Laughter will turn to tears on Jan. 1 at Caroline’s on Broadway, when the city’s premier comedy venue for four decades closes its doors for good.
Owner Caroline Hirsch told The Post, “I did not renew my lease. New Year’s Eve will be our last night.”
She said that although business has rebounded strongly since the pandemic, the venue’s 10-year lease at 750 Seventh Avenue was due for a rent “reset” at the end of the year and “My landlord felt they can get a lot more for the space.”
The tower, between West 49th and 50th streets, is owned by a Kuwaiti wealth fund doing business as FosterLane Management.
“New Year’s Eve will be our last night,” she said.
Hirsch broke the closing news to stunned staff Tuesday afternoon.
“This is heart-stabbing for me,” she told The Post. “I love my staff. I love my comedians. I’m on to something new” — likely an expansion of the Caroline’s brand, which includes the New York Comedy Festival she produces at many venues around town. “I see this as not the end of Caroline’s, but a new chapter continuing to produce world-class comedy,” Hirsch said.
Hirsch launched the original Caroline’s as a cabaret in Soho in 1981.
Jay Leno, an occasional guest performer, first put it on the national radar when he talked about it on David Letterman’s show.
She moved the club to the struggling South Street Seaport in 1987, where many expected it to flop. But it quickly caught on with locals as well as tourists. The location was home to A&E Network’s six-season hit show “Caroline’s Comedy Hour.” The current venue has been featured in many televised specials on other networks.
Hirsch relocated to Times Square in 1992, a pioneering move when the area was still dangerous and “the sleaziest place in the world,” she recalled. Its ever-changing talent roster included Richard Belzer, Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Crystal, Jon Stewart, Joy Behar, Jimmy Fallon, Michael Che, Robin Williams, Conan O’Brien. Larry David performed “Saturday Night Live” sketches that never made the air.
The place had an “anything-can-happen” atmosphere that was part of its charm. “It’s the hardest place to do comedy,” Hirsch recently told Variety. “You never know who is sitting in the audience; you have to bring your A-game.”
Finding a new tenant for the mostly underground, 300-seat space might not be easy. Zoning rules require 750 Seventh Ave., like several other towers in the area, to devote 5% of its floor space to entertainment uses — a rule enacted in the 1980s when the city was struggling to protect Times Square’s show-business character.
A new tenant would also have to cope with a menacing sidewalk and pedestrian-plaza scene on the east side of the avenue, where junk merchants abound and hustlers aggressively hawk old CD’s to tourists.
Representatives for FosterLane could not be reached.
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.