Caroline Hirsch, who helped make Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Tina Fey


It was the early-80s when Hirsch made her comedy debut.

She was nearing 30 and had just been made redundant from her buying role at department store Gimbels. When she was approached by some friends to open a cabaret club, she agreed, but quickly decided they should shift the focus: Hirsch had spotted a growing trend toward observational comedy and felt she could offer the platform for emerging talent.

“I thought ‘there’s something going on here.’ It was kind of rock and roll-y,” Hirsch told CNBC Make It.

Though Hirsch had no experience in the industry, she was passionate and “learned by the seat of her pants,” calling agents and pounding the pavement to sign up stand-ups and fill the then-120 seat live comedy club. Soon, Carolines was showcasing then-little-known stars such as Robin Williams, Chris Rock and Billy Crystal.

“A lot of people in the TV and music business were coming in, so I knew we were onto something. No one was really doing it at the time and paying comedians a proper salary,” explained Hirsch.

In the 35 years since, Carolines, which is now located in the center of Times Square, has become a go-to venue for U.S. comics, spawning a new wave of copycat live comedy clubs. Meanwhile, Hirsch herself has become something of a comedy oracle, known for her ability to spot and mentor up-and-coming talents like Dave Chappelle, Sarah Silverman and Kevin Hart.

To her, it’s proof that you needn’t always take the obvious route to build a career in your dream industry.

“You can have a passion for it and you may not be a great stand-up,” Hirsch noted. “Not everyone has to be stood up on stage to be in the comedy industry. They can be writers and behind the scenes.”

“If you have an idea, stay with it, stay tuned, stick your course,” she added.

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