- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2006


Here, in the last big Jewish resort in the Catskills, the past hangs around like an untipped bellboy. It’s in the couches of dozing guests and in the pastel 1970s sketches of women with feathered hair.

A thin voice permeates the silence, and the lobby of Kutsher’s Country Club fills with soft curses. “Sounds like Krazy Tyrone to me,” someone says.

It is. Tall, quick, an athletic 50, the troublemaker strides by with a running commentary. He corners two older women clutching purses: “Do you know why Jewish husbands die before their wives? They want to.”

Here is Krazy Tyrone, or Paul Krohn, the last in-house comedian in the Catskills.

Dozens of resorts here once groaned to the gags of Jerry Lewis, Jackie Mason, Billy Crystal and others. The comics followed the summer migration of Jewish families from New York City northward into the nearby mountains, using the manic hotel jobs to start their careers.

Then the places started closing in the 1960s, the victims of air conditioning and more far-flung travel.

Mr. Krohn jumped here 20 years ago when another resort closed. Now he roams Kutsher’s with a simple job: making people smile.

Or maybe it’s this: turning the end of an era into a punchline.

“Let’s put it this way,” Sam Sonenberg says. “We come back every year for one reason. This guy makes the hotel.”

The Sonenberg family, from an Albany suburb a couple of hours north of here, splashes along one side of the indoor pool, trying to give Mr. Krohn a proper compliment.

“He once played me at pingpong with a pizza while eating it,” says Mr. Sonenberg’s son, Bernie. “And he beat me.”

“The mountains will be at its end when he’s gone,” Mr. Sonenberg says. But no, they’re still not doing Mr. Krohn justice.

Finally, Bernie has it. “He makes each person feel like the most important person at the hotel.”

But Mr. Krohn has moved on to a pingpong table, swinging a wooden block about the size of a box of candy. He wins. His opponent cheerfully slams down his paddle, breaking it in two.

“Another one,” says Jacob Alliance, a guest from Long Island, watching. “He played me with a roll of toilet paper today.”

Mr. Krohn plays with a hat. A shoe. A cord-snipped phone.

He holds a Guinness record for jumping rope, with the most skips — 332 — per minute. He can beat anyone at Simon Sez.

The shtick runs deep. The jokes do not.

The Catskills gave American comedy its sprinkle of kosher salt: schmuck, kvetch, schmaltz, klutz, schmooze. The Catskills comics had a Yiddish name of their own, tummler, from the word for noisemaker.

The tummlers, Buddy Hackett and Danny Kaye among them, turned the region into a place that sounded bigger than it was — the Borscht Belt, a name that became a national shorthand for “vacation.”

That world has shrunk to Kutsher’s, and to the tiny room there that Mr. Krohn calls home.

The last tummler knows why a reporter has come to visit. The guests do. The owner does. “I know what you’re trying to get at,” Mark Kutsher says.

Mr. Krohn obliges. He serves up the past with a videotape, showing TV clips from a younger time.

“That’s me in Connecticut … me in Florida … me in Phoenix. He’s really good,” he says softly.

Here’s a fuzzy, black-and-white one of Mr. Krohn jumping rope for Regis Philbin in 1985. He has jumped the whole hour and makes one last bound as time expires.

“All right, Tyrone,” Mr. Philbin says. “Put ‘er there, buddy.”

Away from the guests at Kutsher’s, Mr. Krohn is more subdued.

“I never figured out how to get along with people. I reckon I never will,” he muses. His younger sister, visiting from Israel, affectionately calls him a loner.

Mr. Krohn offers more mementos — a dancing rabbi doll, a ventriloquist’s dummy, a book of photos of him with Tony Danza, Joan Rivers, Dr. Ruth.

No one famous has come to Kutsher’s this year, the resort’s 100th summer. Mr. Krohn accepts this.

“The guests ain’t changed at all,” he says. “Except that there’s fewer of them.”

Mr. Krohn’s affection for Kutsher’s remains. He says he’d love to be on David Letterman, and he’s tried. But his life is tied to the Catskills.

“I get sad when I see people alone and know they don’t want to be alone,” he says.

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