One of Coventry’s most popular acts, Vish Ratnajothy explains how he got started in comedy and why the Young Producer's Programme helped him headline a local festival.
Vishal Ratnajothy was a cheeky little boy.
“I liked making people laugh,” Vish explained. “Everyone told me I’d make a good public speaker one day, and my parents actually believed I could do stand-up, too.”
“So yes, I remember wanting to be a comedian from a very young age, which means it’s a bit… surreal that I’m actually doing it now.”
A made-in-Coventry comedian
Vish was born in Sri Lanka but moved to London with his mum and dad aged two. With the steep costs that living in the capital can entail, the family moved to Coventry a year later.
It was there that Vish developed a passion for culture and the arts – and where he’s been ever since.
“In primary school, I was always going for the plays and getting the main roles,” he said.
“I started doing stand-up in Year 5, did some jokes here and there and won two of the school’s talent shows.
“My dad could see I really enjoyed it, so he enrolled me in the Warwick Arts Centre’s Youth Theatre programme when I was about 10 or 11.”
Soon, Vish was rising through the programme’s ranks. The cheeky little boy was becoming a confident young performer.
“It started as a nice thing to do on a Saturday and grew and grew"
“I was going to youth theatre from Year 6 to Year 13, so all through secondary school and my A-Levels,” he recalled. “It started as a nice thing to do on a Saturday and grew and grew.
“I started making connections – I met some of my closest friends now back then – and it became a warm, welcoming place where I could go hone my skills and forget about things like exam stress.”
Life in the spotlight
Fast-forward to today and Vish, now 23, is a stand-up comedian very much in demand.
Not many acts can claim to have delivered their first full-length set to a sell-out crowd, and he was also a regional finalist at the 2021 BBC New Comedy Awards in Bristol.
“That was the biggest gig of my career to date; I was shortlisted out of 1,000 comedians to perform for the West Midlands region"
“That was the biggest gig of my career to date; I was shortlisted out of 1,000 comedians to perform for the West Midlands region,” Vish said.
Vish achieved another landmark earlier this year thanks to the Young Producers programme, a free training opportunity delivered by Warwick Arts Centre and China Plate Theatre.
Young Producers empowers 16 to 22-year-olds in Coventry to learn more about making arts events happen, giving them employability and interpersonal skills in the process.
“They put out a job advert encouraging people across the arts from all kinds of backgrounds to apply for something called Vivacity,” Vish said.
“It was a three-day festival at Warwick Arts Centre – one of the first in-person ones after Covid – and they were looking for artists across the city to showcase their talents.
“It was a fantastic opportunity for me, but the deadline was in two days! I got my act together, wrote an application, sent them videos of my previous standup shows and waited nervously.”
The wait would turn out to be worthwhile.
“They said ‘Vish, we really like your material, and we want you to not only do a gig, but be the comedy headliner on the Saturday’.
“I was just gobsmacked – I think I’m still trying to get over it now!”
On the night of Vish’s set, the venue was packed.
In fact, around 15 people had to be turned away at the door to avoid exceeding capacity.
Getting back in the routine
Even aside from his links to Warwick Arts Centre, Vish’s emergence on the comedy scene arguably owes much to the University of Warwick itself.
“I dabbled in standup in secondary school and was involved in some productions, but then I left it alone for a few years,” he explained.
“Later, I went to Warwick to study Theatre and Performance Studies, and in my second year I did a module focusing on standup comedy that drew me back in.
“Suddenly I was writing material and doing open mic nights.”
For Vish, a degree at Warwick was a natural choice.
“One of the reasons my parents moved to the UK was so I could have opportunities like going to university; it was instilled in me, although I wanted to go myself anyway,” he said.
“Growing up locally, I had always loved the campus and imagined myself as a student at Warwick. It felt like home"
“Growing up locally, I had always loved the campus and imagined myself as a student at Warwick. It felt like home.”
Inspiring young performers
In his first year at university, Vish returned to his roots by going back to Warwick Arts Centre’s Youth Theatre programme as a Youth Theatre Leader.
“I thought it’d be cool to go back and replicate what the leaders there had done for me when I was younger."
“I thought it’d be cool to go back and replicate what the leaders there had done for me when I was younger.
“We developed lesson plans for 10 weeks of sessions, prepared for performances and attended training sessions to help us work with all the children.”
It was an experience that benefited Vish enormously.
“I picked up transferable skills around leadership and management, and it was a lot of fun, too,” he said.
Three months after graduating, Vish accepted a job at the Screen and Film School Birmingham, where he enjoys supporting BAME and disabled students and delivering outreach activities to the next generation of artists and performers.
He hopes to eventually go full time with his comedy, which he describes as “definitely observational, occasionally a little deadpan and sometimes a bit dark”.
“I’m staying involved with the team from Young Producers and I’m always going to the Arts Centre – I recently saw Nish Kumar there,” Vish said.
“It keeps me motivated to work really hard and take my career to the next level.”
With youth on his side, there should be plenty of laughs to come.