Rob Beckett and Romesh Ranganathan reveal the secrets of their Sky One hit, Rob and Romesh Vs.
Comedy is hard graft. But comedians Rob Beckett and Romesh Ranganathan made light work of an RTS session that turned the spotlight on the pair’s hilarious Sky One factual entertainment series, Rob and Romesh Vs. The third season starts this month.
The show sees the likely lads gamely taking on unfamiliar worlds and situations. It could be basketball or, more unlikely still, ballet.
They even underwent the indignities of colonic irrigation for the benefit of the cameras in series 2 – an experience Ranganathan told the RTS that he still regrets – while in LA getting the lowdown on NBA basketball. “To give you an idea of how bad we were at basketball, we weren’t allowed to play basketball in the show, but we were allowed to have a colonic,” recalled Ranganathan.
Having TV stars do ridiculous things is a telly trope that goes back at least to the BBC’s In at the Deep End, featuring Chris Serle and Paul Heiney.
In the new series of Rob and Romesh Vs, the duo grapple with the worlds of tennis, drag performance and art.
In one episode of the last series they joined the Birmingham Royal Ballet, an experience that led to them performing Swan Lake live on stage. Yes, really. Watching them struggle into their ballet tights was not for the faint-hearted.
And, once they got down to learning to dance, it became clear that Ranganathan wasn’t a natural.
“Everything we do, we’re hoping we find some undiscovered ability – but it hasn’t happened for me yet,” he explained, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “The ballet revealed a really annoying trait of Rob, where he’s happy to say we’re doing this as a team until he spots any kind of distance between us in ability.
“Everything we do, we’re hoping we find some undiscovered ability – but it hasn’t happened for me yet”
“Once he knows he’s better than you, he’ll cut you loose in a heartbeat.”
Beckett conceded: “If I’m half good at something, I’m like a rat up a drainpipe.” The ever-enthusiastic Beckett provides the perfect foil to his comic partner’s deadpan style.
The settings that they enter in the series have something in common – at least one of the pair is completely ignorant of these worlds. This is where the comedy comes in. And it helps that the pair’s friendship is genuine, something that was abundantly clear during this good-natured chat, where, despite the limitations of Zoom, their rapport and affection for one another shone through. Like the series itself, the RTS session was a perfect pandemic pick-me-up.
“In this show, when we go and do mad things, when we’re so out of our comfort zone, especially something like ballet…. I don’t think I could do those things without Romesh,” said Beckett.
Ranganathan added: “Often, when we’re about to do something really terrifying, one of us will look at the other one and go, ‘This is going to be OK, isn’t it?’.” They agreed that the thrill of putting themselves up for these potentially intimidating situations was comparable to when they started doing stand-up, a feeling that tended to dissipate the more performances they clocked up.
“We still get off on that buzz when we throw ourselves into something as stressful as these situations,” said Ranganathan. “When you’re doing stand-up, you think that it is in your power to make this gig go well, whereas, if you’re doing Swan Lake, it isn’t in your power to make it go well. You’re holding on, hoping you don’t fuck it up too much.”
“It’s not like I’ve got a pirouette up my sleeve,” chipped in Beckett, who met his partner on the stand-up circuit just over a decade ago. “I remember a friend saying, ‘I’ve seen this Romesh and he’s pretty good.’ I thought: ‘I’ll be the judge of that.’ I went to see him at his dad’s pub and I thought, ‘Yes, he is good.’ I was quite annoyed at that point because I wanted to be the only good one at comedy.”
Their careers on the stand-up circuit were on the same upward trajectory.
“I’d seen Rob perform. He was a bit obvious, but he smashed it,” remembered Ranganathan, a former maths teacher.
“Coming up through comedy and telly, which is quite a middle-class world, we bonded because we both felt we didn’t belong,” said Beckett. “We really did get on… having a mate that you could share the madness with was great.”
Today, they are familiar faces on TV thanks to panel shows such as 8 Out of 10 Cats, Have I Got News for You and A League of Their Own, and BBC Two’s Bafta-winning The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan. “We first met in a pub playing to about eight people and, in 2019, we co-hosted the Royal Variety Performance. It’s nice to have a mate alongside you for that ride,” said Ranganathan.
True to his working-class roots, Beckett recalled how the pair wrote their script for the Royal Variety Performance over a cold apple juice at a pub in Crawley that he’d driven to in his battered Nissan Micra.
One reason Rob and Romesh Vs worked, they thought, was because their friendship was genuine. “It resulted in the show, rather than the other way round,” said Beckett. “I like to think that we’re such good friends that we’ve never been competitive. We’re never competing for the same job.”
The show was created by its producer, CPL Productions, when Sky Sports wanted to find an original way to promote one of Anthony Joshua’s big fights.
"If we immerse ourselves in any kind of world, we’re always going to get something out of it"
“I’m a big boxing fan,” said Beckett. “They wanted to put together someone who knew about boxing with someone who knew nothing about it. Sky Sports said: ‘You’re really good friends with Romesh – why don’t you lead him on this journey, showing him boxing?’”
The programme was a one-off but their evident on-screen chemistry persuaded Sky to commission a series. “Originally, the idea was just to do sports, but it soon became clear that, if we immerse ourselves in any kind of world, we’re always going to get something out of it,” Ranganathan explained.
Having said that, sports do feature prominently in Rob and Romesh Vs. The pair had to watch five days of Test match cricket – something Beckett found akin to watching paint dry – and the new series reveals what happens when Ranganathan was introduced by Beckett to the joy – or otherwise – of golf.
As for working alongside the professionals, whether it was Carlos Acosta or cricketer Kevin Pietersen, the duo discovered that sports luminaries tended to be less forgiving of the pair’s shortcomings than those from the arts.
“Carlos Acosta was so keen to promote ballet, and for people who are outsiders to get an idea of what it’s like, that he was very welcoming to us,” remembers Ranganathan. “But Kevin Pietersen just couldn’t understand why we couldn’t do any of this.”
Commentating on a cricket match was, to be generous, challenging – as was playing it. “I couldn’t even catch a ball. It was too hard,” said Beckett. “Fashion, ballet, art – those worlds were a bit more open and accepting.”
Although they made light of it, a lot of hard work went into the programmes. “We properly commit to it,” said Beckett. “We don’t just fake it for telly. We’re not going through the motions.”
Report by Steve Clarke. Rob Beckett and Romesh Ranganathan were in conversation with Caroline Frost on 5 January. It was a joint RTS-Sky event.