I was writing this blog in my head even as I stood under the sweaty armpits of two very tall young women, who were giggling and swaying and stomping their alarmingly high heels near me. “Hoff, Hoff, Hoff…” they cried, causing the heat and mild hysteria in The Corner Hotel in Richmond to swell larger than Pamela Anderson’s famed bust.
“Hoff, Hoff, Hoff…” they yelled, along with the capacity crowd of 800. I was out with friends on Valentines Day in Melbourne to see The Hoff. An Evening with THE HOFF (or The Hoff Downunder) is based on a series of performances the former Baywatch star gave at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year.
Apart from the obvious topic of avoidance of my pressing academic work – how does The Hoff fit into a blog about doctoral study, readers may well ask?
I was pondering that as I aimed my phone camera at the tall, chiseled and confident performer weaving his way through the throng and onto the stage. The Hoff beamed, crooned and pushed his way through a crowd who were both the cool “I’m here for an ironic evening” types and also Hoff Nerds (people who really knew every episode of Knight Rider and Baywatch).
They call it the comfort zone for a reason. And I was out of mine. But I have a firm rule, and it has never failed me; when it doubt, take notes. There will be a story in it. And sure enough, by the time The Hoff was on stage in front of me, the topic for the blog was clear. The Hoff is a one-man brand seminar all packaged up and ready to go. This evening was The Hoff Brand in action.
Just as Richard E. Grant has used his persona and fandom from the cult hit Withnail & I to raise his own brand identity as a writer and actor and director, so has The Hoff gone from being simply David Hasselhoff, just another handsome actor from the 1980s, to being The Hoff – a brand. Grant has The REG Temple – The Hoff has HoffSpace, a phone app, Shop The Hoff online, and a bucket load of Twitter followers.
With palpable gratitude, The Hoff told the crowd his moniker had been given to him by Aussie journalists (we love a nickname downunder). Rather than run away from the TV shows and video clips that were the stylistic equivalent of big hair and shoulder pads, The Hoff embraced it with grace, going along with the joke. He owned it.
This brings to mind Kylie Minogue, who also owns what she is and what she has done. She has embraced her brand, and rather than apologize for not being, say Adele, she has made everything that she is – and is not – into an asset. I have heard her say “bring it on” to those who sneer at her career. It could also be The Hoff’s mantra. “Don’t Hassel the Hoff” is emblazoned on his T Shirt. It’s only partly a joke.
In this age of the internet publishing and social media, and the evolving nature of traditional media, those who work with words and ideas need to see themselves as a product. They need to know their brand. Who are they? What is their marketable identity? What is their unique selling point?
Above all, don’t try to be like someone else. If you own your authentic voice, then you can stare down everyone and say “bring it on”.
The Hoff knows. The Hoff is rarely “off brand” and appreciates that he is loved for what he does – and that is not shying away from being commercial. He doesn’t seek acceptance from those who would ignore him anyway and deride him as a light-weight commercial star. He has cleverly seen how his work has deeply resonated with people in popular culture and stayed with that, just like Kylie. Baywatch and Knight Rider? Neighbours and Locomotion? Bring it on!
An Evening With THE HOFF is all about playing up to the brand, and embracing and mythologizing the past. Television clips showed key cheesy moments from all his shows, all focused on the perfect Hoff frown, grin, pose or action scene. The Hoff always traded on being the man other men wanted to be (tall, chest hair, heck, hair post 60) and the man women wanted to bed – and perhaps the other way around, too. And so The Hoff cleverly brought the Melbourne Storm cheerleaders on stage to dance, jiggle and add movement. The Hoff plays a “gosh, ain’t life different from what we guys could say in the 80s?” style of “new male”. After all – he’s a proud dad! He has a very young Welsh girlfriend he cares about! He’s not in the shape he was, but he tries!
The Hoff’s take on that Aussie classic from the 1970s – The Ted Mulry Gang’s “Jump In My Car”, is funny precisely because it doesn’t try to consciously recreate the swaggering machismo and bravado of the era. It has none of the predatory overtones of the original. The Hoff’s version is a fitting ode to 21st century male narcissism. One doesn’t imagine The Hoff would seduce anyone he’d pick up in that car – rather he’d ask to borrow the woman’s tube of fake tan instead. This is the man who put the hair product back into the term “metrosexual”. The Storm cheerleaders add to the fakery, the ironic self-reflective laugh The Hoff has before you. But – hey – you are paying to see this show, so who has the last laugh? Business, after all, is never ironic.
There is a revealing moment about The Hoff’s use of positive visualization. He said that when he auditioned for the lead of the Knight Rider, he was so determined to get the part he imagined he already had it. He changed the message on his answering machine to that of the character’s persona. He told everyone he had got the part.
He rang up his father and said “Dad, I’ve been offered the most wonderful role. It’s in a show about – a talking car.” Bring it on! The Hoff lived as if he had the part. He was that character. He inhabited the role. And he got it. That’s the lesson from The Hoff – own who you are (then flog it – creatives need to pay the rent too).