The Consilience with Pete and Charlie podcast is about the intersection of science and the humanities, hosted by a couple of employees of Georgia Tech.
On a recent episode they interviewed comedian Steve Hofstetter who has made several television appearances, hosted “Four Quotas” on Sirius radio, was an original columnist for CollegeHumor.com, and whose YouTube channel has generated more than 18 million views. You can listen to the full episode here, or read up on some of the highlights below.
1. You Have To Do More Than Just Get A Laugh
At around the 3-minute mark, Pete asks Hofstetter if he thinks standup comedy contributes to the discourse in the humanities world. Hofstetter responds, “Comedy is the discourse…[it’s] responsible for lifting our consciousness about a lot of important issues. Obviously there’s some silliness too, but that’s not my taste. My taste is comedy that contributes to the discourse, and pulls it further.”
He goes on to break down his vision of a comedian’s role.
“I try to find sacred cows, and flay them. My job is to question the status quo, and to do it in a funny way,” he says. “A lot of comics say, ‘Oh, you just have to get the laugh.’ NO! The laugh is the minimum. A comic who only goes for the laugh is the teacher who teaches to standardized testing. It’s the minimum of your job…I think the idea is that, as a comic, you have the opportunity to do so many other things. You have the opportunity to teach, or to make someone feel good about themselves, or to sell merchandise…I mean, there are a million things you can do with your hour, or your seven minutes, or whatever it is. But some people are just like, ‘Oh I just gotta go up there and get a laugh.’ No. That’s step one. Now that you did that, what else can you do?”
2. Selling Doesn’t Make You A Sell-Out
At around the 21-minute mark, the conversation turns to the business of comedy. Hofstetter owns multiple comedy clubs and books hundreds of college performances each year.
“If you do something you wouldn’t have done, because of the money, you’re a sellout. If you take money for doing what you love already, you’re just selling. You’re not selling out,” he says.
In terms of actually selling, many comedians will promote, promote, promote. Hofstetter suggests that you “don’t promote a product, until you have a product,” and stresses that you should “sell to the right people, sell the right way. You don’t want to trick someone into joining your mailing list, because all that will do is give you one more person to email before they unsubscribe.”
3. Don’t Be A Hack – On Stage Or Off
At around the 25-minute mark, Hofstetter talks about how important it is to be creative in your promotional material. He points out that comedians are creative all the time – except when it comes to promotion.
“When it comes to promo, people just fall into what has come before them, and they say, ‘This is how it’s done.’ No, that’s how it was done. It can be done however you do it,” he says.
Hofstetter points out that many comics are not funny in their bio – typically leading with something like “Such and Such is from Cleveland, Ohio.” If that’s not important to the act, why would it be the first sentence of your bio?
Instead, he recommends that you lead with your lead.
“We’re problem solvers, we’re creative, and we strive not to be hacks – on stage,” he says. “So many of us are such hacks offstage. So many of us just look at other people’s promo and go, ‘Ok, I’ll do that.’ Aren’t you supposed to be inventive, and pushing the envelope, and new, and different? Why does that stop the moment you put the microphone back in the stand?”
4. Make Mistakes
At around the 31-minute mark Hofstetter talks about the importance of comics being willing to make mistakes. Someone once said of him that he had 1,000 ideas a day, and 999 of them are terrible.
But he realized it’s about finding that one good idea and using it. So what does Hofstetter do when an idea doesn’t turn out well? He just comes up with another one. He said loves making mistakes, because they help him ultimately make fewer of them.
5. The Data Matters – And So Does The Follow Up
At around the 55-minute mark, Hofstetter talks about his process of booking shows – specifically at many non-traditional comedy venues. He built his own box office system because he realized that if he went through other ticketing agents, they got all his fans’ information.
“I do all the work, I promote the show, and then THEY can sell my customers on going to some country music concert the next week,” he said, explaining why he preferred to control that valuable data on who was coming to his shows.
So he built a box office system that is automatic. He’ll use a tablet to check people in, and if they’re checked in they will get an email saying thanks for coming, links to his various social media accounts, and offer a free download of one of his albums. If someone doesn’t check in, they will get an email saying sorry we missed you, with a discount for the next time he’s in town.
In addition, audience members are told through email who was on the lineup the night of the show, which lets someone who forgot the name of a comic they liked go learn more about them. Audience members are also asked to rate the comedians. If the rating is high, that information is saved in their profile, and they will get an invite the next time that comedian is coming through town.
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