Growing up in New York, standup comedian Steve Hofstetter crafted his naturally dry, sarcastic wit from the locals around him. Being the youngest sibling of four and growing up in Queens helped him develop thick skin. “There’s a certain anger to us,” he tells encore. “I don’t take crap from anybody.”
Coming to the Juggling Gypsy on Thursday, July 12, Hofstetter plans a show that may not sit well with the hypersensitive or anyone prone to emotional outbursts. A ginger who was often bullied in school, Hofstetter comes armed as “The Heckler Destroyer.” He will send quippy audiences into the realm of public embarrassment with a quickness. It may even land them on his YouTube channel, where he hosts a segment known as “Heckler Owned;” some videos have reached over 5 million views. The series features live performance recordings of Hofstetter strategically lashing out snarky comebacks to anyone who isn’t keen on his politically or socially controversial humor. In one video, Hofstetter attempts to tell a joke about unexpected pregnancy before being interrupted by a woman in the crowd.
“It takes more effort to order a pizza than have a child,” Hofstetter says.
The heckler chimes in: “Bullshit! How many children have you had?”
Hofstetter casually sips a glass of water before responding. “Has anyone ever ordered a pizza by accident?”
Instead of backing down, the heckler continues. “Well, if you have never had any children, then what the hell do you know about pizza?”
“I’ve never flown a helicopter. If I saw one in a tree I could still be like, ‘You fucked up,’” he responded.
Before Hofstetter was turning on the zingers, he was a student at Columbia University with aspirations on becoming a sports writer. However, it all changed after he attended a friend’s birthday party at a bar, then known as The Underground Lounge in New York, a place where standup comics performed.
“I had been dabbling with the idea of doing standup for years, but that never materialized,” Hofstetter tells. “The guy who organized the shows gave me a bunch of instructions [on how to get a performance slot] and I did a show a month later [on January 7, 2002]. . . . Once I started doing [comedy], it was like being thrown into the ocean and realizing I was a fish.”
During his college years, Hofstetter’s career went full circle before blasting off. He landed a writing gig as a columnist for collegehumor.com, a comedy website based in Los Angeles, and continued to perform at local New York venues. In August 2003, he published a book, “Student Body Shots,” for College Humor—a collection of college truths and an offshoot of his humor column from the site.
At 23 Hofstetter held an additional job while promoting his book via standup shows.
“My day job was working the front desk of a bed and breakfast,” he details. “I had to go over receipts and make sure everything lined up. It was a really tedious job. I go and perform at this college, I cobble together an act, and the show goes well. Afterward, I’m signing books, and everyone wants to talk to me. It’s wonderful, but then I’d go home and go back to the inn the next day. I’m back to signing receipts. These people signing in to the inn don’t care that last night I was a star.”
As he continued to perform at less-than-stellar clubs, bars and road gigs, Hofstetter remembers trying to shape his sets to appease difficult crowds by performing hacky jokes to get easy laughs. Instead of his comic career taking off, it seemed to plateau, and the more Hofstetter tried not to bomb his shows, the more he seemed to do just that.
“[At one point,] I had a show that was a really bad environment,” he recalls. “There was no way of winning. I was doing hacky material, and no one was laughing. [I realized], if I didn’t do hacky material and no one laughed, at least I would have said what I wanted to say.”
“The Your Tour” will come to the Gypsy and encapsulate portions from his new hour-long comedy special “Secret Optimist,” along with new material. “I talk about Nazis,” Hofstetter reveals. “It’s not something I thought I’d talk about, but they are here. I like to be contrary; I like to find things people agree with and then show them why they are wrong.”
Hofstetter also will talk about how he became an optimist after someone was murdered in his Syracuse hotel during a tour; how he was happy for the first time in an airport until he saw someone’s dog shitting nearby; and he may share parts from his new book, “Ginger Kid: Mostly True Tales from a Former Nerd.” The collection of personal essays was released in March and details his experience with childhood bullying and how comedy pulled him out of a bad situation.
When reflecting back on his career as a comedian, Hofstetter wants other budding comedians to stay humble and true to themselves. “There are tons of funny people,” he says. “You have to earn [success]; funny is unlimited. The trick is to figure out why your commodity is a resource. Funny is not oil, funny is corn.”
Hofstetter’s show takes place July 12 at Juggling Gypsy at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at SteveHofstetter.com.