Clever Jackie Hoffman turns being in the basement into the upside of her show business career. She is hilarious with an act that denigrates her to get laughs, and getting them she sure does in her uproariously funny gig at the attractive, upscale new club 54 Below, with remaining shows on July 22 and 29, 2012.

She jokes about her career having plunged to a basement, with nowhere for her to go but singing at gay nursing homes. She does a wildly funny routine spoofing her work in Broadway shows, breaking into a lyric here and there as her pianist, Will Van Dyke, plays. Between her limited song lines she vamps by pretending to make a phone call on her cell. Hoffman fits descriptions of her down experiences, such as failing auditions into a routine she calls "Burn That Bridge.”

Hoffman is extremely brash and her self-kidding is in the tradition of, say, Phyllis Diller and other women comics who lacerate themselves to get laughs, but come out on top as a result of the cleverness of their material and their command of audiences. She played at 54 Below first, but Patti Lupone’s performance was the official opening, and Hoffman milks humor out of that.

She smartly frames her comedy within a structure of songs for which she has written the lyrics. Her “Bottom,” with music by Van Dyke, is the framework for epitomizing her comical complaints about her career path. The song “Upper Westside” (music by Bobby Peaco), launches another routine. “Autism” (music by Van Dyke) and “On the Cover” (music by Van Dyke) frame more of her hilarious and sometimes outrageous observations.

She widens her target beyond her show business trajectory. “Did you see ‘Smash’?” she shrieks. And she does a routine shrieking about everything having turned to shit, a punctuation line she repeatedly calls upon. Hoffman does a lot of shrieking—it’s her style, And how she can raise the decibels while twisting her expressions to match is an art she could patent.

She works up gales of laughter describing having to listen to people who meander and meander. “Get to the point!” (music by her and Van Dyke) she cries out, and that too becomes a punctuation line as she builds her routine.

Hoffman has structured a busy career for herself. She honed expertise early as part of the renowned Second City troupe. Not only has she been in Broadway shows—“Hairspray,” “Xanadu, The Addams Family”—but she has worked up her one-woman show with successful appearances in venues such as Joe’s Pub. Her latest venture at the new high-profile 54 Below, which is building a reputation for it appealing décor, ambience and a heavy schedule of varied programs, is getting further attention. Hoffman’s show has been co-written and directed by Michael Schiralli .At 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street. Phone: 866-468-7619. Tickets at www.54Below.com. Reviewed July 15, 2012.

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