This summer, comedian Drew Hastings, with an impossible-to-take-too-seriously hairstyle and notably urban inspired attire, performed on a rickety homemade stage in an Ohio barn with four bare light bulbs overhead. The crowd guffawed at a funny bloated cow story Hastings shared as a couple of bats fluttered around the rafters overhead and the June sun dipped below the corn field horizon outside. The small barn stage swayed a little and groaned underneath his lanky six-foot six-inch frame.
The notably rustic setting was far cry from the seat beside Jay Leno on the “Tonight Show” or the nightclub stages where he has headlined around the country. Hastings is a funny guy who is funny enough that he does not have to perform in a barn for a 4-H fundraiser.
He was born in Casablanca, Morocco and raised in Ohio by a British mother. Before becoming a professional comedian at age 31, he worked in a trucking business, document shredding startup and others endeavors. He was also a polo player in both Washington D.C. and Cincinnati. Hastings later moved from Ohio to Los Angeles in the mid-90s where his comedy and acting career really took off on a national level, but he never felt quite at home.
“I was out in L.A. for 13 years and never cared for it much. When I moved back to Ohio, people would ask me if I experienced culture shock. People were assuming that there is culture in LA. Which, there really isn’t,” he said. “I tend to be a very Midwest guy and L.A. has a distinct bias to the Midwest and that never sat well with me. I like the Midwest climate and season change and they don’t have that out there.”
So, Hastings did what any other semi-neurotic former Ohio comedian who lived in cities all of his life would do — he bought a farm outside of Hillsboro and ran for mayor. Since then, Hastings has been able to add “mayor” and “cattleman” to his already lengthy (if not somewhat baffling) resume. The resulting life adventure has given him ample comedic fodder for his traditional nightclub fans and an entirely new and unexpected demographic of fans.
“This has taken my career in a new direction which has been fun. Now I do everything from corporate shows for Monsanto, farm equipment dealers, FFA groups, Cattlemen’s Associations and others and I still tour and perform in nightclubs,” he said. “When I started a cattle farm I never dreamed that I was going to have comedy material from it. That was the last thing on my mind. I just thought it would be fun and interesting because I am a curious guy. It just became funny. People would ask me what made me want to start farming at age 50. I told them that I was good with Chia Pets and technically those are both livestock and agriculture. Some of the funny material I would write would just come out of me naturally being out here. At first I remember being scared out of my wits. It was pitch black out there. The sound of a possum walking through a corn field at night sounds like three men with an ax. These things turn into something funny and then I just build upon it.”
In the process of trading the big city and Thai food for small town and corn mush, Hastings has inadvertently become a voice for agriculture.
“I would see people sitting cross-legged on the floor in a yoga studio in Los Angeles trying to tell you what you are doing with your treatment of animals is wrong and how you should do it differently. That is laughable when you really look at it. I lived out there with that demographic. I was surrounded by people who were out of touch with mainstream America in a whole lot of ways. I have lived on both sides of the food issue, if you will. I was somewhat disconnected too,” he said. “When I am doing shows in the city, I don’t really talk seriously about food issues, but I let my humor speak for itself. I might tell a funny bit about the misguided animal activists that you see but I don’t hammer them over the head. If you happen to get some insight from it, even better, but I focus on being entertaining.”
As he entertains audiences around the country, it can be a challenge to maintain the farm, but Hastings has a system down.
“I am only usually only gone a couple of days. I have automatic waterers, good fencing and I do some rotational grazing, so my cattle are usually fine. I have somebody that comes by to keep an eye on them. During calving I stick around closer to home,” he said. “When I knew I was going to be really busy I sold my herd and then bought a new herd. There are times where I will go six months without cattle and then get back in it. I usually buy bred cows. I don’t like heifers because I don’t like problems. I like them to pop out a calf and keep walking. I’ll sell the calves for freezer beef or take them up to the stock yards.”
And when he is not working on the farm, or making people laugh, Hastings spends time trying to make a difference in rural and small town Ohio. Whether he is working on preserving a historic building, balancing the books in town, or performing for a small group on a rickety stage in a bat-filled barn, it seems clear that Hastings appreciates what Ohio and rural America have done for him and seeks to return the favor.
“My quality of life is better. I have a better life now. I really love my farm and the people that I meet. It has been good,” he said. “When I lived in L.A., I went to a therapist weekly for seven years. When I quit over-thinking my problems and just got out and started working on the farm, all my problems went away. As it turned out, all I needed to do were chores.”