The Lyric Theatre Presents

Catskills on Broadway starring Freddie Roman

Freddie Roman is a laugh-a-minute guy. He’s been a standup comic since the age of 15, and that was ... well, it was a long time ago! Roman is the mastermind behind “Catskills on Broadway,” which brings three standups onstage for 35 minutes’ shtick apiece, followed by a one-liner free-for-all. In the 1990s, the show played for nearly two years at the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre. “I had the idea years before, but nobody believed it would work, until Jackie Mason opened his one-man Broadway show,” Roman says. “That became a major hit, and then I was able to interest the producers into doing this.” The other comics are Dick Lord and Bruce Smirnoff. New York’s Catskill Mountain resorts were famous breeding grounds for Jewish comedians in the 1940s and ‘50s (the sad truth is, many resort hotel were restricted in those days, and Jewish vacationers gravitated to the Catskills because they weren’t allowed to stay in the high-end Gentile joints). “It’s hard to believe that happened in the 20th Century, but it did,” Roman says. Still, the Catskills resorts — and there were hundreds of them — became famous for turning out top-drawer entertainers. “The guys that started there were legendary — Sid Caesar, Danny Kaye, and the next generation of Buddy Hackett, Alan King and Jackie Mason,” Roman recalls. “It was almost like the birthplace of American standup comedy. “It all spread from there, and you started working Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Reno and those places.” No less a luminary than Totie Fields caught and loved Roman’s Catskills act, and she promptly got him his first Vegas gig. For years, he performed in the desert capital — quite successfully — working however many weeks at a stretch he wanted. Roman was also dean of the Friars Club, Ground Zero for comedians in New York City. And to think, it almost never happened. As a young man, Roman very nearly gave up showbiz for good. “I got married right after college, and I had to make a living. In those days, making a living by being a comedian was not in the cards, so I joined my dad in the ladies’ shoe business. Then I opened my own store. “I just hated getting up in the morning and going to work. I hated what I was doing.” So he started selling life insurance, taking standup jobs in the Catskills on weekends (he still jokes about the shoe-store days in his act). Roman thinks the Catskills style — rapid-fire, wryly ironic and self-deprecating — is universal; it’s worked for everyone from Jackie Mason to Jerry Seinfeld. “I hit in Vegas because my stuff catered to everybody,” he says. “You didn’t have to be a Jewish audience to get it. Some guys that worked in the mountains for years never left there, because their material was strictly geared to Jewish audiences. “They made a wonderful living up there playing to Jewish audiences, but that’s as far as it went, career-wise. They couldn’t work anywhere else.”