When the crowds of artists came to LIC all those years ago in search of lofts and solitude, they inadvertently opened the door to curious developers with a hankering for waterfront property. As the condos shot up, young families moved in and they were soon followed by food purveyors because everyone needs to eat.
Now after decades of growth, the people crave more – the people crave entertainment.
Enter Steve Hofstetter and Jacob Morvay – two LIC residents opening The Laughing Devil, a neighborhood comedy club set to open in December at 47-38 Vernon Boulevard.
Hofstetter, a Queens native and professional comedian, has comedy clubs in Indianapolis and Atlanta, but felt the time was right to bring humor home to LIC.
“You risk failure with any project you’re involved in and failing in front of friends and family might be the worst, but I think it’s only going to come with benefits,” said Hofstetter, 32. “This is my home and I’ve got people rooting for me – that gives us the early boost we need to get off the ground.”
Hofstetter’s career in comedy first got off the ground when he was 13 years old and, like most men, he was motivated by the lure of a woman. He followed a girl he had a crush on into an improv class, which she quit two weeks later – but by then, he was already hooked.
“Men chasing women has inspired some of the greatest decisions in our society,” he said, adding that he and his wife decided on LIC because they wanted to move somewhere with more space. “This time I actually love her.”
Standup comedy, his second love, is something that Hofstetter started performing because it shined the spotlight squarely in his talent – and he didn’t have to rely on other performers as with improv comedy.
“Standup is a solitary art. In improv, either someone better than you steals the scene or you’re the best and you have to carry people with you,” he said. “The days that I perform are better than the days that I don’t.”
And now that he’s anchored in LIC, Hofstetter wants to bring his neighbors a fun night out and he also wants them to know that he has their best interest in mind. He’s aware that some might have reservations about a comedy club in the neighborhood – will it be loud, will there be drunks?
At a recent Community Board meeting, Hofstetter told supporters and detractors that he and his partner won’t ruin the community because they are the community.
“I told them that no one in this room lives closer to this club than I do. I am concerned about the neighbors because I am a neighbor. It’s strange to be a comedian and a curmuggeon at 32, but I’m really not the type to party all night,” he said. “As for noise level, show me a comedian that gets such a reaction that he can be heard on the streets, and I’ll hire that guy.”
Currently, there is a petition running on the www.laughingdevil.com asking those from the area to show community support. Anyone who signs the petition gets one free ticket.
The community has been far more supportive than he was told they would be, giving Hofstetter more time to focus on luring talent. He’s made plenty of connections at his other clubs – working with such comedians as Dave Attell and Margaret Cho – and he’ll use those business connections to book performers at The Laughing Devil.
But the comedy club will invite more than well-known talent onto its stage. Hofstetter said that there will be open-mic nights, and that local flavor will be a driving force behind the personality of the club.
And according to Hofstetter, Queens has plenty of flavor.
“I wasted a good amount of my life looking down on Queens,” said Hofstetter when asked about the borough’s reputation and its relationship with Manhattan. “You’re always told by others that it’s not good enough, but now that I’m older and hopefully more mature, I can recognize that there are some wonderful things here. As the people of Queens, it’s our responsibility to make the borough better in people’s minds.”
Speaking locally Hofstetter said that in a lot of ways, LIC is leading Queens and signaling the rest of the city that this is the borough of change and opportunity. A lot has changed since Hofstetter was a kid in Queens – back then, his father warned him about venturing into LIC.
“I’m all for the redevelopment because it’s being done responsibly. People aren’t being kicked out of their homes – developers are buying abandoned or for sale properties and building newer ones,” he said. “What could be wrong with that?”
Hofstetter’s goal is to open the club on December 15 with a liquor license and the full support of the community. Neighborhoods need happy residents and as Hofstetter hopes to prove, laughing together makes living together much easier.
“The reason I love standup as an art form is because it’s so uniquely communal. Laughter is a communal response and anyone who says they can see it on TV doesn’t understand,” he said. “It’s not just a show, it’s an experience and that’s why I love performing and I’m thrilled to do it in my own backyard.”