley…”) and finding – to his delight – that LA isn’t just a bunch of tossers talking about quinoa and kale, the comedian ends up blindfolded, stripped down to his underwear and walking through Mexican woods to find his ‘spirit animal’.

“We had to go into a sweat box – like a sauna, but a rudimentary brick dwelling – and they raise the temperature to the point that you nearly die and then you stay there until you find your spirit animal,” he explains, his skepticism evident through his characteristically dry tone.   

“I think you stay there until you find your spirit animal, or you stay there until you say you’ve found you’re spirit animal so you can leave the sweat box. They kept saying ‘everyone’s found their spirit animal’ and I was like, I bet they have mate! I just pretended I was a horse to get out…”

It was a tactic that worked until they “demanded evidence” and Ranganathan found himself galloping around in his pants. “If you’re in your pants being a horse and you don’t get a Bafta, I don’t know what you have to do.”

This, he says, will come back to bite him when parents at his kid’s school see the episode and information trickles back down to his son.

“[I’ll have] Theo coming home going: ‘Is it true you got naked and pretended to be a horse?” And I’m like, ‘Yeah, there’s context to that son. There’s a background story to that that you don’t know.”

“Hearing snippets of it is much worse.”

But have the glittering lights of the US tempted Ranganathan away? Or does Crawley still get top billing?

“I think I’d pick Crawley in the same way that, you know, sometimes prisoners choose to stay with their kidnapper?”

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Asian Provocateur returns to BBC Three in October