Atul Khatri was 45 when he first started dabbling in comedic enterprises—never one for stage acts, it was a whole new world.
“I never did plays or many public activities,” said Khatri in an exclusive interview with the News India Times, now 50, “more of a quiet, studious guy.” “I was always the funniest in my group, the guy with stories and jokes that could really entertain.” As the CEO of a midsized IT company, Khatri’s foray into observational humor was a “180-degree turn” when he began writing and performing full-time in 2016. Comedy started as a hobby when he was 44. He has often stated, “that was when I started truly living.”
He is currently among the top Indian comedians worldwide and won the “CEOs Got Talent” award show, set up by CNBC.
“My business was always very competitive and tough…I had to learn patience and humility before clients,” he noted. Khatri believes that those skills helped him when he was pursuing spots on comedy rotations, club gigs, and open mic sessions. Having worked with Six Sigma project management tools in corporate life and always being required to balance a hectic schedule, Khatri made the pronouncement that “time is the currency in businesses today, not dollars or rupees. Comedy, [too], is all about timing. First, there’s the comedic timing you need to get any laughs. And then there’s the timing of the show…if you’re given fifteen minutes for a set, you better make sure you don’t go over.”
A mindset like that made it easier to secure payments after his performances, which distinguished himself from younger comedians who prefer a more lax approach to the ancillary responsibilities that come with such a lifestyle.
“ I tell these guys to invest their money…most of them throw it away on a MacBook Pro or a vacation” instead of keeping financial status and future liability in mind.
When asked about Indian stand-up comedy, Khatri stated that “it’s very new and funny. We’re not just doing mimicry [or imitation, but are also discussing] politics, family, and marriage from our perspective [as Indians, Indian-Americans]. People should come and support Indian stand-up because it’s very new, but has incredible potential.”
The greatest influx of comedy in the last few years has been self-typecast “brown” comedy, with Russell Peters, Vir Das, Hasan Minhaj, and Aziz Ansari, among others, paving the way. Mr. Khatri is yet another well-deserved addition to the pack of Indian and Arabic funnypeople in the industry. “It’s here to stay,” he noted. “It’s only a matter of time…we’re doing a lot of the stuff mainstream comedy fans see on specials; stuff that is definitely as dark and edgy.”
Khatri was, however, cautious to say that the crowds in India are still sensitive and prone to outrage when racy or controversial material is presented. “Louis C.K. once began a set on illegal abortion: that wouldn’t play well in an Indian club.”
The scene there is quite new, and as expected, some comedians will suffer from the drawbacks of lack of exposure to that type of comedy. “There are definitely cultural differences,” he said.
His ongoing US tour, which will hit the Hindu Temple Community Hall in Flushing, New York on September 7th, features material focused around his family, daughters, and engineering college days. Khatri’s demographic is often between 15-50, and there are many younger fans who relate strongly to elements in the act.
He is also actively reaching out to Amazon Prime and Netflix with hopes for a special or “hour,” as it’s referred to in the business.
Khatri strikes a modest tone when talking about his inspirations in comedy.
“I’ve only been doing this for six years, so I can’t rightly give advice to younger comedians…but I take advice from everyone. I’m learning how to do this better every day, so I listen to podcasts, talk to insightful people off-stage. People ask me who my favorite comedian is, and I respond ‘anyone who can go on stage and make a room full of people laugh’, because I know how hard it is to do that, and it’s a feat I respect.”
Atul Khatri is bound to leave lots of rooms in hysterics as his tour of the United States continues.