June 30, 2012
Air conditioning killed the Catskills — but still provides dose of humor
As I said in the comments:
Pre-air conditioning, NYC Ashkenazi Jews who could afford the trip traveled to the Catskills resorts to cool down. (See Dirty Dancing.)
They were “entertained” by budding and veteran stand up comics, best represented by sole Borscht Belt survivor Jackie Mason.
As affordable home air conditioning became ubiquitous, these trips became less necessary until the Catskills was reduced to a shadow of its former self. It’s over 300 venues for comedy died off.
Ironically, TV was also getting more popular, and required an endless supply of “stuff” to air. Comedians who could manage it got into TV.
Eventually, the lucky (Milton Berle) or talented (everybody else) ones who made it in TV (on and off camera) made more money, had more comfortable lives and were seen by millions more people than they would have been in the Catskills.
But what if, before those great things had come to pass, the Catskills comics had tried to ban air conditioning in NYC because it threatened their “way of life”?
“First vaudeville, now this!! We demand the government DO something!!”
Thank God most of them were too drunk or distrustful of each other to get any such campaign going.
Plus this was the fifties, so people were less likely to think that way.
PS: The seventies were another matter — if you’ve never heard of the great Comedy Store Strike, click here.
PPS: The Catskills are probably the reason Woodstock happened in Woodstock; it was an area those “young men with unlimited capital” were pretty familiar with.