In this series of posts, we get inside the heads of comedians to figure out how they write. We spoke to Mumbai-based stand-up comedian Amit Tandon, who in an earlier life used to be CEO. Tandon is currently touring the country with his special Masala Sandwich. He tells us about looking for inspiration and writing punchlines.
Where do you seek inspiration?
Most of the time, I write about my family. Therefore, I don’t have to look at newspapers or any other sources to find inspiration. A principle I once read and also follow is, “Write about stuff that bothers you”. Most of the time, I write about things that I get frustrated about. It could be my interaction with my family members, my day-to-day issues, things happening at an airport while I’m traveling or even what I see on television. I don’t go out looking for subjects. Instead, I pick the subjects around me and write about my experiences.
Tell us about your writing routine.
I don’t have a writing routine that I follow daily, but I do practise a couple of thoughts. Sometimes when I’m sitting down and thinking, if I get a good idea, I write it (down). I have a dedicated folder on Google drive where I save all my ideas. Once I have enough data, I sort them out and start going through them. Being an engineer, I’ve always followed a regime of working the hardest when I have a deadline. As an engineering student too, I’d always study in the last three days before exams.
For my shows, I announce a new special and its date and make myself realise that I have very little time to prepare and practice for that show. That’s when I start working hard. Looking at all the ideas I have dumped on the drive, I start developing a set, build a theme around it and start writing the show. Fortunately, this has worked for me so far. I have written seven solos.
Do you have a favourite spot for writing?
I don’t have a favourite spot for writing. Generally, I wait for my family to sleep and then start working on ideas. So, it’s not about where I sit down, it just has to be a peaceful place. I switch off the internet when I begin to start writing extensively, building upon the ideas that I’ve already written down.
Tell us about writing punchlines.
Punchlines are something that I have to work the hardest on. When I’m writing a punchline, first I think about my set, then write the set-up, then the punchline. After this, I try to write a new punchline, dismissing the old one because I know that the first one that I’ve written is an obvious joke and the audience will get it before I even crack it. So the first one that I write is usually scrapped and rewritten to surprise the audience.
People expect certain punchlines during the show, but if you surprise them with something better, it gets you the loudest cheer.
How do you weave a callback joke into a set?
I don’t usually use callbacks in my sets. Only when I’m writing a special, in order to stitch a story, I’d have a callback that comes back towards the end of the show. That’s something I’ve started doing now. Sometimes I begin with a topic and come back to that callback at the end of the show. It has to be a surprise element because I have a lot of punchlines in my show. Hence, nobody can presume which one will have a callback in the end.
Who’s your sounding board?
There are different groups of people that I ask, depending on the joke that I’ve written. I share jokes with my wife or a set of comics who are friends over a phone call. But the best sounding board I feel is the audience at open mics or trial shows. There’s no better guru.
Tell us about a show that you’re particularly proud of.
I’m really proud of my recent show Family Tandoncies that’s come out on Netflix. The show is not only about comedy but is full of relatable jokes with a message. Looking at the response it has got and the way people have been texting me, I feel that the message has reached them. I was trying to show how as parents we lose ourselves in the process of bringing up kids. We should not lose our identity even when we’re bringing up children. We should give them 100% but it doesn’t mean that we should lose our 100%. I got messages from people who said they’ve started talking to each other more as couples. It gives me happiness. They also state that while watching my show we started holding hands and have grown as parents.
Amit Tandon is touring with his new special Masala Sandwich. Book for his show here.