Caroline Hirsch Talks Carolines Closing and the New York Comedy Festival

Caroline Hirsch talks comedy with Carolines on Broadway being closed and the New York Comedy Festival only getting bigger.

Shane Gillis performs at the 2022 New York Comedy Festival. Mike Monti

It’s been just shy of a year since the iconic New York City comedy venue Carolines on Broadway closed its doors, bidding adieu to 40 years of stand-up history, but that’s not to say that the city’s comedy scene is dead or dying. Really, it’s just the opposite, according to Carolines owner and New York Comedy Festival founder Caroline Hirsch. The comedy magnate recently spoke with Observer, covering everything from the current state of Carolines to the biggest and brightest stars taking the stage for the 19th New York Comedy Festival, and she made it clear that the fest is sure to be a great time.

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Caroline Hirsch at her flagship venue, Carolines. Photo Credit Marion Curtis

First and foremost, Hirsch wanted to emphasize that Carolines still exists: “We haven’t stopped. Just because the four walls aren’t there, it hasn’t kept us from expanding.” In fact, the loss of the brick-and-mortar comedy venue has provided some degree of relief. “That kind of pressure [of running a venue] is off,” she said, adding that it’s good to not be “worrying about the climate that was happening in Times Square at that time [and] COVID.” She continued, “You know, we did not sell the Carolines brand, and the Carolines brand lives on in the New York Comedy Festival.” Evidently, less pressure means more shows, too, with the festival expanding from seven to ten days and including over 200 comedians across more than 100 shows.

The festival (and comedy as an industry) has come a long way. Hirsch reflected on opening Carolines in its first iteration back in 1982, when “there were a handful of comedians”—she counted 26 in total, with only four or five female comedians. There’s been plenty of change in the comedy world, with the internet democratizing the process of being discovered. “It used to be that you needed to have this spot on The Tonight Show or Late Night with David Letterman… to really get your six minutes across,” she said. “Well all that’s changed. Now it’s online presence that makes it.” She specified the rise in comedy podcasts, with the Giggly Squad serving as one of the headliners at this year’s festival. About this new direction, she said, “It’s great, it’s another form of presenting standup and performing.”

Headliners at this year’s New York Comedy Festival (clockwise trom top left): Margaret Cho, Bill Burr, Giggly Squad, Ilana Glazer, Brett Goldstein, and Conan O’Brien. Courtesy of New York Comedy Festival

With that said, there’s something for everyone at the festival this year. Margaret Cho, Ilana Glazer, and Conan O’Brien are some of the biggest names set to grace the festival’s myriad stages (everywhere from the Apollo to Carnegie Hall to the Hard Rock Hotel). But who does Hirsch think comedy fans should most look forward to? Though she went back and forth between various headliners and Carolines alumni, she decided on three: “Bill Burr at Madison Square Garden, Brett Goldstein at the Beacon Theatre, and then . . . Michelle Wolf at Town Hall [since she] hasn’t been around in New York for quite a while.”

2022’s Stand Up For Heroes event at New York Comedy Festival. The charity event takes place in David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center. Photograph by Robin Takami - robintakami.com

Hirsch and the New York Comedy Festival are also expanding their charitable enterprises this year. The fest will host the 17th Stand Up for Heroes event, which is set to feature a bevy of performers that will honor and raise funds for American veterans and their families. Among the notable comedians and musicians are Jon Stewart, Josh Groban and Tracy Morgan. The New York Comedy Festival is also putting on the Scleroderma Research Foundation’s Cool Comedy ● Hot Cuisine, a tribute to late SRF board member Bob Saget. The event will raise funds and awareness, and its line-up includes Jeff Ross, Michael Che and Nikki Glaser. For her work with the foundation, Hirsch will also be receiving the inaugural Bob Saget Legacy Award. The festival has found plenty of ways to mix comedy with good causes, with tickets still available for both events.

The New York Comedy Festival runs November 3-12. View the full line-up and purchase tickets here.

Caroline Hirsch Talks Carolines Closing and the New York Comedy Festival