For Caroline Hirsch, Running a Comedy Empire Requires a Lot of Coffee

Overnight, Carolines had national attention. Hirsch started booking more then-unknown talent, like Seinfeld, Sandra Bernhard, and Billy Crystal. She found other ways to bring people in, too, convincing editors at The Daily News and The New York Post to come write about this burgeoning comedy scene. Business was booming; within a few years, the club had outgrown its Chelsea space. They moved to a new venue in the South Street Seaport in 1987. But in 1992, after outgrowing even that space, Carolines moved into its current Times Square location.

Hirsch describes her role at the time as…”everything.”

“I’d be on the phone with the agencies, I’d be paying the bills, writing checks…I did everything,” she says. “It was the best way to learn. We didn’t even have Google then. [People say,] ‘Oh my God, how did you live without Google?’ You just had to figure it out.”

Hirsch with Jerry Seinfeld.Courtesy of Caroline Hirsch

When I ask Hirsch if there was anyone to guide her or offer advice, she gives an adamant no. “I had no mentor. I’ll tell you right now, there was never a mentor,” she says. “Never, OK? Never. No one helped. No one really helped. I had to figure it out on my own.”

She’s not so much resentful as proud. And forget not having a mentor to show her the ropes—Hirsch also was without female peers. She tells me she could count on one hand the women she worked with during that time, though she didn’t realize how unique she was in the moment. “We were just onto something so new,” she explains. “I never went through this industry thinking, ‘Oh, poor me—the woman.’ I just took it for granted that I could do whatever the guys did. And I’d do it better.”

Now, almost four decades later, Hirsch has tracked the ebbs and flows in the business, surviving each new trend and turn of tide. When Comedy Central launched in 1991, for example, it transformed the business. “[Channels like Comedy Central and Ha!] were just getting developed when they saw what was really happening at Carolines, because we had so many people come in,” Hirsch says. “They used to always be there looking at the talent.”

And in 2019, Carolines on Broadway continues to be an incubator for new talent, booking with a sixth sense for what will resonate outside the traditional stand-up act—YouTube stars, podcast hosts, influencers like Jonathan Van Ness and the like. Even in that diverse roster, Hirsch insists that the best talent has one thing in common.

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