INTERVIEW | I still approach comedy with an engineer’s mindset: Stand-up comedian Amit Tandon

In the face of stand-up comedy’s growing prominence as a profession, Amit Tandon shared his experiences and challenges with CE.
Stand-up comedian Amit Tandon. (Photo | Express)
Stand-up comedian Amit Tandon. (Photo | Express)

HYDERABAD: Renowned stand-up comedian Amit Tandon recently delivered a talk titled Comedy is Serious Business and performed stand-up comedy at a FLO (FICCI Ladies Organisation) event at Hyatt Place, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad. Even in the face of stand-up comedy’s growing prominence as a profession, which attracts numerous aspiring comedians due to its recognition and financial rewards, Amit Tandon shared his experiences and challenges with CE.

What inspired you to begin your journey as a stand-up comedian?

At the age of 34, I started doing comedy as a hobby to take a break from my regular work. Initially, I performed for 5-7 minutes, but after 2-3 years, I started earning around `2,000–3,000 per show, and eventually, I began getting corporate shows. So, during the first six years, we were mainly selling 20–40 tickets at shows. This continued until 2015-16. However, things changed when my comedy videos went viral, reaching millions of viewers. That’s when I started making money from selling show tickets. In 2017, I embarked on my first international tour, starting in Australia, and then I performed in the UK. During a planned six-show tour in the US, we ended up doing 21 shows, with 29 more to follow. This success led me to decide to close my previous business in 2018 and move to Mumbai. That’s how my journey has been, and after that, I watched Netflix.

What draws you to topics like relationships, and how do you find humour in them?

I spend 90% of my life with my family, which is why 90% of my content comes from my family experiences. Most of my struggles and humorous observations come from there. Additionally, I’ve realised that relationships are universally relatable, and as my own marriage has evolved over the years, it’s provided a constant source of new comedic material. As my children grow, I don’t need to search for content elsewhere; it naturally emerges from my everyday life.

What transformations have you observed in the stand-up comedy industry compared to when you first started?

Several transformations have occurred since I began my journey. First, in the past, people pursued stand-up comedy purely out of passion. However, now there are monetary expectations as well, which is not wrong, but timing matters. Second, I’ve witnessed significant growth in stand-up comedy. Shows are now taking place in cities like Agra, Patna, Jalandhar, and Ludhiana, with audiences of 2000 or more. Regional comedy is also gaining popularity, with comedians from various regions, including Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Punjabi, and others, finding success. Comedians from Tamil and Punjabi backgrounds, in particular, have gained popularity. Gujarati comedians have even done 60 international shows this year, while Indian comedians as a whole have done at least 500–700 international shows. It’s remarkable to see comedians like Zakir Khan performing at prestigious venues like the Royal Albert Hall.

Can you share a memorable or challenging experience from your early career?

One of the most memorable and challenging experiences from my early career occurred in 2013 when we were still new to comedy. We were approached by television channels to perform shows for exposure, with no financial compensation. We agreed, without knowing where the shows would take place. As it turned out, we ended up performing at Tihar jail on December 26th, during the freezing Delhi winter. We waited for two hours in the cold, drinking a lot of water, and had to use the jail cells as there were no guest toilets. It was quite an unforgettable experience.

What is the creative process involved in content writing for your shows?

I still approach comedy with an engineer’s mindset, accustomed to working under deadlines. When I have a show deadline, I begin writing. I strive not only to be funny but also to convey a deeper message in my content. It’s essential for me to create content that goes beyond humour. However, my writing process is primarily deadline-driven; when there’s a deadline, I start writing.

Have you ever used comedy to address important societal topics?

My comedy predominantly revolves around family themes. In my Netflix special, I discuss the loss of self-reflection and the challenges of raising children in our generation. I delve into the struggles of dealing with kids and parents who sometimes act like kids themselves. While my comedy is not political or focused on societal issues, it addresses the everyday challenges and dynamics within families.

What is your perspective on using strong language in stand-up comedy?

In India, comedy is still a relatively new art form, and people often generalise it. However, if you look at other art forms like movies or music, they encompass multiple genres. Similarly, in comedy, the use of strong language can be acceptable as long as it is a part of the set and the conversation. Successful comedians tend to avoid using profanity solely for shock value, as content is what truly resonates with the audience. The success of comedy in India is more dependent on the quality of the content rather than the use of strong language.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a comedian, and what advice do you have for newcomers?

The most rewarding aspect of being a comedian is witnessing people laugh. It’s a therapeutic experience to see people genuinely enjoying your jokes and not constantly checking their phones for an hour and a half. For newcomers, my advice is to be mentally prepared for a challenging journey. Understand that you may not make significant money in the first 3 to 4 years. Consider these initial years as a “college of comedy,” a time for learning the art form and gaining valuable stage experience. While making some money during this period is a bonus, it’s essential not to have high financial expectations early on. Embrace the struggle, hone your craft, and the career opportunities will come with time. The first four years should be about zero expectations and pure dedication to mastering your craft.

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