For those of us located in the geographical area that lies between how itchy (and bit*hy) we get over matters related to Kashmir, and how easily we can look at the southern states beyond the “Madrasi” tag, lies an avidly growing crop of connoisseurs who have the heart (and able ears) to appreciate comedy that is to be found all around us - hidden in a chaiwala's hometown, to the cool locales of the seven sisters, you can't even name correctly.
And there is one man in particular who has been feeding the voracious appetite of all these comedy-lovers who lay in-between this ever agitated conundrum called India. Amit Tandon is one of India's most favourite funnyman, and his masterstroke lies in bringing a highly varied gathering of people to double over with his rib-tickling laughter-bombs, irrespective of their age, gender, creed or for that matter, even their class, bank balance and cab-booking service preferences.
However, if you asked a decade younger Amit Tandon the most static question one gets asked in an HR interview, “where do you see yourself in the next 5 years”, you would have probably been surprised by the response that this query fetched you. Because, much like the unpredictability of Ranveer Singh's next fashion choice, Delhi's weather and the car ahead of you changing its lane within a matter of seconds, stand-up comedy happened to Amit all of a sudden, and all at once.The Backstory
Back in 2010, when Amit was minding his business (literally!), after having made it through years of academic trials (you may know them as exams), first in engineering college and then while pursuing his MBA, Amit was intrigued by the concept of open mic that was slowly gripping Delhi. He decided to go and attend a open mic near his place to see for himself what the hype was all about.
© Amit Tandon
Turns out, he was bowled over by the idea, and took to it as effortlessly as Delhi boys take to cussing. Having stayed off the stage for almost a decade due to his studies, Amit found himself inspired enough to put pen to paper once more since his college days, when he actively wrote for college theatre plays and the like.The Ultimate Initiation
It was in July 2010 when Amit finally gave in to his overbearing desire and performed at his first ever open mic in South Delhi. The following two to three years went by in a blur, with more and more open mic performances in various places, which were usually 5-7 minute long sets.
That eventually scaled up to 30-minute sets on stage, and gradually paid gigs at clubs et al. became Amit's new normal. However, it was in 2012-13 when he started doing corporate shows, that he began to feel he could finally switch to stand-up comedy full-time, and turn it into a career. The rest, as we all know, is history.
2015 has to be Amit's most memorable year professionally, because that is when “the married guy” took off in the virtual space, after one of his video went viral on social media. However, when you ask him how times have changed since, Amit would give you a very personal and insightful peek into the stand-up comedy industry.
When I posed the same question, he went on to share that, “earlier there was only one set of audience - cosmopolitan, urban Indians living in South Delhi or South Bombay, who were open to the concept of live entertainment.”
That time saw the domination of English comedy coming from well-educated and well-travelled comics. On the other hand, “now it's a mix of languages, where we have English, Hindi and even Hinglish. Even the art has travelled far and wide in the country, with shows happening in even smaller towns and cities such as Siliguri, Guwahati, Indore, Bhopal besides many others”.
© Amit Tandon
Amit further added that today even the audience has undergone a drastic makeover. He said, “it's not a single stand-up audience now. Everyone has developed their own fan base. There are genres developing in comedy now, which is a huge development since the earlier times”.What It Takes To Make It As A Stand-Up Comic
So finally now that I had the chance, there was a nagging question that I wished to get out of the way ASAP. Thus, I ended up asking Amit if being funny, and an ability to make people laugh the only prerequisites to becoming a stand-up comedian (you see, the hope and subconscious desire to make it as a comic blooms within the heart of many of us).
This is exactly how he took that question, “stand-up comedy is not just about being funny, it's being funny for strangers. Being funny with your friends is easy, given the numerous touchpoints you share. Even a simple one-liner can make your friends laugh because of the connection. Whereas, being able to make complete strangers relate to your work and laugh at your jokes, is what makes you a comic.”
That would have dashed a lot of hopes, but what Amit adds next is pure gem.
He said that the difference between being funny and being a comedian lies in making a varied group of audience laugh at your jokes. Because as a performer “your audience changes everyday - their experiences and background change, so one needs to go up there, build a relationship with their audience and then make them crack-up”.The Other Side Of Comedy
So when we are talking about stand-up comedy, how could I not touch upon social media popularity, its longevity and it turning into an obsessive aspiration for amateur comics? Amit was quick to share his valuable insights when he pointed out that social media popularity is short lived and has its own challenges.
He pointed out how social media constantly beckons us to keep feeding a “monster”, so people would follow us. Yet it also acts as the first stepping stone for new artists to show their work. “When one is starting out, YouTube videos come in handy when people ask for showreels.” But Amit also cautions us that social media popularity cannot be the only aspiration when someone is just starting out, especially in the first three years.”
© Amit Tandon
Why? Because “for the first three years, you should work on building your material, making yourself funny and becoming good enough, so that when people call you after that 5-min sneak peek, we have a good 30 min entertainer on the ready”.Advice For Aspiring Comedians
So basically I went on Humans of New York on Amit, and asked him that one question we have all picked up since HONY turned it into a rage, in this case, “what advice would you give to aspiring stand-up comedians” and trust Amit Tandon to give it to you most honestly.
“Find an open mic to go to and perform. Next, write your own material, go back again and perform. So in short, write, record and repeat. Perform as much as you can, record your performance, watch it, make changes where required and go back again. That's the only practical and healthy way to improve. However, senior comics are easily approachable, who can guide you in the field. But the basic would still remain 'write, record and repeat'.”
Sure enough, I wanted to find out about failures in this field and how to best deal with them, because that's perhaps the biggest reason why the best of us with the talent to make it big as a stand-up comedian never give it a try in the first place. Especially, since failures in this field can be pretty personal. But guess what, Amit gives you the best way out to deal with them!
“Failures in this career happens every other day - maybe you thought a joke was funny but no one laughed, offending people can also be a failure. No one liking your set, people doing something else during your performance, these are all failures.”
So what Amit suggests is that, “take each of your failures personally. That is only when you will improve, or else you'll forget about it by next morning. Look at your failure, introspect and think about what went wrong and better it - was it the setup, did you not research about your audience, was the beginning not right, did you not do your jokes properly or if the timing was off? Figure out and take it personally in comedy to improve.”
Last but not the least. I made Amit answer the most important question, and here is exactly what he said:
“First, find out where open mics happen around your city. Go attend it and see how it works. Come back and write your own story - don't write on the basis of what people are laughing at. Instead, write on what frustrates you, what you find funny in life, what your observations are. Prepare a five minute set and register for an open mic. Go on stage and perform. If it doesn't work, go and check why it didn't do well. Better it, go back and do it again. So "write, record and repeat" that's your ultimate mantra.”
Amit was the most gracious star who patiently and earnestly responded to my long list of questions. The man believes in offering people the space to let go and laugh freely, through his highly relatable observational comedy, delivered in a simple language funny enough to tickle your bones.
But while 2019 has just begun, I couldn't end this article without telling you about all that you can look forward to from Amit this year. From his extensive international tour across Europe, to a number of series that he is working on, there is lot in store for his fans! But if there is one project Amit is super excited about, it's the project on partition that he is working on, which might be launched on the small screen. What makes this project so special for him is his family's history being connected to it. Amit's family migrated to India in 1947 from Pakistan, so that establishes a personal connect.
There is so much more to Amit Tandon that we haven't seen so far, but for now his laughter-bombs in Netflix's 'Comedians of the World' are keeping us more than sated.