Note: A new edition of this out-of-print book is due soon from Grand Dragon Bazaar Press.
I first encountered the comedic stylings of Haugust Hofmann in 1932, during his first performance on stage in a small Off-Broadway theater. Even now, years later, I can lucidly recall the gasps as he drunkenly stumbled on stage, and the giggles as he pulled out the biggest cigar any of us had ever seen. Not only did he have the biggest cigar the world had ever seen, but also the largest bottle of whiskey, the tallest top hat, and the fattest belly. At just around 400 pounds, he was by far the biggest comedian in town. His performance that night, and throughout this early period of his short career, would consist of slapstick gags and drunken rambling. Specifically, on the night I saw him, Hofmann started with what was seemingly a classical pie-in-the-face skit. However, he shocked us all when, just about to toss the pie at an unsuspecting dame, he instead ate the whole pie and received a standing ovation. Then, during a muddled, confusing monologue, he suddenly slipped on an ill-placed sausage log. After the pratfall, he ate the sausage log to thunderous applause.¹ He then proceeded to his climactic last bit, a routine which began with him juggling four rotisserie chickens and ended with him eating the chickens one after the other. These three bits had taken over an hour and a half to complete.² To end his show, Hofmann would either try to make up jokes or humorous quips on the spot, yell at the audience, or, as he did on the night I saw him, demand the lights be brought down and go to sleep.
¹ There was debate as to whether slipping on the sausage log was part of the act. During my research on Hofmann, I spoke to the owner of the theater where he first performed. The owner claimed that sometimes, due to both the large amount of food Hofmann would bring on stage, as well as his intoxication, he would accidentally slip on a sausage or a pie or a cheeseburger from time to time. He would then seamlessly weave these pratfalls into his set, a testament to his talent as a performer.
² Hofmann could really eat, but he was quite slower than your average eater. He believed one should savor every meal. He would demand a table be brought out whenever he would eat on stage, along with a glass of wine.