In a Western New York city of about 30,000 residents, a first-of-its-kind attraction dedicated to the art, history and social significance of comedy is set to open.
The National Comedy Center will open its doors in Jamestown, N.Y., on Aug 1. More than US$50 million have already been spent in building the brand-spanking-new facility.
It’s sure to become a must-see attraction for those who wish to experience the full breadth and history of that form of entertainment and cultural commentary known under the all-inclusive umbrella of ‘comedy.’
Because Jamestown is the birthplace of Lucille Ball and it helps fulfil a vision the iconic performer had for her hometown. Her influence on American popular culture is undeniable and can hardly be overstated. The enormous success of I Love Lucy – the situation comedy she created with then-husband Desi Arnaz – helped transform the early viewing habits of an entire country in the 1950s as the new medium of television took hold.
The grand opening will coincide with the 27th annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival but the National Comedy Center itself goes far beyond that one aspect. It adopts as its mission the entire art form known as American comedy, from vaudeville straight through to the comedians entertaining today – whether in standup, on television or in the movies.
Housed in a new building and an adjacent former art-deco railroad station, the 37,000-square-foot institution will feature more than 50 interactive and immersive exhibits designed to tell the story of American comedy from its origins up to the present day.
Every visit starts with the creation of a “sense of humor profile” based on each visitor’s personal comedic sensibilities, which are then embedded onto a radio-frequency ID wristband. The high-tech approach will allow visitors to have an individual and unique experience as they make their way through the venue.
In that way, the National Comedy Center is designed to be much more than what’s traditionally thought of as a museum. A museum it may be but it is most definitely a 21st century state-of-the art version.
A hologram theatre will present standup performances of some of the most famous comedians of past and present.
There will also be a treasure trove of donated personal archives, including those from the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Jerry Lewis, Joan Rivers and, most notably, George Carlin.
Carlin’s collection is, in and of itself, an amazing and extensive stash of handwritten jokes, personal journals, and audio and video recordings that the late comedian obsessively kept throughout his career. Donated by his daughter, Kelly – who also serves on the advisory committee – the material will be an invaluable resource for those wishing to do a more scholarly deep-dive into the workings of the comedic mind.
U.S. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer has provided early and ongoing support for what many observers hope will be a game-changer for this struggling rust-belt city. He’s working on securing a congressional designation that would make it the “official National Comedy Center of the United States.” Schumer says in a press release that the congressional designation “will make Jamestown the ‘Cooperstown of comedy,’ attracting visitors from far and wide, creating new jobs and bringing millions of tourism dollars and economic development to Western New York.”
Located 120 km southwest of Buffalo, Jamestown was once the “furniture making capital of the world.” But it has, like the entire region, fallen on very hard times as manufacturing jobs evaporated or were lost overseas. It’s hoped that a decades-long decline will be halted by the more than 100,000 visitors expected annually and the more than 200 spinoff jobs expected to be created in the community.
No matter where you live, it will be worth the trek. But for those Canadians in the Greater Toronto Area or southern Ontario, it will be an especially easy and convenient day or overnight trip.
As for Ball, her gravestone in the local cemetery reads simply, “You’ve come home.” The National Comedy Center seeks to ensure that, for generations to come, that same sentiment will apply to the art form of comedy.
For more information, visit the website at comedycenter.org.
Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a Canada-raised, U.S.-based writer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day.
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