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Deadline reports that pioneering stand-up comedian Adrianne Tolsch died Wednesday after a battle with esophageal cancer. She was 78 years old.

Tolsch was a Brooklyn native, who began doing improv with The Original Cast comedy troupe before breaking out on her own to do stand-up. She proved to be a natural, and went on to open for Jay Leno and Billy Crystal before headlining at every major comedy club in the country, where she was often the only female act. Tolsch also became a regular at Catch A Rising Star before managing the location and being named its first female emcee.

Tolsch garnered critical recognition, too, winning cabaret awards for her one-woman shows Trucks, Guns And Mayonnaise and None of Your Damn Business in 2004 and 2006. But, as she told Phil Berger for his book The Last Laugh: The World of Stand-Up Comics, her biggest thrill came from connecting with the audience. “The first time I ever got a standing ovation, you could have taken me right to comic heaven. It was such an affirmation. It’s attention, love; it’s everything but food and rent.”


It was at Catch A Rising Star that Tolsch met her future husband Bill Scheft, who had trouble impressing Tolsch as a comedian at first. Scheft also emceed at Catch A Rising Star before joining The Late Show With David Letterman as a writer. Scheft earned multiple Emmy nominations for The Late Show before writing for awards shows and Politically Incorrect, where he worked with their fellow Catch A Rising Star alum Bill Maher.

Tolsch’s last project was the documentary, Take My Nose…Please: Women, Comedy and Plastic Surgery, which she made with Scheft, and is screening at film festivals.