If you’re one of the thousands of UM students on thefacebook.com, chances are you’ve heard of Steve Hofstetter.
Hofstetter, 25, is a stand-up comic who is on a quest for 100,000 friends on thefacebook. A recent graduate of Columbia University, Hofstetter is the head writer for collegehumor.com, as well as the host of his own radio show, 4 Quotas, on Sirius Satellite Radio. He is also the author of two books, Student Body Shots and Student Body Shots: Another Round, the latter of which he will be touring for, making a stop at UM’s Rathskeller on Feb. 23.
As a self-described “Jew who looks Irish,” Hofstetter is notable for his envelope-pushing humor, often focusing on social issues such as racism, religion and politics-topics that are atypical for the run-of-the-mill stand-up act.
On his website, stevehofstetter.com, a marquee across the page reads, “The Thinking Man’s Comic” underneath his name. For a comic, Hofstetter is fixated on being more than just a funny man.
“Our society is unwilling to talk about real problems, like obesity in America and censorship,” he said. “If you’re not willing to talk about real issues, get off the stage. If people don’t find me funny, then I hope they find me interesting. That’s the holy grail.”
Growing up as “a scrawny white kid in a very ethnic neighborhood” in Queens, Hofstetter found himself using humor as a defense mechanism.
“You don’t beat up the kid who’s making you laugh,” he explained.
Hofstetter cites his Jewish background as a strong influence on his comedic ability.
“When you’re a Jewish kid, humor is rewarding,” he said. “When I was a kid in Hebrew school, telling jokes was how I got out of trouble. I never caused harm, I just messed with people.”
Although he has been doing improv since the age of 13, Hofstetter did not take the stage as a stand-up comic until his senior year of college. By that time, he had been writing for eight years.
Once he graduated college, he began to use his humor to make a living when he felt he had no other choice. Soon after publishing his first book, Student Body Shots, several colleges approached him about bringing him in for shows.
“I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I can do this!'” he recalled.
For Student Body Shots, Hofstetter used many of his columns from collegehumor.com, which centered on college life from the point of view of a student. Hofstetter attributes much of his success as a comic to what he learned in college.
“College not only gave me material for my act, but also for how I manage myself. I learned all about organizing events from Greek life. I was very active in my frat, so I learned how to run a show and got a lot of prop experience. If I hadn’t run events, I wouldn’t have gotten on the stage a quarter of the time that I did. It all adds up.”
Due to his continued strong identification with college life, Hofstetter has used thefacebook.com to help further his career. During a fit of boredom on Christmas Eve, Hofstetter experienced what he called “a five-minute lightbulb moment” and had the idea to use the website to help publicize his shows. He then began adding random people as friends.
“The original quest was for 10,000 friends by Feb. 1, but then I got to 55,000 and wanted to see how many friends I could get,” Hofstetter said. He also details the process of forming his quest in his Jan. 6 column on collegehumor.com and in his facebook profile.
“I want to make fun of the fact that something like this could work. Some people hate the fact that I’m making fun of thefacebook because ‘thefacebook is life,’ but that’s not true. Life is life,” he said.
So far, the quest has caught on. According to his profile, Hofstetter has over 70,000 friends, too many for the site to list how many friends he has from each school.
“A lot of people tell me it’s a terrible idea, but in one week, I’ve booked 17 shows,” Hofstetter said. “If you don’t get the joke, that’s fine. But if you can’t see the good it does for publicity, having fun and raising money for tsunami victims, then we have a problem.”
One of UM’s fraternities, Sigma Alpha Epsilon [SAE], is bringing Hofstetter to the Rat for a tsunami benefit show. John Harper, SAE’s president, said he was first approached by CollegeHumor Live, told that Hofstetter would be in the area and asked whether his fraternity would be interested in sponsoring a charity show.
“When I saw that he had 200 friends from UM at the time, I knew that the show would be successful,” Harper said.
Hofstetter also caught the attention of SAE’s social chairman, Chris Charlemagne, who heard of him on thefacebook.com through friends at Columbia, Hofstetter’s alma mater. “I thought [the quest]for 100,000 was pretty nuts, since I use thefacebook every day and I only have 300 [friends],” Charlemagne said. “After I decided to add him, I caught a link to his website and got his free CD… I started listening to his gigs and thought, ‘He’s a pretty funny guy, funny enough to draw a crowd.'”
Because of his past involvement in Greek life, Hofstetter is excited about collaborating with Greek life for this fundraiser for tsunami victims.
Hofstetter’s show will be Feb. 23, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Rat for a $5 donation at the door. Proceeds will go directly to the American Red Cross International Relief Fund to help tsunami victims.
Once the insanity of touring and thefacebook.com quest die down, Hofstetter by no means intends to recede into the shadows.
“I want more people to be listening to my show. I want to do some stand up on TV. I want to keep doing what I’m doing. I want to write a third book, my column, and new material…I want to meet people and have a good time,” he shared. But most importantly, “I want to make my folks proud.”
Hannah Bae can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.