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Review: Steve Hofstetter & Phil Mazo (12th & Porter, Nashville, TN – 7/26/09)

About a half-hour or so ago from this writing, I returned home after seeing one of the best stand-up comedy shows I think I may have ever seen. (At least in my top five.)

It was Steve Hofstetter with Phil Mazo at 12th & Porter in downtown Nashville, TN.

Some of you reading this may wonder: who the fuck are those guys?  And how could those guys, of whom we know the fuck not, possibly give you one of the top five live comedy shows you’ve ever seen?  EXPLAIN NOW, MOTHERFUCKER.

Okay, then.  Here goes.

First, I’ll discuss the venue.  12th & Porter is a little rock club in downtown Nashville.  It’s located at the corner of 12th Avenue North, and, well…Porter. (The same venue naming device is used for another popular Nashville music venue, 3rd & Lindsley, which is located at the corner of…3rd & Lindsley.  For a town full of musicians and other creative people, Nashville really half-assed on some of these venue names.  There’s even a venue that, at one point–and it may still have this name–was called The Place.  That’s it.  The Place.  “Hey, what are you guys gonna do before you head to The Place?”  “Oh, we’re gonna go eat at A Restaurant.”)

12th & Porter has two rooms: the main showroom, and a side lounge.  This show that I saw was in the side lounge room.  There were a couple of high-top tables in the back; couple of couches along the side wall, which was adorned with beautifully vibrant paintings of such past music stars as Hank Williams, The Beatles, Stevie Ray Vaughan, etc.  The rest of the room had chairs set up in rows, theater-style, facing the stage.  Whoever made that call was extremely smart to do so.  Stand-up shows work best when the seating is arranged as such so that the entire audience is focused on the show throughout its entire duration.  Then, of course, there was the stage, which wasn’t too big, but also wasn’t too small.  In the immortal words of Goldilocks, “it was just right.”

If I may go off on a bit of a tangent here, I’d like to profess my love for small, intimate venues.  I fucking love them, and I love doing shows in them.  Smaller venues are always much more fun than large venues, because with a smaller room you get a greater sense of that intimacy with an audience, and you can really engage them on a much more personal level than even in a big comedy club showroom.  You get a connection that isn’t common in other rooms.  That’s why if someone ever gave me the choice of performing in a concert hall or stadium for 5,000 people, or a rock club or coffeehouse in front of 50–I’d go with the 50 people any day of the week.  I could go on and on about this, but the point is that smaller crowds make better shows because as a performer you can connect with them on a more personal and honest level than a stadium full of random faces.  And this show that I saw was definitely one of those.

I’d estimate that there were approximately 50-75 people packed into this little lounge room.  As I sat my seat, I eavesdropped on several people’s conversations, and much to my surprise: many of them were talking about comedy.  It was mainly about famous comedians they’d seen, but anytime you hear an audience before a comedy show talking about comedy on some level, that’s a great sign.  It means the audience knows what the fuck is going on, and they are there for the purpose of seeing the comedy show versus the random yahoos who happened to show up by coincidence.

The show was opened by one of the employees of 12th & Porter, who briefly introduced Phil Mazo.  I’d heard of Mazo several times before, as he’s got a pretty sizeable online base, but I’d never seen him or heard any of his material before tonight.  For those unfamiliar with Mazo, he has a very clean-cut boyish look (he seriously looks like he could easily be mistaken for a high school sophomore), and he contrasts it with a lot of edgy, dark material.  Most of Phil’s act was about relationships; particularly the more sexual aspects of them, of which I’m usually not a big fan.  However, his material was very well-written with a few twists that surprised me.  He didn’t break away from his material too much, although one of my favorite moments of the night was when he was in the middle of a bit about threesomes when a glass broke on the floor.  Mazo’s comment: “Did I bring up some personal shit there?”

After Phil Mazo finished, he introduced the headliner, Steve Hofstetter.  I had seen Steve once before, though it was under much less-than-desirable circumstances: he played Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, TN.  In the cafeteria.  AT NOON.  Needless to say, it wasn’t a fantastic show, but Hofstetter was still able to pull it off given the environment he was in.  This time, however, he was in a club at night in front of people who were there to see him–or at least the comedy show in general (which is good enough).  And he fucking ROCKED.  He weaved between his own clever, highly polished, intelligent material and extremely quick-witted interactions with the crowd.

Believe me when I say this: Steve Hofstetter has one of the quickest minds I have ever seen in comedy.  It’s amazing how fast he is.  He spent at least two or three minutes riffing on the Wal-Mart in Johnson City, TN after a woman in the crowd mentioned that she was from Johnson City:

“Why did you live in Johnson City?”
“I graduated and moved in with a friend.”
“Well, then you need to get better fucking friends.”

Steve did approximately 50 minutes or so onstage, and the laughs never let up due to his rapid-paced style of speaking.  The crowd that he performed for fucking LOVED him and Phil.  I can honestly say it may have been the hottest group of people in terms of audience response that I have ever seen.  They were there to laugh, and laugh they did: from the dirty jokes to the clean jokes, from the smart jokes to the dumb jokes, from the innocent jokes to the downright demonic jokes.  This audience kicked ass, and Mazo and Hofstetter deserved it.  And I bet it won’t be long before the two of them, who frequently tour together, will be rolling through Nashville again.

“This guy got mad because I was funnier than him.  I said, ‘I’m a professional comedian, so obviously that must mean I’m funnier than you.’  He said, ‘Yeah, well, you’re a douche.’  And I said, ‘You know what?  You’re right: I am a douche.  Because after I fucked your mother, she smelled better.’” – Steve Hofstetter

Until next time,

–Riley