Interview with Steve Hofstetter

The thinking man's comic

The thinking man’s comic

I read an article that said the Bible was the most bought and sold book last year. Harry Potter was number two. That means a book where a boy magician defeats the evil lord of the underworld sold better than Harry Potter.” This is Steve Hofstetter’s comedy. At 29, he’s already written three books, hosted shows on Sirius Satellite and broadcast radio and appeared on several television programs like Comic’s Unleashed. Steve has a tremendous internet following and his shows routinely sell out. His jokes – that sometimes fly over people’s heads – have earned him the title of “The Thinking Man’s Comic.”After he tells the last joke of his recent performance on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Steve gauges the audience’s reaction and says, “It takes a second, but it’s gold.”

It’s that moment of reflection that gives Steve’s comedy its charm. His material is personal, topical and educational, sometimes neatly tying everything together in a current event or political stance. This may help explain why Steve is so popular with college crowds. In fact, Steve performs at over 100 campuses a year: more than any other standup comic. So when asked what his number one complaint is, his answer comes as no surprise. “Travel. The endless, endless travel. I understand why acts move to Vegas – if I could live in the same city and perform to a different group of people each night, that’d be wonderful.”

On the other hand, it’s understandable why Steve is fiercely loyal to schools since two of his books – Student Body Shots and Student Body Shots: Another Round – are based on college life. Furthermore, school is where he got his start in comedy. “I started doing improv when I was 13. A girl I had a crush on invited me to join the school improv club and I did. Two weeks later she quit and I was hooked. The good news is she got fat, so really I won twice. In college I started doing standup, and thanks to 2002’s terrible job market, it was all I could do to earn a living.”

Improvisation seems to be a big part of Steve’s comedy, keeping his routine fresh and infused with a non-rehearsed tone. “Usually I think of the premise in conversation and flesh it out on stage. Sometimes I sit down to write, but not nearly as often. I write most of my act on the fly.” Steve even feels comfortable enough to perform an entire show with no scripted material. “I do that on Sundays when the Sunday show is light. All week, I give out free tickets to the Sunday show and promise 100% new material. It’s a ton of fun – and the more I do it, the easier it gets. I’d say it happens five times a year. Most clubs don’t have Sunday shows. It’s a nice way to flex your ad-lib muscle, and some great stuff comes out of it. I’m not terrified because there are no stakes. What’s the worst that could happen? You don’t get a laugh. Big deal, tell another joke and you might.”

It’s clear that Steve has the utmost faith in his comedy. By the same token he stands by every joke uttered and every point made. “Bill Hicks and Jerry Seinfeld are my favorite of all-time. Very different styles and messages, but they both stuck to their truth. They didn’t say a word they wouldn’t defend offstage. I don’t like the idea of defending a joke with, ‘Come on, it’s just a joke.’ Because it’s not just a joke – it’s something you said.” Steve’s integrity clearly defines his stance on “joke-stealing,” which is the unsavory act of one comedian performing another comedian’s material. In recent history, this came to a head when Joe Rogan and others accused Carlos Mencia of joke-stealing. Steve’s take is, “It’s not just professional courtesy, it’s against the law and completely immoral. It’s intellectual property theft. You can’t really stop it – when a bigger comic steals, there’s nothing you can do unless you have proof of it and want to sue them. Except write a new joke – that’s the thing, if you have an hour of material and you get a minute stolen, you still have 59-minutes of material.”

Ironically, Steve’s third comedy album Dark Side of the Room is the first ever “pay-what-you-want” comedy album and is available for download on his Web site (www.stevehofstetter.com). You can purchase the album for as little as a penny or as much as you can afford. This is a nod to the band Radiohead, who did the same for their album in 2007, but it’s also a way to give back to the Internet community that has been such a strong supporter. The message on his Web site reads: Figure out what it’s worth to you – and I hope it can be that quality product that you’re looking for.

Steve Hofstetter has already accomplished so much in his career; it will be interesting to see where he goes next and how he does it. While he’s reluctant to give details about any film or television projects, his aspirations are limitless. “I want to reach as many people as possible – I intend to do that through many means. TV, movies, internet – whatever it takes. Just to be bigger and have a larger stage.”