Lonely Planet Writer

Why a small New York town is now home to the US National Comedy Center

In a time when memes are key to online entertainment, comedy has gone from a genre to a mainstream mainstay. Now, the new National Comedy Center in Jamestown, NY, honors the art of standup.

Comedy center dedicated to standup comics opens in Jamesville, NY
The National Comedy Center opened on 1 August 2018. Photo by: National Comedy Center

The $50 million center opened on 1 August and aims to tell the story of comedy, from its humble origins to the present day, featuring interactive exhibits that honor comedic legends. George Carlin’s personal archive of handwritten notebooks will be on view, as well as the archives of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ comic Shelley Berman. There will also be an exhibition devoted to 1960s satirist Lenny Bruce, whose iconic trench coat and typewriter will be on view alongside a letter he wrote to his dad when jailed for obscenity charges in 1964.

The museum will also be home to a “hologram theater,” where some of history’s greatest comedians will give life-like performances, as well as a section devoted to the art of comedy writing.

National Comedy Center opens in Lucille Ball's home town
National Comedy Center, Jamestown, NY. Photo by: National Comedy Center

“Culture is preserved by meaningful storytelling,” said the center’s executive director, Journey Gunderson. “What these artists have done is important, and it should be both celebrated and contextualized, drawing connections that make the past relevant to the present. There has never been a national cultural institution that provides comedy the opportunity for appreciation as an art form.”

The star-studded opening weekend featured performances from over 40 different standup comedians, including I Feel Pretty star Amy Schumer, Dan Aykroyd, who was an original cast member of Saturday Night Live, and The Nanny star Fran Drescher. The opening ceremonies coincided with the annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival, which ran until August 5.

National Comedy Center opens soon
Lobby of the National Comedy Center. Photo by: National Comedy Center

But why is this comedy center in Jamestown (which is roughly an hour’s drive from Buffalo) and not in the center of Manhattan, for example? Well, for one, it’s already where the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Museum is located, and this location is meant to honor Ball’s legacy.

“Lucille Ball understood the power of comedy and she had the vision for her hometown to become a destination to educate, foster and inspire,” said Gunderson. “That’s what we’ve set out to do here.”

This article was originally published on 19 July and was updated on 8 August 2018.