No Laughing Matter: Caroline’s on Broadway Struggles Despite Theatres Reopening
By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Broadway’s return is not providing the comedic relief clubs in the theatre district had been hoping.
Caroline Hirsch, founder and owner of Caroline’s on Broadway, told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso she has never experienced a challenge like the COVID-19 pandemic in her four decades in business.
“Business was going very well until Delta hit again and people were alarmed about going out and being in crowds,” she said of the dominant strain of the virus on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.
The iconic comedy club reopened Memorial Day Weekend with a ton of pent-up demand for laughs. It took a turn late summer.
“When the vaccine mandate came out, it really curtailed business,” said Hirsch, explaining, “We have people who are canceling because somebody in their group is not vaccinated so they won’t come.”
She told WCBS 880 that she believes vaccine mandates are hurting New York’s live entertainment industry, but elevated COVID-19 infections are driving hesitancy as well.
“Some comedians don’t want to go on tour; they want to wait until 2022. So, therefore, we have a bit of a talent shortage,” Hirsch said. “First, we had a labor shortage. We couldn’t hire enough waiters and waitresses. We couldn’t hire enough staff people in the kitchen.”
Caroline’s on Broadway had also been relying on private parties this fall to recover some losses, but some events have been postponed to next year. As a result, she predicts businesses in the Theatre District will experience a slow recovery.
A handful of Broadway shows returned last month at full capacity for fully vaccinated and masked audience members, cast and crew. But, on opening night, Hirsch asked workers in a garage how many cars arrived and found out only two people drove in to see a show.
“I think we need to be realistic about this and not just say, ‘Oh, Broadway’s reopening,’ but Broadway’s going to have a really tough time reopening. And, I think that we all need to help them out. I think people have to make a concerted effort to go out and buy a ticket to Broadway,” she said.
Caroline’s organizes the annual New York Comedy Festival, which makes its return to the stage November 8-14 with pop-up shows throughout the five boroughs.
“We’re going to do close to 150 shows around the city,” Hirsch told Connolly and Carousso.
Bill Maher, Marc Maron and Michelle Wolf are among the comics taking the microphone.
“You’ll have a great laugh,” said Hirsch who admits despite all the pandemic challenges and stress, she is still laughing, herself.
Caroline’s on Broadway first opened as a small cabaret in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood in 1981 before moving to the South Street Seaport six years later. It eventually made its home on Broadway in 1992. Hirsch is known for giving Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and countless other comedians their start.
Watch the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above for ideas on getting Broadway back on its feet.