Indian stand-up comedian Amit Tandon’s career started out the same way as many others in this field.
The Indian Institute of Technology MBA graduate (why do so many Indian comedians have MBAs?) used to run his own successful business and explored his love for comedy with gigs on the side. Before long, his after-hours comedian job became much more lucrative than the first and he decided to switch over to the funny side for good.
The rest is history. Tandon has performed all over the world since breaking into the scene, sharing his clean and family-oriented brand of comedy with countless fans.
Tandon is set to take to the stage at Colors Laughter Night on August 20 at Sheikh Rashid Auditorium, Indian High School, Dubai.
In an email interview with Gulf News ahead of the show, Tandon opens up about how his comedy career took off, his strange stand-up set at Tihar Jail, and the gig that changed his perspective on life for good.
What can fans in Dubai expect from your show?
What they can expect is a lot of stories that should be relatable. I talk about relationships, I’m talking about the struggles of a middle class person and I’m talking about the challenges you have when you’re handling your kids as well as your parents.
You’ve labelled yourself as ‘The Married Guy’. Why did you make it part of your comedy persona?
The label was not created by me. The label was created because I was one of the very few guys who were married when they started doing comedy. So when we were in open mics, I used to talk about my wife so much that in the open mic circuit, when I would get on stage, they would introduce me as the married guy of the comedy circuit and it just stuck. I accepted it because a lot of my material was about my wife.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your journey, which started out in an office and not a stand-up stage?
I used to run an HR consulting firm and we did very well... but it was getting a little monotonous for me as the managing director and the owner of the company. It was the same rigmarole every day.
I also wanted to structure my business. So I got a business coach to help me structure and grow it to the next level. The business coach ended up suggesting a book to me called ‘The Four Hour Workweek’... The first couple of chapters of that book talked about setting targets... when I started setting goals, there was a sheet in the book. I wrote, ‘I will try stand up comedy’.
Once I’d written it, I thought let me check out how to do it. I started figuring it out and that’s when I found out that there were open mics happening in Delhi... [they] had just started off 2009-10. I started going to open mics.
By 2011-12 people started offering money for comedy... My business was still running because I was very clear that this is my passion and not the passion of my kids or my wife.
But then a major change happened in 2016, when I started releasing my videos and they went viral... money started coming in.
Then 2017 was a game changer, because that’s when I started getting queries for international shows. Within one year, I did an Australia tour, I did a UK tour. I did a tour in the US, which was supposed to be just six cities but we ended up doing 21 cities. Then I had to go back six months later and do another 29 shows, because there was so much of demand.
I decided to take a call, spoke to my wife, sat with my family and told them that now we are making way more money from comedy than I was making from my business. So maybe it’s time that I close my business. Then 2018 we moved to Mumbai, did the Netflix special, did another show with Netflix, did a podcast, worked on a series. Now I’m writing; one movie I’m writing, one I’m a consultant on, I’m working on two or three OTT series. And I’m travelling with my stand-up show.
Is there a show you’ve done that has really stuck with you/inspired you?
It happened in 2014 or 2015... I did a show for patients of Multiple Sclerosis Society... when I got off [stage], the patients wanted to meet me. There were people who were in wheelchairs, they were people who had never walked in their lives. I started talking to them and they said we don’t laugh for months and you made us laugh for 45 minutes at a stretch... I had a lump in my throat. I left the show and called up my wife and said that now I’ve seen real pain. It’s not just the patients but their parents. There are husbands and wives who don’t have a day off in their entire life. We complain about a weekend gone bad. They do not have a concept of a holiday or a weekend... that changed my perspective on life.
What’s one show that was a comedy of errors?
There are a lot of shows where either the greenroom is in a mess, or your opening act went on stage and did something completely random and the audience gets pissed off.... But I think the craziest show that I did was probably at Tihar Jail. It’s the largest prison in Asia. We performed for around 1,000 prisoners or under trials... It was me and [comedians] Zakir [Khan] and Bharti Singh. That was a show that I can’t forget... it was pretty weird performing for prisoners because it was tough to find some common ground for jokes. But the weird thing was whatever we would say, the prisoners would laugh. Not because we were funny, but because they were told to laugh.
What is the Amit Tandon formula for a great joke or set?
Today there are a lot of sources of comedy around us... WhatsApp, there are memes all around you, you go to Instagram there are 100,000 videos all around. But when you’ve gone through 50 jokes in a day on WhatsApp... if I asked you ‘can you tell me one of the jokes that you read today on WhatsApp?’ You will not remember any joke. So when I’m writing a set or a joke, I want to write a joke that you would take back home. You will live that joke, because that will give it a life. Otherwise, if my joke is as forgettable as your WhatsApp jokes, then I don’t think there’s a point being a stand-up comedian.
What has been your proudest moment as a comedian so far?
There are a lot of things that have made me proud... When people write to me and say that we were in a hospital, we were undergoing a surgery or we were going through a really bad phase and your comedy saved us... your comedy made us forget our problems. I think that’s something that makes me really proud that I’m able to contribute positively in somebody’s life, especially a stranger’s life without paying any money or anything but just by making them laugh.
Another one that I would like to mention is when I got a message from [Bollywood actor] Mr Boman Irani. I had just gone viral but I had no idea who’s watched my videos. And then Mr Boman Irani messaged me on Facebook that ‘I watched your videos and I loved your take on life’... I was so happy that I had to go back and check whether it was real Boman Irani or not... that’s something that I’ll never forget.
Don’t miss it!
Amit Tandon performs on August 20 at Sheikh Rashid Auditorium, Indian High School, Dubai. Tickets are available on ae.bookmyshow.com and platinumlist.net from Dh90. Doors open at 7pm and the show starts 8pm.