Caroline Hirsch, owner of Caroline’s comedy club in New York City, is a fair-minded person. She’s learned over the years how to deal with all types of comedians and has an understanding of how their minds work. In a time when offensive tweets, punchlines that go too far, or allegations misconduct off-stage have impacted the careers of several high-profile comedic talents, Hirsch thinks people should take a minute before calling for performers to be “canceled.”
“Is comedy more politically correct? Yes,” Hirsch said in a recent interview with CNN. “When is the right time after somebody apologizes, what is the right time that you can say, ‘Okay, we accept your apology. You’ve taken your abuse, and now you can come back to the fold.’ What is the right time for that? Is it never?”
Ultimately, she said, we need to be more forgiving. She was among those who invited Louis C.K. back to perform last spring after he apologized for misconduct in 2017. It was a controversial move for her popular club.
Hirsch originally opened Caroline’s, one of New York’s top comedy venues, as a cabaret in 1982. She’s credited with showcasing Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno when they were starting out.
“I saw something happening years ago. I saw David Letterman going on late at night and kind of said, ‘Hey, there’s a whole movement going on here,’” Hirsch recalled. “We did cabaret for about a year and I said, you know, let’s go with Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld. We see them on TV, we all love them. We all talk about them. Let’s hire them to come into the club. And that’s how it started.”
Since opening Caroline’s, Hirsch has created a production company, Caroline’s Entertainment, and in 2004 created the New York Comedy Festival, which features over 150 different shows and events across the city.
She’s long been considered a major player in the New York comedy scene, but she likes to use her influence for good. Hirsch said she enjoys mentoring and encouraging up-and-coming talent.
“I’m very good about anybody that reaches out to me, I get back to them and I’m respectful of what they’re doing,” she said. “I don’t think I’m too important that I can’t answer an email. That’s just my motto in life. That’s how I deal with everything, because I’ve been everywhere in my life, and I’ve done everything I wanted to do and I have achieved what I wanted to do. I know what’s important in this world is just to be gracious to people around you – and especially people that are wanting to get into this business. They’re so hungry for it. You just want to be nice to people.”
Comedy is evolving, Hirsch added. When she first started in the business, Hirsch said, it was mostly men holding the microphone.
“So many more women are involved right now, maybe women are thirty percent of who’s doing standup right now,” she said. “But their voices are much louder than ever before. And that’s a good thing. And I think that many more young women are graduating, getting out of college or whatever their professional school is and want to go into this business. Not only as a standup [comedian], but as producers and directors and writers.”
The comedy scene has changed in other ways too. In the past, Hirsch said, clubs would see people stay until daylight. Now people want to get home earlier.
“When I had opened the club, people stayed out until three in the morning and there was craziness that went on. But I think things have changed. People look at their lives, they are healthier, they want to get up in the morning and exercise. They don’t stay out late at night, they don’t drink, so I’ve evolved the business with that,” she said.
Like the addition of her annual New York Comedy Festival, which kicks off Nov. 4. She continues to oversee it with the help of a small staff.
Busy? Yes. But she loves it. And has no plans to retire anytime soon.
“Entertainment, it’s not the easiest business to be in. And it’s not the easiest business to be in in New York City,” Hirsch said. “Every day is a challenge. But what I like is that I come to work and I laugh and I get to work with great people.”