Steve Hofstetter and Company Invade Boondocks
Some days, you just need a good laugh. Perhaps that was in the air Thursday night at Boondocks. As a first-time visitor, there were no set expectations crossing the threshold of fading natural lights to neon and decor. Photos of events and smiles long past glared from a far wall with a waxy glean. An internal gestation of trepidation echoes through the faint chatter rising from the adjacent venue. From the intimate enclosure of the bar to the daunting venue, a security line pushed the attendees towards a secondary bar, acting as the ticket window with waitresses and bouncers waiting to guide you to your seats.
Looping neon signs advertising alcohol hung high along the walls. Large, curved-out speakers blasted mash-ups of modern-day pop songs with 70s and 80s hits such as “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees and “Disco Inferno” by The Trammps. Most attendees sat at long white tables, with last names written on a folded card distinguishing placement. There was no looming sense of anticipation, no embellishment of momentum, just a lazy Thursday night with several hundred people wanting a laugh, and at five past eight, they caught a taste.
After the MC expressed his gratitude for the turnout and promoted upcoming comedian Tom Arnold’s shows, he invited headliner Steve Hofstetter to the stage. From a boxed-off room in the far back came Steve, dressed in a shirt of purple and blue while applause bellowed up and down the venue. Here he gave some mild jabs towards the Midwest on our abundance of corn and tiny towns. Then some small talk to connect with the crowd, such as asking the furthest someone traveled to the event. One might think Chicago or St. Louis, but no it was Seattle. The real purpose was to set the house rules and lay down the truth. Hofstetter announced himself as an “unapologetic progressive” and that some of the jokes might trigger certain individuals. Even reflecting later on, he didn’t know if the jokes would land, but that was not the focus, for as quickly as he came on, it was time for the warm-up acts.
First was Evan Parker, who had the roughest time of warming up the crowd. His jokes made fun of moments from his childhood, during which he broke his own momentum of audience laughter by saying it was all made up. He held visible tension during his short set and typically grew louder in volume when it seemed the jokes didn’t land. It’s comparable to being an opener for say, Taylor Swift, except Taylor Swift came out first, did two songs, and now the opener was left with a bunch of people wanting her back. The audience was commendable, but the initial burst of bubbly laughter was broken.
Second was Mark Shimkets, who came out swinging. His jokes tended to be more about relationships and were self-deprecating in nature due to his large physique. They ranged from an inability to register the mood of the moment, to having a leg entrapped by a metal railing, with butter and chainsaws required to free him. You may discuss which came first. Again – short and sweet, but unlike with Parker, Shimkets was able to regain that laughter, and it fueled the flames going into the third comedian’s act.
Jarrett Berenstein without a doubt earned the biggest laughs of the evening. He also led with self-deprecation, angling how much his internal body was screwed up. Chronic gingivitis, fatty liver, even once having both a colonoscopy and an endoscopy at the same time. However, spiraling around that motif were his hard progressive jokes. From mask jokes to Joe Rogan, to having a hat saying “I exercise to outlive Mitch McConnell”. It all fed into the audience’s alignment of the modern world and they were lapping it up. The audience became more chirpy as the alcohol began to latch onto their minds, yet as the clock hands hit 9:50 p.m., it was time for the main event.
Steve Hofstetter retook the stage under thunderous applause. Hofstetter’s main subject was the motif of change. His opening joke related to a sexist joke he made as a 15-year-old. “How many feminists does it take to fix a lightbulb?” One to fix and one to explore the male magic kingdom as I’ll put it. From there he ran through subjects like the narrative of their being drugs in candy so parents can swipe them away or becoming addicted to flavored lattes. In an ironic twist, it did take a while for the audience to warm up to Hofstetter’s set. There were a few hefty laughs, but nothing stuck until halfway through when he started to deconstruct arguments about things like pronouns, gender-neutral bathrooms, and how female periods were not the worst reason to start a war. Did you know Michigan and Ohio nearly went to war over Toledo? Not me. It was those moments in between the jokes that resonated with the audience. How we have changed from crawling cavemen to being better than these arguments and as a result, drew in applause. By the time Hofstetter’s set ended, it was met with a standing ovation. However, the fun was not over yet.
Hofstetter brought back out Berenstein and Shimkets for some Q’s and A’s with the audience. They answered random questions, from the stupidity of horror characters to the origins of the Donner Party, yet the one that got the biggest uproar was when Hofstetter was asked if he had a horseshoe. As a food synonymous with Springfield, the audience went nuts when he asked what they put on their respective horseshoes. Left, right, up and over trying to scream out their answers, it was the best and worst the audience got that evening. By the time 10 p.m. rolled around, everyone was winding down, but not before Hofstetter relayed his fear of Springfield not being his audience. He was asked if he would ever return to Springfield, but didn’t know as it depended on the audience’s response. It’s safe to say that Springfield – or at least the 200-plus people who showed up – were all into it, so he would absolutely come back. In fact, he was so honored that he decided to stick around and help out at the merchandise line near the entrance of the venue with Berenstein and Shimkets.
After the show, a fellow friend and attendee, Miles Tepatti, described the show this way: “The comedy was witty, smart, and it made me laugh the hardest I’ve laughed in a very long time.” For the attendees, it was a nice way to spend a Thursday night, have a nice hefty laugh, and think at least I’m better off than the guy who had both a colonoscopy and endoscopy at the same time.