By Steve Hofstetter
I grew up in New York City, and not in the way that people from Connecticut did. I lived a few blocks from a subway and fewer blocks from a project. We moved when I was in high school and, as the crow flies, my new bedroom window was less than 30 feet from a bus stop. Or as the pigeon flies, anyway. When I moved to Los Angeles, I joked that I did it for the small town feel.
As a road comic, I have played some small towns. Perhaps the smallest was Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri. Nevada is pronounced Ã¢â‚¬Å“Nuh-vade-uhÃ¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬â€œ like the state, but with less class. One hundred and seventy-five of the 275 students who attend the school came to the show. I could have had someone rob their rooms while I was on stage. But nothing could have prepared me for Ontonagon, Michigan.
There are 300,000 people in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and 299,999 of them are not Ted Nugent. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the sign of small town America Ã¢â‚¬â€œ when you only have one famous person in the whole region, and he hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even been famous since 1990. In LA, people point out celebritiesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ houses. In the upper peninsula of Michigan, people point out celebritiesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ upper peninsulas of Michigan. Nugent actually moved to Texas a few years ago, but that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t stop the UP from claiming him.
So how did I end up in a town of 1,769 people? (Thank you Wikipedia). My column is actually syndicated in the Ontonagon Herald. The editorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s daughter contacted me about doing a charity show at their new theatre, and I agreedÃ¢â‚¬â€ though I had to learn how to spell Ontonagon to send a contract.
Comedian Denis Donohue and I rolled into town, or slid due to the snow. We went to dinner at the one cafÃƒÂ© that was open, which could have been awkward because posters for the show were everywhere. Sure enough, a guy came up to us and asked if we were the comedians. It took five minutes of awkward conversation before we realized he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know we were the comedians ahead of time Ã¢â‚¬â€œ he just didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t recognize us, and therefore thought it best to find out if we were trouble.
It was the first time IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d ever been recognized by not being recognized.
The show itself was fantastic Ã¢â‚¬â€œ over 300 people in a gorgeous new theatre (whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s purpose I still canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t quite figure out). It was the first time the town had live stand-up in seven years, which led 17 percent of the town to come to the show. It also led to the release of seven years of pent up Ã¢â‚¬Å“have you heard this one?Ã¢â‚¬Â The standout joke was clearly one manÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Where do you keep your hat? On Da Noggin!Ã¢â‚¬Â I was told I could use that. I politely told him that to do so, people would had to have heard of Ontonagon.
Mark Twain once said Ã¢â‚¬Å“travel is fatal to prejudice,Ã¢â‚¬Â and heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s right. As unimpressed as I was at the jokes I was told, I was very impressed by the kindness and the welcoming nature of those I spoke to afterwards. I had a great time, and I really hope that theatre thrives. If I do make it, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like to go back to Ontonagon and play it once more. And if that happens, perhaps IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll open with a great joke about where I hang my hat.
Steve Hofstetter is a nationally touring stand-up comic and columnist for Sports Illustrated. To see more Steve, check out DailyComedy and his calendar at his official site, www.stevehofstetter.com. Watch videos of Steve at his MySpace site and at RooftopComedy.