Mouth That Roars

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself of National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the "MOUTH THAT ROARS" Column in the Sullivan County Post.

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July 27th, 2012

Comedy Hall of Fame a Brilliant Idea

Developer Robert Berman will not give up with his vision to place the Catskill Mountains on the map again as a major tourist destination.

As the former CEO of Empire Resorts, it was Berman who originally sought to bring Indian casino gaming to Sullivan County. If it were up to him, a Mohawk casino would operational and potentially raking in millions of dollars for us. But, we all know that did not happen.

Berman’s latest idea to revitalize our economy is nothing short of brilliance. He wants to open a Comedy Hall of Fame as part of his new venture in Rock Hill. What better place to celebrate all of our comedy legends? After all, the “Borsch Belt” is where it all began.

Back in 2006, I remember writing about Sullivan County’s nostalgia and how a museum celebrating our resort history was needed.
We were branded the “Borscht Belt,” not only because of our great food, but because of our renowned entertainment. Forget Las Vegas, they all got their start up here. You name them – they headlined at a Sullivan County resort.

Books and articles were written, documentaries were filmed about our history, but there is no single place to celebrate it. Berman’s concept to construct a Hall of Fame in conjunction with the world famous Friar’s Club will celebrate comedy and it roots for generations to come.

Legend after legend performed at a Catskill Mountains Resort or Bungalow Colony. This is where they fine tuned their acts and became stars. It is hard to believe that comedians like Jerry Lewis, Joan Rivers, Henny Youngman, George Burns, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Totie Fields, Sid Caesar, and Jerry Seinfeld all worked up here.

Even Lisa Lampanelli, one of the hottest comedians out there today, worked the late shows at the Villa Roma just a few short years ago.

Sullivan County comedy was highlighted on Broadway several years ago in the hit show “Catskill’s on Broadway” which starred “Borsch Belt” comedians “Mal Z Lawrence, Freddie Roman, Dick Capri, and Marilyn Michaels. Roman is the Dean of the Friars.

The “Borsch Belt” is literally where comedy began. Our audiences were always the hardest to work for and the most demanding.
Joy Behar of “The View” remarked during a recent taping how difficult it was to work in a Catskill Mountains resort. She noted that people would walk into a show room demanding to be entertained and if they did not like you, “they would walk out.”

Arnold Graham of Charles Rapp Enterprises, the leading entertainment booking agents during our hay days told me, “Those were unbelievable days, everyone was having fun. Every entertainer wanted to be booked at a Catskill Mountain Resort. I remember driving up Ray Romano and John Stewart to play a late show at the Concord and how excited they were that they made it to the Catskill Mountains.”

If Governor Andrew Cuomo and State of New York officials are really serious about the revitalization of Sullivan County, then they should immediately approve the grants necessary to get the project done.

A Comedy Hall of Fame would be a major boost to our economy and New York State, and that is no laughing matter!

5 comments to Comedy Hall of Fame a Brilliant Idea

  • Richard Haas

    Hi Bill – I like your comments each week. Always great,but this is a real winner. Keep talking to us and the powers that be in Sullivan County and the State.

  • Christopher Frey

    I truly wish that the Catskills and the Borscht Belt weren’t so entwined in the public perception. The “Borscht Belt” is, sadly, a pathetic punch line trotted out by the Jay Lenos of the world and does absolutely nothing for the reputation of today’s Catskills as a beautiful, healthful place with a modern entertainment venue and museum at Bethel Woods for example. No one who advocates a rebranding of The Catskills is denying the glorious history of the hotels and their night life. All we are saying is that the time has passed and a tourism rebirth will not come until the perception of the Borscht Belt is erased. This Comedy Hall of Fame is 180 degrees in the wrong direction–it will simply provide more fodder for cheapshot jokes and will reinforce the negative brand that must be erased. Furthermore, since a Hall of Fame needs something for people to look at and reminisce about–like old stadium seats, bats, gloves, uniforms, etc. a Comedy Hall of Fame will be able to offer virtually nothing but recorded performances of comedians. You can, and should, put that on line because there’s nothing to put in a building other than Soupy Sales’ pie tins and some old Seltzer bottles from the Marx Brothers. But that’s secondary to the disservice to today’s tourism industry that re-emphasizing the long gone Borscht Belt will do if this idea goes forward.

  • I think a Comedy Hall of Fame would be terrific.As an employee of Kutsher’s County Club for several years and a resident of the Catskills for over 20 years, there is such a rich history of the area which has remained in the shadows for many years. So what if Leno and the rest fire cheap jokes about the Borscht Belt? The fire cheap jokes about the president and other politicians, movie and rock stars and any other type of celebrity. I’d bet that there are many comics who would loved the chance to be part of it. I am not sure I would limit it to just comics. Many other performers got their start here as well. One in particular, Bobby Cassotto got his start at my Great Aunt & Uncle’s hotel, Sunnyland, in Parksville. The world later knew and loved him as Bobby Darin. all those who performed in the Catskills gave a great deal of themselves every night, every summer over the years. Let’s honor them!!

  • Christopher Frey

    I am not going to keep beating this horse, but I couldn’t help but notice the NY Times article today on the ongoing effort by Jamestown, NY–the birthplace of Lucille Ball–to create The Comedy Hall of Fame. This has been in the works for a while and it’s quite amazing that there was no mention of it in any of the publicity surrounding the Rock Hill effort. Did anyone even know? If you Google the topic, it turns out there was an ill-fated attempt to open one in Miami Beach a while ago too.

    How about some new ideas for Sullivan County?

  • Christopher Frey

    Mr. B.

    The difference between Leno et al goofing on the President, etc. is that only the Catskills is trying to attract tourists. That’s why it matters.

    While I have no problem with honoring show biz stars whose roots may be in the Borscht Belt, it should be obvious by now that trying to be the Cooperstown of Comedy is wrongheaded. Simon Says: “Do it on-line.” Do not believe for a moment that pairing with the Friars’ Club to beg for money from NYS to do a bricks and mortar building to hold (what, exactly?) is going to do anything but keep the Borscht Belt image on life support. Precisely the wrong outcome.

    Maybe I could behind this if the town changed its name to Chris Rock Hill. At least the reference is current.