Steve Hofstetter’s «Pick Your Battles»

How good is Pick Your Battles, the new CD from Steve Hofstetter? I sat down with my iPod and listened to it. And then I listened to it again. And then I listened to it again. That’s right. Three straight listens in a row without stopping and with no regard for the time. It felt like 20 minutes had gone by, not 141. Pick Your Battles is phenomenal.
Hofstetter’s press release tells me this is his fifth album, which made me feel a bit guilty, as I’m brand new to his comedy. My first gut reaction is to compare him to Daniel Tosh, but that’s not 100% accurate. I find Tosh very funny, don’t get me wrong, but he really works on stage. He expends a lot of energy to get the laugh (which is fine, I have nothing against it) and you can tell he’s working hard. Hofstetter, on the other hand just…well…for lack of a better word, he flows. He’s smooth. He’s obviously put a lot of time and effort into honing his craft, but it doesn’t feel like a chore. The laughs come easy. They come effortlessly and they come often. When you listen to Tosh, the comedy comes at you. With Hofstetter, he takes you with the comedy.
Hofstetter isn’t out to make any enemies, and he tells the audience that. He’s not out to make us angry or demand we agree with him. His goal isn’t to offend, it’s to make us laugh. He’s just talking, carrying on a conversation, and if you get offended by anything you hear, it’s not on him, it’s on you. It’s a genius approach because not only is it true, but it gives him license to talk about whatever is on his mind.
Everything about Pick Your Battles is perfectly planned out, right down to the track listing, where each one is titled «The War On…(insert topic here).» Most comedy albums begin with an over-the-top emcee screaming in your ear, «LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE NAME OF THE COMIC!!!!!!!!» Battles forgoes that and Hofstetter gets right into it. It’s a bold choice to start right in with abortion. A lot of comics have to get the crowd warmed up to them and ramp their way to the edgier topics, but Hofstetter sneaks in the side door with a new approach. Instead of going with the confrontational – and easier –  «You abortion protesters are crazy» approach, Hofstetter instead has a great anecdote about being stuck in line at Home Depot in front of a couple of guys who are late for a rally.
As you may have gathered from my opening paragraph, Battles is an album you can easily listen to multiple times and laugh out loud just as hard the third time as you did the first time at Hofstetter’s observations. A few of my favorites that come to mind:

  • On why mobile homes are terrifying, even to a guy who grew up in Queens: «How scary is it when a bad neighborhood can move?«
  • On being in Winnipeg, Canada in January: «That is religious weather. ‘Cuz you walk outside, you say, «Oh my God!», and then you die and you meet Him. Unless you’re an atheist. Then, you’re just cold.»
  • The noise Hofstetter makes when he imitates the sound of a Wal-Mart greeter greeting someone (Mah!).
  • Everything he says about Twilight.

As I finished my third listen to the album, I knew this would be a hard summary to write, because there is just so much about it I want to cover. Outside of writing a transcript of everything he says, there’s no way I can come close to capturing the full scope of what I want to say. There’s the man with the sideways face. There’s the one about the guy who got hit by a car while texting. There’s the one about the crazy tattoo the girl from Los Angeles had (and the tattoo she didn’t but would have been even weirder if she did).
The album ends with Hofstetter opening up a Q & A session with the audience that begins innocently enough and rapidly morphs into an all-out assault by the Louisville crowd on our hero, making fun of his glasses and his haircut. As he humorously faces off against them («I said ask a question, I didn’t say f***in’ take a shot at me!»), it quickly becomes one of my favorite comedy tracks of all time.
Listening to Battles did something that more comedy albums should do: It made me happy. It gave me hope for the future of stand-up comedy. It made me happy that there are comedians out there like Hofstetter knockin’ ’em dead. Sure, it made me a little sad that I wasn’t familiar with his work earlier, but then it made me happy that now I am, and I have a new favorite to follow. Pick Your Battles. Steve Hofstetter did, and he came out out on top.