Last Laughs: Bill McCuddy’s Final Set at Carolines on Broadway

Bill McCuddy outside Carolines on Broadway
Bill McCuddy outside Carolines on Broadway

The place was packed. Word had gotten out and every comic who’d ever worked at Carolines on Broadway wanted one last stand. I was no exception.

“I figured out I’ve been coming here through five Presidents,” I told the room. “Some funnier than others.” Caroline Hirsch (Dan’s would probably like me to mention she has a place in Water Mill) is standing just off-stage. She put me on the list. But I didn’t expect her to be here on the last Tuesday before the club shuttered its doors.

I knew she would be at the final show — a New Year’s Eve send-off — but it turned out she was coming most nights since the decision to close several weeks earlier. After 30 years at Broadway and 51st, Caroline was off to other projects. The rent went up. The neighborhood went down. It was time.

McCuddy drinks in the moment backstage at Carolines — he always seems to be drinking in the moment...
McCuddy drinks in the moment backstage at Carolines — he always seems to be drinking in the moment…Courtesy Bill McCuddy

“The initial shock of the announcement is over. What I felt bad about was my staff. Some people have worked here for over 20 years,” Hirsch told me. “We’ll all carry on. I’m on to bigger and better things.”

She’s not joking. Hirsch is producing documentaries and will continue to put on the New York Comedy Festival. Carolines is that trendy thing now called a “brand.” Caroline Hirsch is not going away. I still need to be very nice to her.

But for the moment she has no advice for me as I head to the stage one last time. “Just go!” she barks. The emcee says I’m a favorite. That’s nice.

Bill McCuddy performs one last time at Carolines on Broadway
Bill McCuddy performs one last time at Carolines on BroadwayRy Dempsey

Onstage at Carolines on Broadway

I’m the third act on the stage and the crowd is already giddy. They seem to understand it’s the end of an era. So when my first words are “Let’s trash this place!” it gets a big laugh. “I’ll turn this into a Trump rally,” is the tag. Now we are having fun.

“I figured out I’ve been on this stage over 100 times.” That gets a nice round of applause before I add, “until security hauls me off saying ‘Sir, it’s just for the comedians.‘”

Bill McCuddy performs one last time at Carolines on Broadway
Bill McCuddy performs one last time at Carolines on BroadwayRy Dempsey

Then I do a few of the bits I’ve honed there over the years. Stopping a few times during my 10 minutes to tell the audience how much I’m going to miss the place.

It’s supposed to be a comedy routine, not a eulogy, so I don’t get too maudlin. I mention some of the big names that got their starts or big boosts here. Dave Chappelle, Jerry Seinfeld and some real “comedian’s comedians” like Mort Sahl, Dick Gregory and Paul Mooney.

I end the set with my cellphone shooting a video of the crowd. “Caroline, all this applause is for you,” and I move the camera across the crowd, their cheers and applause giving me a nice finish. Then I look in the lens.

Bill McCuddy shooting the crowd at Carolines on Broadway
McCuddy shooting the crowd at Carolines on BroadwayRy Dempsey

“When I post this I will say all of this was for me.” Hell, I could have said or done just about anything. What’s she gonna do? Ban me for life? That would be three more days. But I wanted her to understand how much the place meant to all of us.

On New Year’s Eve, I’m not there, but a friend who was told me at the end Ms. Hirsch was smiling. Cracking wise with the headliner. And as she stood up one last time (from a very good table) Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” came blasting out of the sound system.

And that was it. The place I walked to almost every Monday night for so many years was no more. I guess I’ll have to watch football.

As for the room itself, “This needs to be an entertainment space because of the contract the architects made with the city and the planning commission,” Hirsch tells me. “They knocked a theater down when they built this so 5% of its use has to be for entertainment.”

Yeah, well, good luck with that. This is going to be a tough act to follow. Whatever the space becomes, one thing is certain: It will never have the impact and importance of what came before it.

Carolines is no longer on Broadway. And there’s nothing funny about that.

Our favorite man about the Hamptons (and sometimes NYC), Bill McCuddy will go just about anywhere we send him. He is an entertainment reporter and movie critic for PBS. He also co-hosts a WLIW and LTV show “AirHamptons with Bridget and Bill.”

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