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THEATER DISTRICT — The 16th annual New York Comedy Festival kicked off Monday!

The week-long event featuring over 200 top comedians is being hosted at dozens of venues throughout the five boroughs.

The woman behind it? Caroline Hirsch, the owner of Carolines on Broadway.

Her iconic comedy club sits in the heart of Times Square.  Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Leslie Jones, Judd Apatow and Tina Fey are just a few names that have worked the stage there. Even a teenage Kevin Hart got his start here.

After running two smaller venues, Caroline’s as we know it made its home on Broadway in 1992. So, what does Hirsch think when she walks in these doors?

“I’m proud of what we accomplished and proud of where we stand in the comedy business and proud of how we elevate the art of comedy,” she said.

And elevate is something she has done to many careers. She says she can watch a comedian just one or two times and tell if they “have it” or not. Over the years, she has seen an influx of women. There’s a surge toward clean comedy.

“People have gotten more respectful and I’m glad it took away the prejudice and mean-spirited things that happen on stage,” she said.

One thing that is not changing in this club is the decor. The walls are designed to look like an Italian court jester, a subtle hint at comedy.

So who’s the person who consistently makes Hirsch laugh?

“Every time I turn on Bill Maher, I get a real chuckle,” she said. “Even if he’s offensive, he talks that risk.”

Hirsch has taken some risks herself, which seem to have paid off. She produced a movie that was released last month called “Ask for Jane.”

“It’s about a group of women at the University of Chicago in the late 60’s who helped their classmates get safe abortions. This is an important movie that all young women should see,” Hirsch said.

“The New York Comedy Festival” is now in its 16th year, with the featured “Stand Up for Heroes” night which has raised over $50 million for the Bob Woodruff Foundation. The festival features over 200 comedians over the next six days.

To see who’s performing and where you can see the shows, click here.