Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown, New York. Her early show biz career began in its vaudeville houses and theater groups. By the early 1950s she was one of the biggest stars, but she remained connected to her hometown and wanted a national comedy center to be there. In the late 1980s she was in touch with Jamestown via letters and phone calls, and she hoped that it would celebrate her legacy by establishing itself as a destination for educating the public about comedy. First, a museum devoted to her career was established. It is both comprehensive and sensational. Then Jamestown and comedy elites began planning the National Comedy Center. It’s grand opening was August 1-5, 2018. Although Lucille Ball never visited it, she knew about the National Comedy Center before she died and contributed ideas to its realization. She would be so proud of it!
With more than 50 totally immersive exhibits, the National Comedy Center took Ruth and me on a journey through comedy history, especially in the United States. I can’t think of a single laugh-producer whom it has missed from Charlie Chaplin to Trevor Noah and beyond. It covers all forms of comedy from slapstick to satire. It’s the kind of place that one day is not enough to even begin to explore and sample all of its possibilities. We have Lucille Ball and George Carlin to thank for this marvelous, non-profit cultural institution. Carlin’s daughter Kelly donated most of his memorabilia to it and others followed. Its exhibition partners form a list of comedy royalty including Johnny Carson Enterprises, Lily Tomlin, the Harpo Marx family, etc. It doesn’t surprise me that Condé Nast Traveler has already dubbed it “one of the best museums in the country” because it is.
This Center and the Lucy and Desi Museum are in Chautauqua County in the southwestern part of New York State about 3 hours travel from Rochester and one day from New York City. As we wandered through it, Ruth and I were able to analyze our senses of humor, explore late-night and stand-up comedy, view comedic performances, see favorite shows in the TV Room, become actors, create cartoons, etc. About the only facility not in operation when we were there were Comedy Karaoke and Stand-Up Live. The Lucille Ball Comedy Festival will be held from August 7-11 this year.
I studied the timeline that informed me that Aristotle pondered comedy and defined it as “the imitation of baser men” and I appreciated the National Comedy Center’s list of our culture’s top ten comedians, but I was blown away when I came around a corner and found a Phyllis Diller costume on display. She and my mother were good friends.