Lucille Ball had a vision for her hometown of Jamestown, N.Y., to make it a destination to celebrate comedy. Today, The National Comedy Center in Jamestown celebrates everything funny.
The National Comedy Center is a Treasure
“If you didn’t spend at least 3 hours, you didn’t see the Center,” I overheard my mother telling one of my sisters.
She was referring to the year-old National Comedy Center in Jamestown, N.Y., where she, my father, and I spent the good portion of an afternoon giggling, grinning, blushing, laughing, and learning about the craft of comedy. The John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act of March 2019 formally designated, the National Comedy Center as the country’s official cultural institution dedicated to comedy.
Over the summer, People magazine named the high-tech, interactive museum as one of “100 Reasons to Love America.” TIME included the nation’s first comedy museum as one of “World’s Greatest Places of 2019.” And now, after spending more than 3 hours interacting with exhibits, watching television and movie snippets, and laughing, the Hubers of Western New York have endorsed it as one of their top 10 all-time favorite experiences.
Chautauqua is Pronounced “shuh – TAWK – wuh,”
Jamestown is in Chautauqua County which is New York State’s westernmost county. Pronounced, “shuh – TAWK – wuh,” the name originated with the Iroquois Native Americans. One meaning is, “two moccasins tied together,” for the shape of Chautauqua Lake. It is in the center of the county. It sits on the New York-Pennsylvania border and Lake Erie is to the north.
Jamestown is about a 90-minute drive southwest of Buffalo and 6.5-hour drive west of New York City. It has a population of more than 29,000. It’s home to the automatic voting machine. Jamestown is the birthplace of Lucille Ball (1911 – 1989) and after years of planning, the First Lady of Comedy’s dream has been realized.
Hundreds of Ways to Laugh in the National Comedy Center
The National Comedy Center houses more than 50 interactive exhibits along with displays and theaters telling comedy’s history. The journey begins with the Laugh Band, a wristband you scan at a kiosk before entering the museum and build your comedic-taste profile. Once entering, begin exploring and scan your Laugh Band at each exhibit and select “like” when you see something that interests you. Because everyone’s taste is different, explore on your own for a more personalized experience.
Peek into George Carlin’s stuff through displays and a digital treasure chest. Watch comedy legends, such as Jim Gaffigan, in the Hologram Theater, and hear how they improved their comedy routine over the years. Learn how to draw cartoons like those found in the Sunday comics. Then, try your hand with Foley effects, injecting sound into a television scene. Laugh your way through the nostalgia of the best late-night talk show monologues from legends as Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, and David Letterman. Enjoy snippets from today’s hosts, like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, and Trevor Noah. Sit on a retro-looking sofa, scan your Laugh Band, and watch a bit of a sitcom tailored to your taste and that of others sitting with you.
Movie and television props and costumes are throughout the center. They include Jerry Seinfeld’s white puffy shirt, a Laugh-In 100th anniversary costume, and three conehead helmets from the 1993 movie “Coneheads” starring Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin. In the “Act the Part” exhibit, put yourself in the scene of iconic movie and television scenes, including a snippet from the I Love Lucy episode, “Job Switching,” and probably better known as the chocolate scene.
Comedy Knows No Boundaries
Comedy knows no boundaries and downstairs is the Blue Room with off-color and some may consider, taboo humor. Scanning your Laugh Band opens the doors into the colorfully-language filled room yet keeps those under 18 years old out. Immediately walking in, one of George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” is yelled. A small camera captures reactions. Find your photo, scan your Laugh Band, and add a filter with something like, “I Got F*Bombed at the National Comedy Center.” Hear bits of routines from actors like Andrew Dice Clay and Lenny Bruce.
Discover Your Sense of Humor Style
Before exiting the comedy center, scan your badge to learn what your “Sense of Humor” profile is. This is based on the information filled out before entering and what you “liked” throughout the journey. My top three attributes are observational, exaggeration, and absurd/surreal. Your “Sense of Humor” profile and any activities, photos, and videos are emailed to you. There is one final scan before exiting into the gift shop. This scan generates a G-rated joke on a business card for you to keep in your wallet and pull out when you need a joke.
My top three Sense of Humor attributes are:
- Observational – pointing out humor or ridiculousness of things deemed “normal” by society.
- Exaggeration – comedy relying on overstating thoughts or feelings in an excessive manner.
- Absurd/surreal – humor not tethered by reality and is often illogical or otherworldly.
Visiting the Lucy Desi Museum
More laughs are less than a 5-minute walk away at the Lucy Desi Museum. Opened since 1996, the museum pays tribute to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. The couple were talented actors and successful producers. Desilu Productions was their production company and visitors to this museum can walk through television history and through Desilu Studios. View memorabilia relating to Lucy’s and Desi’s television life including replicas of sets, some of Lucy’s wardrobe including her black and white polka dot dress.
The Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum offers a more personalized look into the lives of the talented couple beginning with their upbringing, brief (by today’s standards) courtship, marriage, careers, family and death. The museum emphasizes how Lucy’s heart was always in her hometown of Jamestown. Names of Ball’s friends are incorporated in some “I Love Lucy” television episodes. For instance, “McGillicuddy,” Lucy’s maiden name in the comedy, was the name of friends.
World’s Largest I Love Lucy Mural
Hop in the car and see the World’s Largest I Love Lucy Mural called, “California, Here We Come.” Painted by Gary Peters and Gary Peters Jr., the father-and-son team have created five murals in Jamestown. Unveiled on Oct. 15, 2012, this 1,800 square foot, color mural features jovial Lucy and Ricky in the front seat of a car with their television neighbors, Ethel and Fred, in the back.
Lucille Ball Memorial Park
I Love Lucy fans should head to Lucille Ball Memorial Park in Celoron, where Ball grew up, to visit two statues in honor of the successful comedian. The first bronze statue, depicting the famous I Love Lucy Vitameatavegamin scene, unveiled to gasps in 2009. Thanks to the power of the internet and social media, images of what is known as “Scary Lucy” went viral quicker than a chocolate candy conveyor belt. It’s been described as something looking as if it stepped out of The Walking Dead.
The outcry resulted in the formation of a Facebook group called “We Love Lucy! Get Rid of this Statue” (which no longer exists but “We Love Lucy – and we got our new statue” does). Funds were raised for a new sculpture of the town’s beloved daughter. On Aug. 6, 2016, which would have been the comedian’s 105th birthday, the new, more lifelike Lucy was unveiled. Crafted by sculptor Carolyn D. Palmer, the new statue is recognized as “Lovely Lucy” and she stands where “Scary Lucy” once stood. The town decided to keep “Scary Lucy” who is a grape-toss away from the “Lovely Lucy.”
Lucille Ball is not Chautauqua County’s only funny person. Cartoonist Brad Anderson was born on May 14, 1924, in Jamestown, and grew up Portland, N.Y., about a 35-minute drive northwest of Jamestown. He created the lovable Marmaduke cartoon in 1954, modeled after his mother’s boxer named Marmaladee. Chautauqua County landmarks, his friends and family, and cats and dogs, were eventually incorporated into the Marmaduke comic strip. Anderson passed away on Aug. 30, 2015 and in June 2016, the life-size bronze sculpture of the cartoonist and dog was dedicated. Located next to the Portland Town Hall, it serves as a photo stop a short distance from Interstate 90.
If you pass through Western New York without stopping in Jamestown to pay homage to I Love Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do!
Nuts & Bolts for Visiting Jamestown
National Comedy Center
203 W 2nd St.
Jamestown, N.Y. 14701
Tel: (716) 484-2222
Sunday- Thursday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
A café, next to Comedy Karaoke Bar where you can read lines from a standup act, serves light bites and beverages.
Lucy Desi Museum
2 West 3rd St.
Jamestown, N.Y. 14701
Tel: (716) 484-0800
Sunday: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Monday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
World’s Largest I Love Lucy Mural
“California, Here We Come”
34 Harrison St.
Jamestown, N.Y. 14701
Brad Anderson & Marmaduke Statue
87 West Main St.
Brocton, N.Y. 14716
Tel: (716) 792-9614
Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau
Find other fun things to do and see and options for where to stay.
Save the date! The sitcom debuted on Oct. 15, 1951. Annually, the day is recognized as National I Love Lucy Day.
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