National Comedy Center Opens to National Acclaim

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The National Comedy Center brings new life to a historic spot beside Jamestown's Chadakoin River.
The National Comedy Center brings new life to a historic spot beside Jamestown’s Chadakoin River.

Contributing Writer
Walt Pickut

The United States House of Representatives voted unanimously in July to approve a bill naming Jamestown’s newest attraction as America’s official “National Comedy Center,” the only place in the country exclusively dedicated to the art of making people laugh out loud, as announced by U.S. Congressman Tom Reed. Senator Charles Schumer has announced that the U.S. Senate is now in the process of following suit.

The 37,000 square feet of exhibits at the National Comedy Center, according to its mission statement, embodies Lucille Ball’s vision for her hometown to become a destination for the celebration of the comedic arts.

Lucy’s Dream

Jamestown, as the ancestral home of Lucille Ball, the “Queen of Comedy,” has now fulfilled her dream by growing beyond her personal legacy into a monument to the living art of comedy itself, a truly national showcase of the art and its craft in all its forms.

The Grand Opening of the National Comedy Center, Wednesday, August 1 through Sunday, August 5, 2018 is timed to match the August 2 through 5 dates for the opening of the famous, annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival.

As always, the Comedy Festival will honor Lucy’s goal of spotlighting the nation’s best, rising young comedians along with the America’s top comedy headliners.

This year, the Festival features special appearances by Saturday Night Live’s season-one alumni, Dan Aykroyd, Laraine Newman and Garrett Morris, along with original writer, Alan Zweibel (August 2, Reg Lenna Center for the Arts), Amy Schumer (August 3, Northwest Arena) and Lily Tomlin (August 4, Reg Lenna Center for the Arts).

A Vision Fulfilled

“This is exactly what our vision for it was from the beginning,” Tom Benson, chairman of the National Comedy Center, told the Gazette last week with obvious pride. Benson was surrounded that day by its new, groundbreaking, interactive exhibits, and by milling crowds of delighted guests who were invited to a pre-opening “beta test” preview of all the Center now has to offer.

“All we needed was to find all the right people to build it, the right technology and the right software,” Benson said, making a hard job sound easy. “And we did. A lot of people worked very hard. Jamestown has made Lucy’s dream come true for everybody. This is really now America’s home for comedy.”

“This has all gone in the direction we wanted it to go from the beginning,” Journey Gunderson, the National Comedy Center’s executive director added. “I am extremely satisfied with how it has come out. The guest experiences, and the experiences of some of the biggest names in comedy who have now seen it in operation, have been real delight.”

“The sophistication of the technology is exactly what the true art of comedy deserves,” one of this year’s top Comedy Festival stars told Gunderson after a recent grand tour.

Museums Have Grown Up

“Museums aren’t what they used to be,” Gunderson said in the early days of the project. “They are becoming interactive. No two people will have exactly the same experience because the exhibits will change for each person, depending on their taste in comedy.” The National Comedy Center is a state-of-the-art, interactive museum.

On entry, a guest receives a bracelet to personally program on a touch-screen monitor with their favorite comedians – from the time of vaudeville to the newest Internet sensations – as well as their favorite comedy movies and TV shows. More than 50 immersive exhibits will then display multiple choices of on-stage performances, interviews, behind-the-scenes creative work and the most personal experiences of their favorite comics.

It Gets Personal

In today’s museums, the visitor becomes a participant, and at the National Comedy Center, it’s personal. The experience can be as brief as a half-hour walkthrough or as immersive as a half-day or more, a full excursion through the lives and work of a dozen or more – it’s the guest’s choice – of the most intriguing among their favorite comics of every age.

But the experience is not only about the comedians. Guests can handle replicas of their fabled props, too. A special exhibit offers classic props and gadgets to see video presentations on how they play on the comic stage and film, from falling anvils to face pies and big, grabby hooks. Guests can also match faces with funny-faced comedians and match wits with each other in televised “Joke Duels” where they themselves are the star comics.

At the National Comedy Center, comedy is as educational as it is side-splitting. Guests can try their hands at cartooning, special sound effects applications and editing, and read the actual scripts and manuscripts of comics from Mark Twain to Joan Rivers and Johnny Carson.

And for scholars of comedy, a literary specialty and a topic of scholarly research – no joke – the National Comedy Center is establishing itself as the permanent archive for the lifetime writings and notes and routines of such famous comics as George Carlin, Shelly Berman, Rose Marie and soon to be more.

Following the Money

The business of comedy is a serious business, and The National Comedy Center respects that tradition. “We don’t owe anybody anything by way of loans and debts,” Benson said. “It’s all been paid for by grants and gifts and personal contributions. We’ll be able to start enhancing the local economy the day we open.” The Center is established as a non-profit, cultural institution.

One-year, renewable memberships are available at eight levels for individuals, couples and families (2 adults and 2 children under 18). Memberships include admission to the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival and unlimited admission to the National Comedy Center and the Lucy Desi Museum.

Learn More

For more detailed schedules of events, hours of operation and membership opportunities and for information on admission and tickets, Jamestown Gazette readers are invited to visit https://comedycenter.org/.

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Walt Pickut
Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.