New York Comedy Festival

How one woman changed New York comedy

October 2, 2012: 10:22 AM ET

Caroline's founder Caroline Hirsch discusses how she built a classy joint in the gritty underbelly of the '80s New York comedy scene.

FORTUNE -- Caroline Hirsch says she reads the credits for lots of films and TV comedies. Usually, she sees the names of people who crossed paths with her at her club.

Hirsch owns a New York stand-up comedy club called Caroline's, which she co-founded back in in 1982. It started as a small outfit, featuring acts like Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld when they were first starting out. In the 30 years since the club launched, Caroline's has moved locations but has kept its status as a talent magnet. These days, Hirsch is making good use of her many connections to put on the New York Comedy Festival -- a project she started in 2004. This year it'll run from November 7-11 and pull over 200 comedians.

Hirsch spoke with Fortune about how she built a classy joint in the gritty underbelly of the '80s New York comedy scene, and the feeling she gets when she knows someone's act is about to pop.

An edited transcript is below.

Fortune: Was it difficult to crack into the old boy's club of comedy when you started Caroline's all those years ago?

Caroline Hirsch: I might have been very naive about it, but I knew what I wanted to do. I was taking someone like Jay Leno and presenting him for a good hour of his act. That was a new format that we created -- it was much longer. Jay had been around as a sort of opening act and so had Jerry Seinfeld, but there wasn't a place in New York for them to represent themselves like that. And that was the origins of Caroline's.

MORE: How Blue Man Group learned to see green

How did you know it was going to work?

Just had a gut feeling. There was no place to see the new performers, and people wanted that. So I tried to build a better mousetrap. More

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