Caroline’s Comedy Cure

Monday, October 15, 2018

The late Robin Williams once said, “Comedy is acting out optimism.” In a time where many are struggling to be optimistic, Caroline Hirsch (who worked with Williams early on) continues to embody the quote, just as she has for 35 years at Carolines on Broadway.

Caroline is a serene, smolderingly beautiful woman, not inclined toward guffaws or even that dreaded acronym LOL, but she has an eye and ear for comedy that is unsurpassed. We imbibed a bit at the bar at Majorelle and talked about her creations—Carolines on Broadway, America’s premier comedy club; the New York Comedy Festival; Stand Up for Heroes—and how and why we should still laugh.

How did this quiet but fiery gal come to dominate comedy in a largely male industry?

Women don’t overmanage. They are more attentive to details and feelings. I try to get the zeitgeist of popular culture, and to stay responsive, have fun and do only what I want to do. I know how to stir the pot, and I have a lot of experience on what sells!

Why is comedy more relevant than ever?

There is someone or something every day now to make fun of. Delivery is also so much easier with live streaming, cable, TV… We’ve come a long way from [listening to] the original [comedienne] Gracie Allen on radio. And late-night comedians create the dialogue. Like Trump’s tweets—they can’t help it. The Daily Show, which was created by two women, was the first political late-night show. Jon Stewart made it even more political.

Tell me about the New York Comedy Festival.

Louis Faranda, Andrew Fox and I started it 15 years ago. We were at the 20th anniversary of Carolines on Broadway when we realized we wanted to expand our live performance business. The first year of the festival, we started small, with just a handful of shows, and now we have expanded to a full week, 100-plus shows and 200-plus comedians; have partnered with TBS; and have included podcasts, panels, screenings, even art installations. And, of course, standup comedy.

How did the Stand Up for Heroes event begin?

I was watching a documentary about Bob Woodruff, who had been severely injured covering the Iraq War, and his foundation, which helps wounded service members and their families, and decided I wanted to help. I called his wife, Lee, that May, and in November 2006 we held the first event and raised $2 million.

What are some highlights from the event?

One year, President Clinton came and said it was the first time he ever opened a comedy festival and proceeded to tell a couple of jokes. Watching Robin Williams interact with a wounded veteran was just priceless. Bruce Springsteen is always a huge hit. He auctions off a guitar, often twice, complete with guitar lessons and homemade lasagna. We’ve also had John Oliver, Jerry Seinfeld, Ricky Gervais, Jon Stewart and lots more.

And in all of your downtime, you make films?

Cait Johnston came to me about a film she was working on about the true story about an underground abortion network created in Chicago between 1968 and 1973, titled Ask for Jane. I produced it and was honored by NARAL for it.

More reasons for comedy…and paying attention.

The New York Comedy Festival runs from November 5–11, and Stand Up for Heroes is on November 5. They both sell out early! 


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