The National Comedy Center opened Wednesday in Jamestown with big fanfare and lots of laughs.
Outside the National Comedy Center, screens played short clips of well-known comedians.
“Congratulations, Jamestown, on the opening of the National Comedy Center and the ribbon cutting today. Don’t screw it up,” said Lewis Black.
And, fortunately, no one did.
The ribbon was cut with normal, less than comically-sized scissors by museum officials and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who said the center marks the powerful story of realizing a dream.
“In the 1980s, the Council on the Arts went to Lucille Ball and said, we’d like to do a Lucille Ball Comedy Center in Jamestown,” Cuomo recalled. “And she said, ‘I think you should think bigger, and not just about Lucille Ball. It should be a national center for the art of comedy.’”
Fast forward to eight years ago, and Comedy Center Project Chair Tom Benson brought the idea before Chautauqua County’s planning and economic committee. One of its members was now-current County Executive George Borello.
“In situations like that, often things have to be sacrificed when it goes from concept to reality,” said Borello. “And I can say that everything that Tom envisioned, every part of that concept is here, now, which is amazing. That never happens.”
That vision includes a fully interactive experience. Visitors wear a chip-enabled “LaughBand” around their wrist and, as they enter, are prompted to swipe it in front of a screen and create their humor profile of favorite comedians and funny media. Then it’s on to touch screens, a holographic theater, and simulated living rooms.
“All the content here is tagged based on algorithms to people’s profiles and sense of humor, and figuring out how that triggers media. If you’re somebody that like parody, that likes farce, that likes family sitcoms – whatever your niche is – what kind of content could we come up with to make that person happy, to make them laugh,” said Nathan Marshall, creative director for the center.
Marshall worked with a research team to choose from over 90 years of comedy material and history. That work paid off with some of the first visitors like Jeanne Merulla, who got a real kick out of the exhibits.
“One of the most fascinating rooms was the room with all little props,” said Merulla. “It had the whoopee cushion and everything. And then you set it on this table which is interactive and it tells you the description of this prop and what it’s used for. And then in the left-hand corner it shows you examples of it and different things it was used in. it’s very interesting, gets you really involved in it.”
The Comedy Center is a big get for Western New York. But as Borello explained, it’s especially big for Chautauqua County’s tourism and revitalization.
“With its five lakes and many waterways – our biggest tourist season is summer. Now with the National Comedy Center, this will expand our tourist season and make it year-round,” said Borello.
That means a need for more hotel rooms, transportation, food options, and employees like Comedy Center staff member Saraden White. She’s a Jamestown native, excited to see its downtown area on the rise.
“We’re recommending people to go and enjoy the local shops and eat and enjoy the downtown. It’s improving things, and that’s fantastic. And that makes me really happy,” said White.
The tourism boom continues with this weekend’s annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival. It includes performances by Lily Tomlin, Dan Aykroyd, and Amy Schumer.
So not only will the center, itself, honor the greats of the art-form’s history. Its greats of today will be there to honor it, too.
Check out our photo gallery of the National Comedy Center's grand opening.