Performing in Delhi toughens you up, it’s the toughest comedy room: Amit Tandon

- July 1, 2024
| By : Tanisha Saxena |

Amit Tandon talks about his journey in the world of stand-up comedy and the creative process 

CHANGING TIMES: Tandon feels stand-up comedy has turned into a full-fledged industry now, with plenty of competition

Amit Tandon, a distinguished stand-up comedian, has carved a niche for himself with his astute observational humour and relatable anecdotes. Tandon began his comedy career at the age of 35, bringing in a wealth of life experience to his material. 

Known for his witty takes on everyday life, family dynamics, and middle-class idiosyncrasies, Tandon’s humour resonates with a broad audience, both in India and internationally. His performances, marked by sharp wit and a charming stage presence, have garnered widespread acclaim and a loyal fanbase. Tandon‘s popularity soared with his well-received shows, including his Netflix special ‘Amit Tandon: Family Tandoncies’, where he delves into the quirks of family life with his signature humour. 

This success has solidified his stature as a standout figure in contemporary comedy. Fans can look forward to his upcoming performance in Delhi this July, where he is sure to deliver another unforgettable show.

Tandon spoke to Patriot.

Excerpts from an interview:

What inspired you to take up full-time career in stand-up comedy?

I’ve known I was funny for a long time. At family get-togethers, I would do funny acts, and in college, I wrote a lot for plays. However, I never considered it as a career. At 35, I did my first open mic as a hobby alongside my business. The timing was right, around 2009 or 2010, when comedy clubs started opening and people began attending live shows. Comedy grew over the next four to five years, though even then, I was working back in Rohini. I started my shows at venues like International Diner in Greater Kailash and then Hauz Khas. There’s a cafe on the fourth floor near Asiad Village called Pot Belly, and Cafe Oz in Khan Market. My friend and I opened a cafe in Gurgaon called Mind Cafe, where I was an investor. We started doing open mics there, running comedy shows every Tuesday for almost three years. 

From 2013, corporate gigs expanded the comedy scene financially. By 2016, viral videos boosted ticket sales, selling out my 600-seater debut at Pyare Lal Bhawan. Shows expanded to venues like India Habitat Centre and Epicenter. By 2017, In began touring Australia, the US, and the UK. 

Can you walk us through your process for developing new material? How do you test and refine your jokes before they make it to the stage?

When I write a new set, I run it by my friends and narrate it to my wife. I speak it out repeatedly, recording it to figure out what’s funny and what isn’t. I do trial shows before going on tour. These are small shows with 40-50 people, with cheap tickets, where I test the material and record the performance to review later. In stand-up comedy, I aim to write content that people will take back home and remember.

Having performed internationally, how do you tailor your comedy to different audiences while staying true to your roots?

Performing abroad doesn’t require many changes since the audience is largely Indian. Even for native audiences, my content, which focuses on family, translates well. The issues in relationships are similar across the globe, so my comedy remains relevant without major adjustments.

How have you personally grown as a human with your journey as a stand-up comedian?

Stand-up comedy has empowered me to express my thoughts freely, helping me shed my habit of overthinking reactions from others. It’s easier for me now to assert myself and decline things, which has significantly boosted my personal growth and improved my family life.

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Secondly, comedy has opened my eyes to a younger population that I might have otherwise been cut off from. In a typical job, you mostly meet people of your own age, but in stand-up comedy, I’ve met a variety of people across age groups. This has taught me empathy and made me more tolerant. Normally, you don’t get other people’s perspectives because you grow up in a box, but interacting with different people has made me accept other points of view. I now realise that I was wrong about various things simply because of the way I was brought up.

In what ways do friendships within the comedy industry provide support and is there competition too?

In 2010, we started as a fraternity, and now we’ve become an industry. Back then, no one came to earn money; our purpose was to enjoy what we do, and friendships formed then are still intact. Things have changed today. There’s competition, and jokes are being stolen. However, having friends in the industry helps a lot. For instance, if I have a show in the US, I can call friends for suggestions and assistance with organisers and planning.

What is your philosophy on stand-up comedy, and what do you aim to achieve when performing for your audience?

Stand-up comedy defies strict definition; it’s an art form. My aim is for audiences to have an unforgettable 90 minutes of laughter, leaving them discussing the night long after. In comedy, some say 50% should laugh while the other half squirms—a personal taste.

I enjoy dark humour, often watching Zakir Khan, Abhishek Upmanyu, and Anirban Dasgupta. I appreciate jokes that are cleverly crafted, where delivery and writing hold equal weight. Over-explaining kills humour; I prefer jokes that take a moment to sink in. I don’t like giving a joke on a platter. I present it uncooked, leaving a little for them to microwave and get the final outcome.

How has been your experience of performing comedy in Delhi, and what are some of your favourite places to eat in the city?

Delhi toughens you up. Comedy rooms in Delhi are the toughest. We started performing at cafes and restaurants where people were eating and celebrating birthdays, often not paying attention. Making Delhiites laugh is hard, but it prepares you for challenging situations. In Bangalore or Mumbai, people might laugh out of respect, but not in Delhi. They don’t laugh easily, which is beneficial for honing your craft. I used to perform at Cafe Oz in Khan Market knowing I might bomb. The cafe had a bar behind you where people were buying alcohol, and right at the centre, there was a mic. On days when my content worked there, the satisfaction was immense.

Some of my favourite food spots in Delhi include Wenger’s in CP, Bittu Tikki Wala in Rohini, Natraj Dahi Bhalla Corner in Purani Dilli, Gujarati Mishthan Bhandar in Paschim Vihar for gol-gappe, Sitaram’s for chhole bhature, and Baljeet’s in Paschim Vihar for Amritsari Kulche.