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Laughter That Informs: An Interview with Steve Hotstetter

Interview by William S. Gooch

In a summer of high gas prices, political conventions, and an Olympics overwhelmed by commercials and corporate sponsorship, it’s good to know that there are places where laughter and satire reigned supreme. The Comedy Alternative at Lounge 87 was just that respite from political sound bites and heat waves. For fourteen weeks, comedians tickled the mind, as well as the funny bone, with material that satirized, cajoled and commented on life, love and the state of union. The brainchild of Steve Hofstetter as a summer vehicle for comics during the downtime of the bread-and-butter college circuit, Comedy Alternative featured about six comics per show plus one headliner. In this interview, Steve Hotsetter talks about The Comedy Alternative and his life as a standup comic.

William S. Gooch: How did you get come up with The Comedy Alternative?

Steve Hofstetter: One of the owners of the bar is a fellow Columbia University grad, and he contacted me about his new place, Lounge 87, and wanted to know if I wanted to do something there. I walked in and just loved the vibe and how intimate the space was. So, I talked to some standup comic friends and told them about this great, intimate space and if they would be interested in doing summer shows there. A lot of standup comics do the college circuit, so in the summer a lot of us are hanging around home. Anyway, there was this unanimous go-ahead and it took off quickly.

William S. Gooch: Now, you started out producing shows for other comics, how did that come about?

Steve Hotstetter: There are four basic ways to start out as a standup comic in New York City. There are open-mike nights, where you pay five dollars to do five minutes in front of a crowd consisting mostly of other comedians. There is bring ems’, where you get a spot on a show if you bring five or more friends who pay full cover. There is barking, where you hand out flyers for a show. And lastly producing, which is making your own show.

When I started out, I didn’t want to do open mikes, and I didn’t want to be a bringer and bribe the club to let me on stage. Barking appealed to me because it is working for your stage time. Producing interested me even more because you learn a lot about what a show is supposed to be. So with producing I learned how to promote a show, book a lineup, and network with other comics. Also what’s good about producing is that you are performing in your own venue and you’re not so concerned about failing; you are free to experiment and take risks, as opposed to when you are performing in someone else’s venue, where you are always wondering if you are doing a good job.

William S. Gooch: Why did you decide to be a standup comedian?

Steve Hotstetter: I came into comedy through my writing. Comedy Alternative is really about good comedic, standup material. We want people who are good writers. The show is about good quality comedy.

William S. Gooch: Does your lineup at Comedy Alternative change?

Steve Hotstetter: There are some basic people who are involved in the show, and we juggle them. I perform in about six shows, and the headliners change every week.

William S. Gooch: Do you moonlight on another job or do you do your comedy full time?

Steve Hotstetter: I actually perform full time as a standup comic. I also do some writing and acting and I host a radio show.

William S. Gooch: In your routine you talked becoming a homeowner in New Jersey. Has that informed your comedy?

Steve Hotstetter: Everything in life should inform your work. Comics sometimes ask me how I come up with material and my response is how can you not come up with material. Every life experience contributes to your material.

William S. Gooch: Do you change your routine based on the audience?

Steve Hotstetter: I might change it based on how the audience is responding. If the audience is going with me on my political material, I hit them harder with the political stuff. I come with a plan of what I intend to do, and I stick to it.

William S. Gooch: Now you do the comedy college circuit, how does that circuit work?

Steve Hotstetter: There are conventions that college students go to, so comics market those conventions to try to get a chance to perform. If a student is a fan of yours they go to the student activity department and ask to bring in a particular comic. So you can build a tour around that.

William S. Gooch: Are they any subjects that are off limits?

Steve Hotstetter: There are no off limit material as long as the joke is not too make fun of the victim. There are funny things about Hurricane Katrina, as well as, abortion, etc. Laughter is a response to pain.

William S. Gooch: What comedians to you admire?

Steve Hotstetter:
My comedy heroes are Bill Hicks, Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Izzard, and others. I admire comics who go on stage tell their truth and stand behind their material.

William S. Gooch: What’s next for Steve Hofstetter?

Steve Hotstetter:
Well, I am pitching a new television show and doing the college tours. And I will keep producing shows for other comedians.

William S. Gooch: Thanks for your time, Steve.

Steve Hotstetter: You are welcome; this was fun.

If you want more information about Steve Hofstetter’s tour dates, go to Steve will also be appearing in an upcoming episode of Comics Unleashed. Comics Unleashed is hosted by Byron Allen and can be seen on CBS.



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