Steve Hofstetter may be a comedian, but he prefers it when people do not laugh at his routine.
“A lot of comics get addicted to the laugh,” he said at a Saybrook Master’s Tea yesterday to about 30 rapt students. “I’m addicted to silence, because it means people are paying attention.”
Hofstetter, a comic known for his college-centered comedy and his columns on collegehumor.com, a humor Web site, received plenty of silence during his hour-long talk on Thursday. The talk was sponsored by the humor magazine The Yale Record, which, chairman David Chernicoff ’07 said, convinced Hofstetter to visit as a part of an effort to “reach out to different people in the comedy world.” Hofstetter discussed how he got his start in comedy, life on the road, his battles with alcohol and the problems with comedy today, among other topics.
By 18, Hofstetter said he was already well on his way to success as the co-founder of the Web site “Sports Jerk of the Week.” The Web site was widely credited with bringing accountability to sports stars. At 20, Hofstetter took some time off from attending Columbia University to write for the Yankees. Eventually he earned a degree from the university, graduating in 2002.
But after college he said his momentum slowed.
“I was living on a bunk bed in my father’s spare room,” Hofstetter said. “I’m getting all these articles pumping me as the next big thing, and I’m like, do you guys know what my life is like?”
Hofstetter decided that the best way to break into the comedy world was to start touring. But even as he grew more successful, he said he found that life on the road was “lonely and upsetting,” and started to drink for comfort. During this dark time of his life, Hostetter said he had a lot of problems with alcohol.
A year and a half ago, Hofstetter quit drinking altogether, when he got so drunk after a show that he was unable to perform the following night. Previously, people would buy him a drink if they liked his show, which added to the temptation.
“You do the math,” he said. “If there are a hundred people at a show, and only 20 like you, you’ll die.”
Since overcoming his dependence on alcohol, he said his career has taken off. In addition to touring around the country at clubs and college campuses, he has a successful show on Sirius Satellie Radio called “Four Quotas,” and runs Comedy Soapbox, a Web site for comedians.
Hofstetter said he feels strongly about the responsibility comics have to each other.
“So many comics have this view of ‘Oh, he gets work, he took that work away from me,'” Hofstetter said.
But he said any comic that gets people interested in the medium is actually creating more opportunities for other comedians.
Hofsetter said he does not respect comedians who mine old stereotypes for humor, especially the characters on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, such as Larry the Cable Guy, who makes racist jokes. Those jokes, he said, are the “easy” ones, which make people laugh but which the audience forgets as soon as the show is over.
Hofstetter said he chooses to make the harder jokes that require more thought but also reap greater rewards by forcing people to think about difficult issues. He cited Jon Stewart as an example of a comedian with influence, and said that The Daily Show’s constant on-air criticisms of U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay was one of the factors in leading to the politician’s indictment.
“I want to change the world with my comedy,” Hofsetter said. “I really do.”
That is what makes his comedy special, and sets him apart from other comedians, Alex Lefkovits ’08 said.
“I like the whole wholesome feel, but at the same time, it’s kind of controversial,” he said.