Steve Hofstetter’s childhood home in Queens, New York was filled with laughter.
He joked around with his siblings while his dad spun old comedy albums from the likes of George Carlin and Dick Gregory. Now, the Los Angeles-based stand-up comedian is moving to Pittsburgh to create the same kind of funny, familial atmosphere.
Hofstetter plans to open Steel City Arts Foundation, or Steel City AF, in the former Stanton Heights United Methodist Church by early summer.
The chapel inside the 15,000-square-foot live-work-play space at 4721 Stanton Ave. will become the main showroom with seating for about 300 people.
The basement already boasts a recording studio (the previous owner of the building was a music producer), a 40-seat performance venue with digital broadcasting capabilities and living space.
A detached, three-bedroom home on the property will house touring comics for free for six months at a time. There, they’ll be able to relax in between gigs, work out in the on-site gym and generate new material in a creative atmosphere. The plan is to have comedians occupy the new digs in March. Pending Covid regulations, in-person shows could start as early as May.
An author, comic and TV personality whose YouTube channel has more than 640,000 subscribers, Hofstetter will arrive in Pittsburgh on Feb. 11 to turn his dream into a reality.
“It’s an idea that’s been evolving in my head for a while and will continue to evolve once we open,” he says. “I have long made it a hobby to go on LoopNet and look at old commercial buildings for sale. My vision was always an old church, movie theater or a bank. Just a cool building. I found this one and immediately fell in love with it.”
After his father died six years ago, Hofstetter launched the Martin Foundation in his name to help up-and-coming comedians. Through grants, 30 budding performers have been able to pay rent and other bills so they could quit their day jobs and focus on being funny full time.
Steel City AF is a physical extension of that organization. And it’s needed now more than ever.
Covid has decimated the entertainment industry, forcing touring comedians to stay put. Hofstetter created the Nowhere Comedy Club, a digital comedy venue, to give them an outlet.
Due to its geographic location and low cost of living, Pittsburgh is the perfect place to build a comedian incubator, says Hofstetter, who has performed in the city three dozen times over the years. It’s within a six-hour drive of 18 comedy markets and a 2.5-hour flight from more than half the population of the U.S. and Canada.
Surprisingly, he says, the only comedy clubs currently operating in the Pittsburgh metro area is the Improv in Homestead. Arcade Comedy Theater, a nonprofit organization, is located in the Cultural District Downtown. (Editor’s note: There’s also the 10-year-old Steel City Improv which has produced many shows and supported many artists over the years.)
In addition to giving his fellow stand-up comics a place to lie down, Steel City AF will serve as a community center and a place for artists and musicians to showcase their talents.
Hofstetter is excited to start a new life in Pittsburgh. And that’s no joke.