Serving guffaws, with 'Laugh In' on the side, at Comedy Nation


NEW YORK -- Forget the Hard Rock Cafe musical memorabilia and the Planet Hollywood movie mementos. Starting today,a new theme restaurant gives television its due, as part of a visually dazzling, physically dwarfing Times Square spread called Comedy Nation.

The block-long blockbuster is the brainchild of Caroline Hirsch, whose Caroline's Comedy Club still occupies the basement space at Broadway and 49th. Comedy Nation is sort of an upstairs expansion, but in a giddy, larger-than-life way that makes it a tantalizing fantasy world -- part Alice's Wonderland, part "Pee-wee's Playhouse."

Comedy nation is full of enticing TV connections. Chief among them: a "Laugh-In"-style joke wall next to some diners' booths; an oversized "Roseanne"-style plush couch, living area and kitchen; and a giant bar that's shaped to look like the desk of a talk-show host.

"It's a mahogany desk, like Letterman's or Conan's," Hirsch explained during a preview tour.

She also said the furniture designs weren't the only inspirations borrowed from "Late Show with David Letterman" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" -- both of which, coincidentally, tape their shows a few blocks away.

"The bartenders are going to have buttons that they can press, that make the sounds of late-night humor, like the crashing glass (from "Late Show") and everything like that.

"And that TV set over there," she said, pointing to a giant screen and then to some similarly giant, Golden Age-style TV cameras. "TV cameras will take pictures of people who are sitting at the bar, then morph them together like Conan does in his 'What if they mated?' bits."

The legacy of television is all over the place in Comedy Nation, though reflected through a kind of fun-house mirror (there's one of those, too, by the way, right next to the coat room).

The "Laugh-In" joke wall, for example, has the same little windows that open up -- but instead of comics popping their heads out and telling jokes, these windows will be operated by the serving staff.

"It's been fun to go back and pick out the little things from TV," Hirsch offered, "that kind of make you go, 'Oh, yeah, remember when you saw that?' Like the 'Laugh-In' wall -- people really love the graphics on that. We had some comedians in here the other night who were really goofing around with it, having a great time."

Part of the graphics on this new "Laugh-In" wall are pictures of comic characters who, in Hirsch's estimation, "you might see on 'Laugh-In' today." Among her impressively eclectic selections: "Howard Stern, Kathy Kinney (from "The Drew Carey Show") and Beavis and Butt-head.

Asked what part of TV history she knew she had to include in Comedy Nation, Hirsch replied without hesitation, " 'Laugh-In.' It really turned everything around in this country," she noted. "It was the big turning point, politically, of how comedy developed and how people looked at it ...

"There was this great backbone of writers that were involved with that show, and that really changed comedy."

Comedy Nation, in turn, may really change restaurants.

Pub Date: 4/01/97

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