Steve Hofstetter is a comedian who heckles the hecklers. He has over 55 million YouTube views thanks to viral videos that showcase his off-the-cuff takedowns when hecklers object to his subversive material. In an interview with 72 Hours, Hofstetter explains how he was groomed from a young age to handle the bullies. The New York native wunderkind had a viral “Sports Jerk of the Week” website by the age of 18 and was responsible for the New York Yankees’ digital content by 20. On top of that, the Columbia University graduate is a published author with both a movie and a six-continent tour in the works. So before a heckler comes to The Cellar Door for a show, just know he is ready. Hofstetter is an enemy of ignorance, who shows the irony of politics, pop culture and everyday life.
How do you have these instinctive comebacks to hecklers?
It helps to be teased a lot as a child.
What were you teased about?
Everything. I was the youngest of four. I grew up in a fairly poor neighborhood. I was teased about anything and everything. I was teased about my hair a whole lot. I was teased about my height. I was teased about being Jewish. I was teased about not liking being teased. I mean, kids are ruthless.
When did you notice that you were really getting your bullies [in good comebacks]?
I don’t think there was a specific moment, you know. I think humor is a defense mechanism. And there are a lot of defense mechanisms. Humor is just one of them, and it’s the one I happened to luck into, I guess.
Why do hecklers come to shows when they know they’ll be offended? What makes them heckle?
Expecting a dumb person to make a smart choice is like expecting a short person to be able to reach something on a high shelf. It’s unreasonable. You can’t expect a dumb person to make smart choices. It’s as simple as that. If someone is dumb enough to come to a show without finding out about the show they’re going to, they will also be dumb enough to yell out at the show without realizing that is not the right thing to do. The fact of the matter is, if there’s 200 people at a show and one person yells out, that’s less than 1 percent of the people there. Don’t you think more than that in the world are idiots? So it’s a miracle that more people don’t yell out.
What made you decide to go into comedy professionally?
I couldn’t find any other jobs. I was doing it to pass the time and it was fun. And then I fell in love with it. I stumbled into it and I’m glad that I did.
So much of comedy is pretty offensive to marginalized and oppressed communities. What made you focus on justice and politics in your comedy?
I think you’re not giving other comedians enough credit. There is a lot of that out there, it’s just that when someone says something inflammatory, it gets more press. I think that there’s a great deal of compassion in comedy. It’s just not as incendiary to write about. For me, my comedy reflects me as a person. I won’t say anything onstage that I wouldn’t say in conversation. That’s as simple as that.
Can you describe the comedic community that you’re a part of? You mentioned that there are many comedians who are compassionate.
Comedians make up the worst people in the world and the best people because some people are in comedy because they are broken and they are very damaged. And some people are in comedy because they want to put something great in the world. I try to hang with that second group much more. I love hanging out with other comedians because we have opinions on everything. We will never run out of something to talk about. I mean, when you drive in between gigs, sometimes you drive for seven hours with someone else. Talking the whole time. Just finding something to talk about.
What are some of the things that you are doing now?
The biggest new thing I’m doing will be an incredibly groundbreaking, industry changing tour where next year I’m doing The Your Tour, where people buy tickets ahead of time to a show that hasn’t been announced yet. I just announce the city and the date, and if at least 50 people in the city buy tickets, then I go there. And if not enough people buy tickets, then everybody gets a refund. All the time, people will tell their favorite artist, hey, why don’t you come to Cleveland? Why don’t you come to Denver? Why don’t you come to Charlotte? This is a way for people to put their money where their mouth is and really decide where their favorite artists go. And I announced it [two weeks before this interview] and I’ve already gotten two of the cities, already have enough tickets. In under two weeks, which is amazing. And a bunch more are really close. If it all works out it’s going to be a six-continent, 52- country, 155-city tour.
How do you have the energy for all of that?
We all go to work every day; we just do something a little different. I love what I do, so it’s pretty easy to find the energy to do it.
This Q&A has been edited for space and clarity.