The Borscht Belt Rises Again: The Colony Among Catskills Venues Getting Back into the Funny Business


Stand-up comedy isn’t just for stand-up comedy clubs anymore. Known primarily as a music venue—largely because it’s played host to some of the biggest names in the Catskills region and worldwide since it opened its doors 90 years ago this year—The Colony is showcasing its versatility and dedication to comedy with a line-up chock full of side-splitting comedians under the Stand-Up Colony (get it?) heading. Recent Colony stand-up performances have included Gilbert Gottfried, Eddie Pepitone, Daily Show writers, and actor/comedian Chris Gethard, star of truTV’s The Chris Gethard Show and, more recently, MNN’s Chris Gethard Presents

For many, stand-up comedy and the Catskills are as synonymous as PB&J, hide and seek and, well, Abbott & Costello, the legendary comedy duo that worked the Borscht Belt in the 1930s prior to becoming household names years later. Over the years, resorts and comedy clubs scattered throughout the Catskill Mountains (aka the Jewish Alps, the Sour Cream Sierras) have played host to some of the biggest comedy acts of all time, the list of which contains everyone from Mel Brooks and Jerry Lewis to Sid Caesar and Jerry Seinfeld. 

Young Baby Boomers from throughout the New York tri-state area all summered in any of the more than 900 hotels, many just to see the cream-of-the-comedy crop perfoπrm stand-up, a post-vaudeville routine that hadn’t yet reached worldwide acclaim while it exploded in its mecca throughout its four-decade heyday that began around the time Abbott & Costello had moved on to the big screen. 

Now, decades after that epochal moment in comedy history, and just six years after the documentary When Comedy Went to School celebrating it was released, there’s a slow, but palpable movement to recreate it, this time in the historic venues that populate the region. Iconic are clubs like Helsinki Hudson, Poughkeepsie’s Laugh It Up! Comedy Club, Schenectady’s The Mopco Improv Theatre, Albany’s The Upper Room Funny Bone Comedy Club & Restaurant and, located in the heart of Woodstock, The Colony. 

For Colony co-owner Neil Howard, comedy has been in his blood since he was a child in California scouring garage sales and record bins for comedy albums from the likes of George Carlin and Steve Martin to his pre-Woodstock years in Manhattan when he and his wife/Colony co-owner Lexi used to frequent Caroline’s in midtown and the Comedy Cellar in the Village several nights a week. 

“I love the history of comedy, the tradition of it in the Catskills, and I’m not sure how it faded away,” Howard says. “But I do love the idea that we can be part of the resurgence.” 

“But,” he says with a smile, “if I was opening a place in Arizona, I’d most likely be booking comedy there as well. I just think it’s such a fun way to spend an evening and laughing is so good for you.” 

Expect plenty of comedy acts to grace Colony’s stage in the coming months, as well as a comedy festival tentatively set for Spring 2020. 

Located in Woodstock, NY, the Colony is a historic live-music venue that first opened its doors in 1929. It plays host to a vast array of artists, inclusive of artists, musicians and comedians, who have lived, performed and created in this hamlet for decades. Open Thursday through Monday, the Colony has a full-kitchen and serves up a unique menu of bar-food delicacies, making it a great night out for adults seeking entertainment and sustenance.

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