Adrianne Tolsch, a Brooklyn native who influenced the New York City comedy scene in the 1970s as the first female MC at Catch A Rising Star and later the club’s booker and manager for years, has died from esophageal cancer. Tolsch was 78.
Her husband, longtime David Letterman writer Bill Scheft, broke the news on Twitter.
Gone to heaven, 5:45 this morning. pic.twitter.com/8mRqkJ0HY1
— Bill Scheft (@billscheft) December 7, 2016
Scheft told Entertainment Weekly that about 40 friends came to visit her on Tuesday, including Letterman and Late Show bandleader Paul Shaffer. “She made a connection with everyone,” he told EW.
Tolsch grew up an only child in Flatbush, and waitressed at the old original comedy club, Pips, in Sheepshead Bay, before performing improv with the comedy troupe, The Original Cast. She met Scheft for the first time when he auditioned for her in 1980. She didn’t pass him at Catch until his sixth audition, and they married in 1990.
Tolsch worked comedy clubs across the United States, plus the major casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City where she opened for the likes of Jay Leno and Bobby Vinton. Tolsch also performed on Broadway in the 1992 musical comedy revue, 3 From Brooklyn, and won cabaret awards in 2004 and 2006 for her one-woman shows, Trucks, Guns and Mayonnaise, and None of Your Damn Business.
She could be both inspirational and intimidating, much like any great comic.
Rita Rudner wrote: “We lost a wonderful comedian and an even more wonderful person today, Adrianne Tolsch. When I first arrived at Catch a Rising Star in the late seventies there were very few female comedians. I still remember Adrianne’s smiling face and her warm manner that made me feel a little less insecure as I waited nervously in the bar for my cue to go on stage. Adrianne was remarkable in so many ways. She was smart, caring, talented, encouraging and she will always be remembered.We love you, Adrianne.”
From Rich Vos: “When I started out in comedy about 4 years in, I had on many occasions the opportunity to work with Adrianne Tolsch and she would always destroy on stage. We were doing a one nighter in Woodbridge NJ, the Wooden Nickel, I was new and about to go on, she pulled me aside and said, they’re going to hate you. Well that’s what a true comic says to someone newer than them, it was so funny and showed me really how much she liked me. She will be missed RIP Adrianne.”
Ritch Shydner, who just published a book detailing his own journey through stand-up comedy’s boom of the late 1970s and 1980s, wrote of Tolsch: “Adrianne Tolsch was one of the MC’s at Catch a Rising Star, when it meant something – they chose if and when you went on stage. I was new to the city in 79, and trying to work my way into the Catch lineup, and Adrianne naturally kept her distance. I actually got to know her at Good Times, a cheesy little midtown B room where you performed under an archway in the middle of the room – Surrounded by everyone and seen by nobody. Adrianne was chosen “Entertainer of the Month,” by the owner, Rico was his name, I believe. She freely mocked the award as just another ploy to avoid paying us. I bussed tables to get a burger, negotiating with Rico on the number required to achieve the meal and loudly counting down when I finished each table. We laughed at Rico and his pretensions of show biz, hoping that we weren’t delusional ourselves. We took bets on whether any singer would do a set without either doing Tomorrow from Annie or Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind. I’m playing that song and thinking of how much Adrianne Tolsch made me laugh, and feel part of the NY comedy family. Condolences to Bill Scheft. RIP Adrianne.”
From Frank Conniff (MST3K): “The first time I did comedy, Adrianne Tolsch was the MC and she couldn’t have been nicer.”
Here’s a montage of images of Tolsch from former Letterman EP Barbara Gaines:
Such a great lady!! Left us this morning December 7, 2016 @billscheft pic.twitter.com/npZtdOkik1
— Barbara Gaines (@barbara_gaines1) December 7, 2016
Here Tolsch was in 2012 in “Standing in the Dark,” recounting her youth…
Tolsch and Scheft produced a new documentary together, Take My Nose…Please! Women, Comedy & Plastic Surgery, that was finished this fall and is awaiting screenings and distribution via film festivals in the coming year.
Tolsch is survived by her husband, a son, and a grandson.
A memorial service is planned for Wednesday, January 4 at St. Peter’s Church in New York.