"Life is uncertain and can throw injustice at you in many forms"
British Asian comedian and media personality, Tommy Sandhu, has been entertaining and performing for audiences on many mediums, be it live-comedy, radio, television or podcasts. But all that has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Like everyone else, with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, there is no doubt that it has impacted him, his comedy career and life in general.
The British Asian media industry in the UK may be viewed as a niche sector but it offers a rich and diverse form of cultural content which is highly welcomed by the South Asian community living in the country and abroad.
Being part of this industry, Tommy Sandhu has evolved in producing content which is a colourful fabric of Desi entertainment stitched with his unique humour.
Tommy exclusively shares the impact of Coronavirus on his work, family and social life with DESIblitz.
How has COVID-19 affected your career?
It’s been huge. Pretty much everything is on hold.
I was about five shows into a twenty date comedy tour all over the UK which we have postponed until September/October this year. That was due to keep me quite busy all throughout March, April, May and June.
On top of that, I was working with Amazon and Audible on a couple of audio productions which have also been postponed.
My podcast with Sony Music India is something we record from my house, but as I have two members of my production team that are unable to come into close contact with each other due to social distancing guidelines, we are having to record each episode via an online video sharing app.
It’s not the same as when we are all together… and it’s much harder to find a “comedy connection” when you’re all sat separately in different houses!
I also work for Talk Radio on the weekends with Penny Smith and as she is broadcasting from her home, I am not able to join her in the studio as normal
So… as you can see, I’m in a people business… without people, there’s very little business!
What are the challenges for the media industry?
The challenges, strangely, are the same as before but different.
In our game, it’s important to stay sharp, creative and be ready to try new things. If you don’t, you get left behind. Nothing will work forever and there are always lessons to be learnt.
The challenges for me are to adapt.
To look at the way people are consuming media, comedy, entertainment and find a way to fit into their lives.
The media industry needs to do the same.
I see lots of broadcasters on Tik Tok or Instagram live – people that had previously never used those mediums. That’s great! They’re trying new things.
We all have to try – there’s a beauty and a fear of being in this whole COVID-19 situation… It’s going to test us and our resilience and our ability to work alone and yet with one another.
But everyone should be trying out something new. Don’t wait around for things to “go back to how they were”… I’ve got a feeling things won’t be like the way it was for a very long time.
What kind of work, if any are you doing now?
The podcast is ticking along and we can still do that. I’ve invested in new microphones and recording equipment so I can make more videos than I used to before.
And I’m getting back into voiceover and have been working for various agencies and companies providing voiceover from my home.
It’s great! I don’t leave the house, I don’t get changed, no need to have a shave or even shower (I do shower … I’m just saying that if I didn’t want to … I could!)
The toughest job I’ve got is to make my kids be quiet while I record… And thankfully, my wife is very good at helping me out there!
How are you coping currently financially?
It’s tough – when you’re a freelancer and you are expecting certain projects to pay a particular amount over a period of time, you rely on that and base your life around it
All of that changed very quickly.
But equally, my expenses have come down a lot. No going out, cars, petrol, trains, gym memberships etc. It’s all been reduced to basic bills.
Thankfully, that’s manageable and fortunately, my wife is working from home full time… So I spend most of the day with the kids, making food and enjoying my family.
How has it affected you and your family personally?
I have a 3-year-old (Logan) and a 7-year-old (Mylo) and realised quickly that there was no way they can be simply “left to play” while I get on with my writing, emails, etc.
My wife has major projects and deadlines at work which means she is in conference calls for the majority of the day… And as much as her colleagues are sympathetic, we can’t really have a kid shouting “mummy, I need a wee” at the top of their voice!
So, it’s changed the dynamic of us as a couple, how we are with the kids, what time we spend together and with them.
But weirdly, it’s brought us closer together – we have to talk more, plan more, structure the day around things we have to do and time we want to spend with each other.
This whole COVID-19 thing has been like wiping clear everything in our routines and re-writing the rule book.
Do you feel Desi people have reacted well to the Lockdown?
Haha! I joked about this on the podcast. I went to my local Desi fruit and veg store and realised that nobody was distancing themselves! They had masks on, but at one point, a guy was pretty much running against me in the supermarket aisle!
But on a serious note, one of the things that makes me so proud to be of South Asian origin, is our sociability.
We are (in general) a community of people that are close, that mix with each other, that look after others and make time to see one another. Culturally, being socially distant is very alien to us.
My mum and dad miss seeing their grandkids.
They used to come over to my house every day and we’d often have dinner on the weekends with my sisters and other members of the family.
So whilst I’m proud that we’ve adhered to COVID-19 guidelines on locking down and not meeting, it’s really tough and will have a serious mental health impact on those that have become accustomed to seeing their loved ones regularly.
Do you think your career will survive the lockdown?
My career has been through many ups and downs. It’s not my career that I worry about.
Life is uncertain and can throw injustice at you in many forms. There have been various spanners put into my work and I guess you just have to carry on.
There are all sorts that can affect you at any time.
Right now, the problem (COVID-19) is effecting everyone on a work level and a personal one. But if you’re healthy, warm, safe and with your family… Then maybe we should all be focusing on that and our own personal health and survival rather than whether our careers will survive.
I ain’t going anywhere soon. I’ll always find a way to carry on doing what I do… I don’t know anything different!
What plans do you have in place for the future, post-COVID-19?
I’m using this time to write, to plan and to pitch.
I’m contacting various people to suggest ideas and ways we can work together when it’s all over.
I’m trying my best to make the most of it all with regard to family and work. To catch up on things I’ve been meaning to do. To write up ideas around TV shows, formats for audio production and comedy sketches during this downtime.
I really hope we see a surge of creativity and ideas once it’s all over.
I certainly am hoping to be a part of the entertainment scene in a major way at the end of this year! But it all starts with planning now.
My mission is to be true to myself, do what I love (and what I find funny) and keep churning it out in any way I can.
What would you say to fellow Desi people during this time?
Don’t forget to smile.
If you’re like me, then try and understand that you are not alone.
I’m scared too, I’m unsure about what the future holds. My biggest fear is my parents and my family’s well being. Other than that, I want to carry on doing my bit to make people happy.
If we all care about each other and learn to enjoy life without all the distractions we had before, then perhaps… just perhaps, COVID-19 could be your chance to reset your life and be more content, more successful and more fulfilled than ever before.
Tommy Sandhu is a fine example of a British Asian media personality who is quickly having to adapt his work and outlook to survive in this new environment we are all living in amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The challenges are there for all of us and for some they are much harder and tougher than others depending on their type of work, job and business. However, it is inevitable that it means change will have to take centre stage and learning to do it quickly will help with adapting easier, as Tommy has illustrated.
We wish Tommy Sandhu all the best with his endeavours and ventures and look forward to watching and hearing his new comedy and media work, hopefully, in the not too distant future.