by Ryan Meehan
Author, columnist, and comedian Steve Hofstetter is often called the hardest working man in show-business. With all due respect to the late James Brown. Hofstetter’s national TV debut came on ESPN’s Quite Frankly, where Stephen A. Smith yelled at him for three minutes. Hofstetter has also appeared on CBS’ “Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson,” Showtime’s “White Boyz in the Hood,” VH1’s “Countdown,” Sundance’s “On the Road in America,” and ABC’s “Barbara Walters’ Special,” where he thankfully did not cry. Having appeared on networks from Boston to Miami to Denver, his local television appearances are too numerous to count, especially if you’re using your fingers. One of the top booked acts on the college circuit, the original writer for collegehumor.com has also released five albums and three books. Hofstetter has written humor columns for the New York Times, SportsIllustrated.com, and NHL.com, where he publicly admitted to being a Ranger fan. After hosting Four Quotas on Sirius Satellite Radio for two seasons, Hofstetter moved to broadcast radio, and his Sports Minute (Or So) was syndicated on over 170 stations and in over 30 newspapers. Hofstetter’s second live comedy album (“Cure For the Cable Guy”) reached #20 on Billboard’s comedy charts. His third album (“Dark Side of the Room”) was the first ever pay-what-you-want” comedy album, since people were going to steal it anyway. His fourth album consisted of an hour of 100% ad-libbed material, which is, frankly, nuts. And his fifth album hit #1 on iTunes’ comedy charts, which is also a bit nuts. Hofstetter’s brutal tour schedule consists of over 100 colleges and dozens of clubs every year, and is fueled by an immense online popularity, tons of press, and a Prius with great gas mileage. He reached 200,000 friends on Facebook and 400,000 more on MySpace, and high shelves in grocery stores. While Hofstetter’s live shows are routinely sold out, he is best known for his writing, first published at age 15, mainly to impress girls. At 18, he co-founded “Sports Jerk of the Week,” an irreverent website featured by press like USA Today’s Baseball Weekly, Sports Illustrated and CNN. And at 20, Hofstetter took a year off of school to head up web content for the New York Yankees. The Yankees won the World Series that year, which would have been wonderful if they hadn’t beaten Hofstetter’s Mets. Yes, he’s also a Mets fan. Poor kid. While an undergraduate at Columbia University, Hofstetter was a well-read columnist for the Columbia Daily Spectator and a voice of the Lions. After a summer writing for Maxim, ESPN, and Sports Illustrated for Kids, Hofstetter turned his column into two books, and syndicated it in several newspapers. Without his glasses Hofstetter also looks a great deal like Michael Rappaport, and he’s my guest today in 7 questions.
RM: When do you sleep? How do you section parts of your day off so that you give equal attention to all of the crafts you are trying to perfect?
SH: Actually, my secret is I get a good night’s sleep most days, so when its time to work, I’m not tired. When I can’t sleep (early flight, or my dog not holding it in) I’m worthless for half the day. I’m better at 100% for 16 hours than I would be at 50% for 20 hours.
I do NOT give equal time to the crafts I am trying to perfect – I get distracted by shiny new projects all the time. Wish I could be more disciplined. Maybe that’s another craft I need to work on. Dammit.
RM: When CollegeHumor.com first started out, as a writer how did you go about creating fresh content aimed at that target market when there had been so much that came before you?
SH: I think you don’t realize how long ago that was. 2000. 14 years. People didn’t even have flip phones yet. This was the frontier of the web – no blogs, no Facebook. Some college newspapers didn’t even have websites yet. Sure, people wrote about college before me – but not in my generation that publicly. There were two of us that were writing in that style at the time, me and Aaron Karo. And our audiences were way different. I never thought about how to be original – I just tried to write what I found to be interesting to me. And if I made it interesting enough, it was automatically original.
RM: What’s the most over-discussed topic in sports today? Do you think that with so many media outlets people have been offered too many choices; or is a lot what we see on television just too much sensationalism within the industry of sports journalism?
SH: I don’t think that there’s one particular topic that’s over-discussed, because when I get bored of something, I stop reading/listening about it. That’s why I love the choice we have – because we can choose to read whatever the heck we want. There’s no longer one person telling us what’s important – we can decide for ourselves what that is. And sure, there’s sensationalism. But that’s true everywhere – you have to get people’s attention in order to talk to them.
RM: You said in a recent blog post that “The problem with taking questions at the end of a comedy show is that’s when people are at their drunkest…” When you do this do you simply end with the questions; or do you have a closer ready to kind of wrap-up your set and prevent it from having an awkward ending?
SH: I always have a few in the chamber just in case. But I decide where to end when the question game begins. So if I hit something big a few questions in, that’s it, it’s over, thanks for coming. And if not, I can take more questions, or just go back to jokes. It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure show, but I know the choices they have.
RM: How does having the experience that you have in journalism help you in the process of editing jokes after you’ve told them on stage a couple of times? Do you feel as if you do more editing than other comics who would not have your background, or is it about the same?
SH: I think I concentrate more on word choice than some, but I don’t know if that’s from journalism. If anything, it’s hurt me in that journalism allows you to be slowly clever, and standup doesn’t. They can’t go back and re-read the first paragraph of your act. But it does help me when I’m interviewed – to be on the interviewer’s side of things give me a perspective on deadlines and speaking more slowly. S-L-O-W-L-Y.
RM: Is there something in particular about your act that you think caused the producers at Showtime to select you to perform for a predominantly black crowd? Did you feel as if you had to make significant adjustments to your material in order for it to fit the bill?
SH: Well, that was a dumb show that still owes me $500 so it’s hard to say what they were thinking. But I’m guessing it’s because I was a regular at Chocolate Sundays in Los Angeles, which is a predominantly black crowd, and they wanted to see me replicate that. Or they just wanted to hear someone yell “Opie-looking mother fucker” – either way, they got their wish.
RM: When you’ve been on stage for about a minute or so and can already tell that you are facing a “tough room”…What do you do to re-focus your energy and still get the most out of the performance? Do you ever change your set list when you’re on stage because you think “This bit definitely won’t work with these people…”? Does it ever hit the point where the goal becomes the minimization of damage; or is that too defeatist of an attitude to have as a comedian in any setting?
SH: Some nights you have to work harder than others, and it sucks. But it’s our job to squeeze as much juice out of the crowd as possible. And no matter how shitty they are as a group, SOMEONE there is a good audience member. So you have to perform for that guy, or you’re just a big disappointment. I wish it was always fun – but sometimes it’s a job.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2014 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
SH: For now, more of the same – touring, writing, obsessing over how touring and writing went. I’ll be the host of a new show on Fox called “Laughs”. Check it out!
Official Website: http://www.stevehofstetter.com/
Steve on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/stevehofstetter
Steve on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SteveHofstetter
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