On Friday, January 24, comedian, author and columnist Steve Hoffstetter visited Tech to host a Q&A session entitled “Comedy Without Apology.” For an hour, Hoffstetter spoke to about 30 students in the Clough Undergraduate Learning Center (CULC) and answered questions about the nature of comedy, life as a stand-up comic and writing jokes. The event was publicized through stands outside the CULC, posters in several locations and Facebook.
Born in Queens, Hoffstetter graduated from Columbia University in 2002, after which he pursued a career in journalism. Hoffstetter wrote for several well-known publications, including Sports Illustrated, Maxim and The New York Times.
Hoffstetter eventually left journalism because he was disappointed with unethical aspects of the career.
“I found it frustrating when I was edited for voice and not for content,” he said. “Your writers should be able to use their own voice… A lot of journalists don’t remember that their number-one job is information.”
Hoffstetter explained that he began pursuing stand-up comedy seriously six months after he tried it for the first time, mentioning that it enables someone to communicate complex and significant ideas through humor.
Hoffstetter explained that his on-stage persona was a more confident version of himself, and that since he enjoys debating in real life, he tries to carry this onto the stage.
“I didn’t really have a message when I started… it took me time to figure out what’s funny, but also what I want to say.”
Hoffstetter’s comedy is often blunt and about taboo topics, and many people have found his jokes offensive.
“I don’t say anything on stage that I don’t mean,” Hoffstetter said, in response to a student question about the importance of openness on stage.
He also explained that honesty is important even for comedians who have distinct characters on stage, like Stephen Colbert and Louis C.K. Hoffstetter explained that the character still has to be true to what he is saying.
Hoffstetter’s comedy analyzes aspects of American politics and society. The comic described his perfect audience member: someone who is willing to question his own belief system in light of new ideas. Hoffstetter himself claims that his views were probably influenced by other comics, and that he tries to have messages in his comedy.
“I write for the audience I want, not the audience I have… I want to be able to reach people, but I would never pander,” Hoffstetter said.
Hoffstetter explained that his writing process involves writing to the “top of the room,” or not dumbing down jokes purely for the sake of popularity.
Hoffstetter also addressed his comedic influences, saying that though he admires many comedians, specifically Bill Hicks, he does not try to emulate a specific comic.
“There’s no comic I want to be, because you can never be truly successful until all your heroes are dead,” Hoffstetter quipped. “If you elevate anyone to hero status, you can never eclipse them.”
Hoffstetter mentioned that this advice carries over into several different fields.
“This is some of the best comedy advice I’ve ever received, but it applies to almost anything, really,” he said.
Hoffstetter also encouraged students to have more insightful perspectives on real, important issues, saying that it’s good to strive to be right all the time, and that people should listen to diverse opinions.
Hoffstetter’s Q&A was a good break from the norm. While seminars about new technologies and scientific methods are interesting, having a discussion about a unique topic like comedy is refreshing, especially at Tech.
“College students actually doing what they’re interested in, huh,” joked Hoffstetter.
“Comedy Without Apology” was definitely a forward step for Tech, encouraging students to finally break out of their engineering mindsets and pursue their individual interests.