Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for grammatical accuracy and clarity. No jokes were harmed in the editing.
Amit Tandon makes no pretension about what he is. A middle-aged man talking about his life, he is known as “the Married Guy” in the Indian comedy circuit. Also lauded by some as the Seinfeld of Indian comedy for his clean jokes and riffs about everyday life, Amit Tandon is the man who every Indian mother points to as a role model,“Son, study hard and set up your business, become successful and then go do comedy. Don’t do comedy now!” In Hong Kong for his show, we caught up with Amit for a few minutes.
Share with us your journey towards stand up comedy.
I’m from the conventional family, did my engineering and MBA, had an arranged marriage, had kids and I was running my business. So there was no such intention of getting into comedy. I was into drama during college. But after that, I never really did anything. I used to write for theatre in college. Comedy happened in 2009, 2010, when I opened my twitter account; it was just starting in India. I wanted to do something in addition to my business, a recruitment firm. [Comedy] was more of a hobby…after work you go there, start making friends, look forward to meeting them and it’s a few minutes on stage.That’s how I started. I started writing, started getting on stage. The first couple of years were tough but it was never about making it a career. Until around 2013, I was doing that. But then the comedy club culture picked up and people wanted to hire you to perform. Corporates also picked it up. It was a great way of entertainment, you know, comedy was good for them. It became interesting money as well. Then 2015 was when I started releasing my videos. After that, thanks to social media, it went viral. International markets have really opened up and even within India, it grew at a very fast pace. When you do a show live, a 100 people watch. But if you release it online, you get 2 or 3 million views. In 2 years, I would have done like 65 to 70 shows outside of India.
So what inspires you?
There is no specific inspiration I have; I collect my material from my surroundings. To me, life is the inspiration, I talk about my kids. I talk about my parents. I talk about the way we behave when we get into a five-star hotel. My inspiration is what I experience every day.
Have you left your business? Are you running your business?
I closed my business in October 2017.
So, the stand-up business is good! As a married woman of 22 years myself, I really relate to your comedy. Is your marriage really like what you joke about…and how does your wife feel about this!
I think everybody’s marriage is like that. It’s not just my marriage! 80% of the stuff I say, it’s true. When I’m performing, people come back and say, “This is exactly what happened at our house!” The marriages don’t change. Marriage is a great gift, at least for comedy *laughter* You have been married long enough so you will know that the relationship keeps on changing. In the beginning, there’s a lot of pressure on being romantic but you then slowly realize there’s no need to be under that pressure. You start getting a little romantic but then you forget about romance because now you have kids. Then the kids grow up. Then romance plus practicality comes into play. When you’re newly married, you eat from the same plate but now, the only thing that you do together is have a joint bank account. Marriage is a gift that keeps on giving.
Ah, how long have you been married?
Your wife is okay with all your jokes …she doesn’t take it personally?
We run our house with that money!
What is your advice to anyone pursuing stand up?
If you’re pursuing stand-up comedy, it’s very important, to be honest with yourself. Don’t try to be like any other comedian, don’t try to write on the basis of what is going on in the market. Write on the basis of what is going on in your mind. When you try to be like somebody else, it never works in comedy. The more honest you are on stage, the more you will connect with your audience.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
In comedy? The biggest challenge is when you have a bad show and to get up again and go onstage the next day. Especially in the beginning. In the beginning, nobody knows you. You perform in all kinds of weird rooms and sometimes you will bomb. Some will be so bad and you want to go hide in a corner and never get out. So, that’s the toughest part in comedy.
What about in life?
In life, I think the challenge was convincing my parents about my choices in life. *laughs*
What do you do in your free time?
What I’m doing right now is also my hobby *laughs* Now it is my work plus hobby. It takes me to enough places and allows me to travel to different countries. I love spending time with my family. I love spending time with my kids. In fact, I give them the hardest time so when I leave they celebrate and not be sad, “oh my god, he’s gone!”
When we look at your earlier YouTube videos, you look different than the Amit in front of me. Tell us the truth…have you had a makeover?
*laughs* Not too much but yes! Earlier, I had a corporate career so there’s a way that you have to dress up. Now I don’t give a damn. In fact, I enjoy that when you get on a flight and everybody else is in suits and I am wearing a tracksuit. Also, I got my ears pierced which I could not do earlier!
So what’s next for Amit Tandon?
Actually, I have stopped planning too much! A show that I’m working on right now is about the 110 years of Bollywood history. It’s a comedy show, but there’s more to it. I talk about the first movie that was ever made and end in today. There is a little bit of music and pictures but it’s still comedy, even if it has production value. It is an ambitious project coming out sometime in August or September 2018. Amit Tandon LIVE in Hong Kong was organized by the Kannada Sangha Hong Kong. The proceeds from the show were for charity.