Joe Gustaferro ’24 is a whirlwind of interests. He is an expert on the “history of ideas” and a master of comedy. It is a difficult task to capture just how cool he is. At Yale, where perhaps Joe is known best, he is the director of Red Hot Poker, Yale’s premier sketch comedy group, and a member of Just Add Water, Yale’s first musical improv comedy troupe. He is only 21 but incredibly accomplished. To help me understand how he has done so much, he told me he basically began Yale as a “well lived 50-year-old.” Joe is the funniest person you’ve never met, so I interviewed him in the hope that everyone can (sort of) understand Joe’s charm.

Karla: “I noticed that you’re from Minnesota. For the record and the sake of accent research, can you just say Minnesota for me?”

Joe: “Minnesota* [sadly not Mini-soda]. You’ll notice that I don’t have much of a Minnesotan accent because my parents didn’t want me to sound like I was from Minnesota. But a few times at Yale, people have said that I sound like I’m from Minnesota, but I think I sound pretty not placeable.”

Karla: “With all your experiences, it seems like you’ve literally lived a million lifetimes. Would you vouch for that statement? Or has it felt like just one joint experience for you instead of a lot of small ones?”

Joe: “I’m one of many kids who has been told that I’m an old soul. I found out later in life that that is something that’s bestowed upon many people, but I think I genuinely am one. My experience at Yale has been continuous. Although every time I feel like I get here in the fall, it feels kind of unfamiliar again. So in that sense, it’s kind of different.”

Joe recounted his childhood experiences, namely watching heartwarming sitcoms like Frasier and Cheers. But quickly dove into his current interests like podcasts and listening to Simon and Garfunkel. Along with his interests, his outlook on Yale has remained the same for the most part. Even as a senior, he tells himself, “I need to get this number of pages done on my thesis so I can go to bed.” Making sure to note he’s not “senior sliding” he states he’s glad to be enjoying each day until commencement. But even with his seemingly Generation-Z attitude, he doesn’t fully identify with the current era.

Joe: “I think that Gen X is getting a lot of crap now but I think I’m Gen X. I’m a Gen Xer at heart.”

On a more academic level, Joe is passionate about the “history of ideas.” He describes the concept…

Joe: “We generally think that the world is shaped by certain structures or certain people but coming from a historical perspective, what I sometimes say to people is that certain accepted ideas that we don’t necessarily even know play a really big role in the way that we think and act about the world. Good ideas matter, bad ideas matter. They all matter. I want to make clear that structures, people, places and things are important and shape history, but ideas and thought are important too.”

His directorship at Red Hot Poker ushers in a very difficult ultimatum. 

Karla: “Now you have to choose between Red Hot Poker or Just Add Water.”

Joe: “No matter what I choose, I’m coming from a Red Hot Poker rehearsal and going to a JAW rehearsal. I think that I have to put my true allegiance behind Red Hot Poker. It is something that I’ve been able to see the growth of over my time at Yale and been able to participate more fully because I was director of the group. When I was tapped during COVID, we came back and people weren’t even sure what comedy was going to look like after the pandemic. We spent the next month passing out flyers to get people to come to our shows and now the group has gone from being seven people strong tosixteen people strong. People’s parents can’t even get tickets to the show this weekend. I’m very proud of the group’s arc.”

Karla: “How would you describe your growth from your first year coming into Yale with the COVID pandemic and now a senior about to graduate?”

Joe: “I would say that I’ve found, like, my groove. Coming to college can be like this nerve-racking thing and it’s like somewhat of an accomplishment to have found my groove and then little did I know I would be profiled by YDN. I was student body president in high school, which was for me an outlet to do comedy in front of people when I would give my mandatory speeches. At Yale, I’ve gotten to hone in on the activities and the stuff that I like doing. The thing about Yale is that you can be kind of anonymous here in a way that provides all of this comedic opportunity to try on different characters. When I was going to parties my sophomore year and trying to meet a bunch of people, I would do a character that goes to a different school, which really backfired: no one reached out to me because they didn’t think I even went to Yale.”

On reflection, Joe shares “Yale expands your world” along with the jokes he cracked during the interview, which just wouldn’t be as funny in print. As unique as Joe is, he seems to encompass the average Yalie’s spectrum of interests which can range from consulting and biomedical research to a cappella and cultural affinity groups. Whenever you’re thinking of picking up a new interest or want to make new connections, embody Joe and try on different characters in the name of curiosity and exploration.

Karla Cortes covers International Relations at Yale under the University Desk. She is a first-year in Silliman College majoring in Political Science.