Stand-up Comedian Amit Tandon Talks Comedy And Parenting

The comedian does not believe in pressurising his children to get good grades (as long as they pass!). On the contrary, he feels it’s more important to create beautiful memories, together.

By Jasmine Kaur

Stand-up Comedian Amit Tandon Talks Comedy And Parenting
A life of laughter — Amit Tandon

One of the most popular Indian stand-up comedians, Amit Tandon, recently debuted on Netflix with his own set called ‘Middle-Class Karma’, as part of the 'Comedians Of The World' series. He’s done over 1,200 performances, 150 of which were outside India. His relatable and observational humour has garnered him a huge fan base and he is also popular for his ‘clean comedy’ that can be enjoyed with the entire family. His fans range from 10-year-olds to their grandfathers! Currently, he’s all set to go on a world tour starting March.

Here are excerpts from an exclusive interview with ParentCircle where the comedian shares his views on life, family, careers and how parenting is no funny business!

The world knows you as someone who makes people laugh. How do you describe yourself?

I am a middle-class guy who gets on stage and tells his stories. People find them relevant so they give me money to do that. But, I have done a lot of other things in the past and I don't know if I’ll keep doing comedy for the rest of my life. So really, I am somebody who has been following his heart and trying out whatever comes his way.

What does your family think of what you do?

Everyone has different feelings. My kids are happy and are proud of me. Especially because they get to be well-known and meet their favourite comedians through me.

My wife is okay with it. She is happy that I am doing well, but she is not too happy that I end up telling her stories on stage. *laughs*

My parents are a little confused because they don’t know how to react to my success as a comedian. You see, I have essentially done everything that my parents told me not to do. And now, a lot of people congratulate them for my accomplishments, so they are not sure whether they should be proud of me or tell me off for not listening to them.

Who are your favourite comedians?

I follow all kinds of comedy. Like back in the day, I really enjoyed watching Johnny Lever. I also like a few names from the current generation of comedians. One is Biswa Kalyan Rath. I love his performances. Then there is Gaurav Kapoor from Delhi. He is a new guy, doing very well. There is also Zakir Khan whose new special is just phenomenal. I like people who have unique voices or personas, who share their own stories and bring something new to comedy.

You have a degree in mechanical engineering from IIT Delhi and worked as an engineer. What prompted you to do stand-up comedy as a full-time career?

I’d set up my own business and we were doing pretty well. Then I started doing comedy as a hobby; I thought it would be nice to have something outside of work. So, I would go to open mics and do my bit on stage for five minutes. I did this for a couple of years, before people started offering me money for it, which is when I realised this could be a career. Turned out that people really liked the stories I was telling.

I started releasing my videos in 2016. That's when it all exploded, perhaps because I was one of the first few people to get into live stand-up comedy in India. So, I closed down my business and moved to Mumbai, because the sheer demand for my services was so high. I have performed across 16-17 different countries since. As you can see, my career switch wasn’t planned at all!

You mentioned your children tend to be pretty excited to meet young comedians through you, do they also want to follow in your footsteps and do comedy?

My son wants to get into comedy and he’s pretty funny too. I’ve just told him to finish his education first, then he can do whatever he wants. My daughter is still making up her mind about what she wants to do in her life. I’ve told them that they can choose their own fields.

A video where you talk about your father, is titled 'My father never bothered to follow the guidebook of parenting!' Are you trying to be a different father to your children than yours was to you?

Everyone has something that they think their parents didn’t do right or could have done better. So, you want to fix that when you become a parent. With me, it’s the distance between me and my father. My father had a sales job, so we'd hardly see him around the house. He'd leave early morning and come back after a few days. So, we didn’t have much of a chance to talk. And, at that time fathers weren't very expressive. They wouldn't give hugs or say that ‘They are proud of you’.

So, I try to spend a lot more time with my children. But, now they are teenagers, so they don't want to spend time with me! I have tried to become their friend, but when children are teenagers, they don't really want to be your friend. Rather they say things like 'Stay away from me!' or 'Don't embarrass me when my friends are around!'

In this competitive world, all parents want their children to get ahead. Do you feel that parents have too many expectations of their children?

I think that's cruel. Because, if we look back at our lives, there's no correlation between our current success and our report cards. I have never compared my kids with any other children.

For me, it's clear that these are the years that we have most of our memories from. So, I want them to have good memories of growing up. I tell them to just stay on the course and not make mistakes like doing drugs. I don't pressurise them to do a hundred things or even get good grades (as long as they pass). I just tell them to do what they love and that I will always support them.

What's your favourite topic to do comedy on?

I mostly cover my family and my parents, in my acts. So, that's largely been my inspiration. Now I am trying to change that and move on to my other passion: movies. My next show will be on Bollywood — ‘Hundred years of Indian cinema’. I read a lot of books on Bollywood and I am excited to work on this subject.

You have travelled the world. Any place you love going back to?

If I have to pick a place outside India, it would be London. I love to spend time there. In India, my favourite place is Mumbai.

What do you think about the stand-up comedy scene in India? How has it changed and where do you see it going?

Earlier, people would get into comedy just because they were passionate about that. While there are still people who do that, there are others who are more eager about the money they can make. This is because earlier there wasn’t much money to be made field. Now, it is possible to earn well. I especially see this restlessness in younger comedians, who want to get to the next level quickly because they see that there is a lot of money to be made and opportunity for travel.

One good thing that that has come out of this expansion is that stand-up comedy now reaches the remotest of areas. So, even tier-3 cities have open mic nights today. This is great because it also means that we can have more diverse talent. Before, it was just mostly men in their 20s and 30s trying their hand at comedy. But now I see comedians of all ages. I also see a lot of women comedians in the last two-three years. And this is fantastic to watch! Not to mention that these comedians are not limited to places like Delhi or Mumbai, but also Chandigarh or Hyderabad. The number of unique voices coming through in comedy now is phenomenal.

Any tips for youngsters who aspire to become comedians?

Tell your own story on stage. Don't try to be another Zakir Khan, Kannan, Biswa or even Amit Tandon. Just try to be yourself. When you try to tell your own story, people will connect. But if you try to be someone else, it will show, and it won't get you anywhere.

Can you share with us your most memorable moment on stage?

My most memorable moment comes from a show I did for the patients of a multiple sclerosis society. Multiple sclerosis is a very bad disease. You lose control over your limbs, facial expressions, etc.

This was a show where I had hundred odd patients and their caretakers. After the show, a couple came up to me and said, “Our daughter wants to shake hands with you”. She was such a pretty girl, in her early twenties, but she was wheelchair-bound and had no control over her legs or arms and probably no control over her facial expressions. But I could figure out that she had enjoyed the show and that she wanted to shake my hand. I went up to her and I held her hands in mine. That's when I realised that was nothing else I wanted to do in my life. Her parents were saying "We hardly ever get to laugh, and we’ve never laughed like this". 

In that moment I realised the kind of problems they must have and how mine are nothing when compared to theirs. If I can make them laugh, that means I am blessed. It's been four-and-a-half years since that incident, but whenever I think about it, it makes me feel really blessed. Because if I can make people happy, I don't want to do anything else.

Success is based on passion and being good at what you do. As comedian Amit Tandon has realised, loving what you do is also essential. Then, you will make a difference in other people's lives as well. So parents, tell your children that life is so much more than the marks on their report cards.

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Written by Jasmine Kaur on 10 February 2019.

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