Caroline Hirsch, the owner of the storied and famous comedy club Carolines, can’t believe how far she has come. As a producer of the NY Comedy Festival, she has spent the past 16 years making this week-long event grow into one of the best showcases of stand-up in the country and a place where many of the biggest names in comedy first came into their own.
The festival, running from Nov. 4 through Nov. 10, has really come a long way from its humble beginnings, as Hirsch and the rest of the festival’s organizers are now producing shows in places generally reserved for basketball games instead of punchlines.
“When we started with Trevor Noah it was with a small venue years ago, and now we’re producing Trevor Noah at Madison Square Garden, which is like 15,000 seats,” remembers Hirsch. “We have over 150 shows with probably 300 comedians participating. When you go back to the beginning of it, it was maybe seven shows. Now we have all of these festival shows that we’re really proud of. You get to develop and see a lot of talent coming through before they really explode.”
This year’s festival boasts an amazing lineup of comedians, podcast tapings, discussions and other hilarious events. This year’s lineup includes: “Comedy Bang! Bang!,” Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Tom Segura, Nicole Byer, Vir Das, Nick Kroll, Norm MacDonald, Nate Bargatze, Jenny Slate, Jena Friedman, panels for both the writers of “SNL” and the “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” and the annual Stand Up for Heroes event.
While there are many other smaller shows that will host comedians that are surely primed to break through in the future, Hirsch first came up with the idea for this festival as a way to work with comedians who first got their start at Carolines, but could not necessarily come back after their rise to success.
“A lot of the people I work with at larger venues passed through Carolines years ago. So this gives me the opportunity to work with them again at a larger venue. That was kind of the inspiration to create the festival to begin with. We started with the idea at the festival at the 20th anniversary that we had for Carolines at Carnegie Hall. We got to work with everyone that we used to work with at the club like Jon Stewart, Lewis Black and Dennis Leary. We worked with them there and said, ‘Why don’t we do more of this?’” explains Hirsch.
This year’s festival will host a few new events, including “Hungry For Laughs,” which will pair some of the finest chefs in the city with sets from stand-up comedians, including host Randy Rainbow, with all proceeds from this event going towards the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Another new event is the Female Quotient Lounge at Bloomingdale’s. This two-day event will bring comedians and big names in the industry to discuss the issues of female representation and proper compensation into comedy.
The festival is even making its way into Brooklyn for shows at clubs like The Bell House and Union Hall, as well as a big show at the Murmrr Theater with Pete Holmes.
“We’re giving economic development to the city. That’s what we do,” jokes Hirsch. “We give economic development to people that compete with me. That’s okay, though. It’s all in the festival fun.”
For more information on the NY Comedy Festival, head over to nycomedyfestival.com.