Having performed for the British royal family, at festivals across the world and with his own BBC series under his belt, Romesh Ranganathan has forged a successful comedy career in the UK.
But what happens when the 40-year-old decides to take his act over to the States?
The Sri Lankan-British star’s new documentary, Just Another Immigrant, reveals the setbacks the father-of-three faces when he follows his great American dream.
And while many of those setbacks were expected, Romesh admits he’s ‘surprised’ how quickly he became the subject of casual racism because of the way he looks.
“I was a bit surprised if I’m being honest with you,” he tells Be, when discussing a memorable scene in the first episode.
The scene shows a taxi driver in Los Angeles branding Romesh as a ‘7-Eleven’ type of immigrant, and the comedian says he was particularly taken aback because he’d viewed LA as being “one of the more liberal parts of the United States”.
“In England, there’s a lot of immigration of South Asians so you don’t really get those kinds of reactions,” he explains.
“I did think it may be different in America but I didn’t think I’d get it in LA because LA is one of the more liberal parts of the United States.
“I was massively surprised when that cabbie said that.”
Raised in West Sussex in England, Romesh studied mathematics at the University of London, going on to be a mathematics teacher in the UK before pursuing his passion for making others laugh.
“In England and I guess in Australia from my time over there, I know the idea of someone from South Asia with an English and Australian accent isn’t unusual,” Romesh tells Be.
“Whereas in America, they seem to assume you’ve literally stepped off a plane. It’s mad,” he laughs.
“Me being brown with a beard, they just sort of make assumptions.”
When Romesh goes to get his headshots done in another scene from the documentary, a woman says he looks like a terrorist “straight off the back”, the comedian reveals.
“I was surprised it’s happening in Los Angeles but I guess in America, I sort of expected it because they don’t have as many people from that part of the world, proportionately speaking.”
While on the topics of racism and diversity, the TV star says Hollywood is “trying be more diverse on screen and behind the screen” but “there’s still more deeper issues I think need sorting out”.
“I know that generally speaking, the industry is trying to be more reflective of the diverse nature of the population. That wasn’t true in years gone by,” he says.
“So I think things are moving in the right direction, but it will take a long time for those sorts of things to sort themselves out.”
He also believes Hollywood stars not owning up to their racially-intended remarks is problematic as the industry strives to progress.
Commenting on Roseanne Barr’s recent controversial tweet about Valerie Jarrett, Romesh says it was Roseanne’s ‘denial’ of being racist that he took issue with the most.
“I believe in freedom of speech but it was a racist tweet, there’s no getting away from that. It was a racist tweet,” he says.
“I found the denial more offensive than the actual initial tweet.
“If you’re going to be racist, then admit you’re being racist. Then stand by it, and at least go, ‘I don’t care’.
“The denial makes it more offensive because if you don’t think saying something like that is bad, that’s almost more worrying than saying it in the first place.”
Just Another Immigrant is now streaming in Australia on Stan.
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