About 30 years ago, just before Lucille Ball passed away, she told her hometown of Jamestown, NY that rather than a museum celebrating her life, there should be a place that celebrates all comedy. This past weekend, that vision was realized with the grand opening of the National Comedy Center.
A World First
The National Comedy Center is now the first non-profit cultural institution and national-scale visitor experience dedicated to the art of comedy. This new 37,000 square foot, $50 million facility tells the story of comedy from its origins through the present, with more than 50 immersive, interactive exhibits and rare comedy artifacts. JRA provided complete master planning, design, project management, and art direction services for the National Comedy Center, which has already garnered rave reviews from both national and international media.
A Star-Studded Celebration
The Grand Opening week-long celebration featured Amy Schumer, Lily Tomlin, a tribute to the original Saturday Night Live cast with Dan Aykroyd, Laraine Newman and writer Alan Zweibel, Fran Drescher, Lucie Arnaz, Laugh-In producer George Schlatter, comedians Lewis Black, W. Kamau Bell, Judy Gold, and more. In total, the opening celebration featured more than 50 events and 40 artists that included the innovators, creators, and legends of comedy with thousands of visitors in attendance from across the country.
The celebration kicked off with a ribbon cutting ceremony by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, and was highlighted by Dan Aykroyd riding his motorcycle to the front door of the National Comedy Center, and then donating it to museum.
Dan Aykroyd rides up in his famous motorcycle before donating it to the National Comedy Center.
Family members and representatives of legendary figures in comedy were in attendance, including Shelley Berman, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Ernie Kovacs, Andy Kaufman, Rose Marie, Harold Ramis, Allan Sherman, Jonathan Winters and Rusty Warren.
Journey Gunderson, Executive Director for the National Comedy Center, stated, “What we saw this week was that the National Comedy Center experience managed to garner extraordinary praise from comedians and ‘civilians’ alike. From Lily Tomlin, Amy Schumer, Dan Aykroyd and George Schlatter raving about it, to droves of visitors from all 50 states remarking they could spend days inside, the consistent response has been that this is much, much more than anyone ever imagined. Lucille Ball understood the power of comedy and had the vision for her hometown to become a destination that would educate, foster and inspire. To say it feels good is an understatement.”
Funny Finds a Home
“It’s incredible,” expressed Lily Tomlin, who toured the Center at midnight after her sold-out performance.
Lily Tomlin enjoys the exhibits at the National Comedy Center.
Amy Schumer remarked, “When I got into the National Comedy Center I got really overwhelmed and really emotional. It was just really moving and it was really meaningful that we have a place now for our heroes. It’s so important to share the legacies of the comedians before us, because you look at Lenny Bruce and these comedians that would fight for their right to say what they wanted and express themselves and make jokes about things that maybe they weren’t supposed to.”
“I’m really grateful to the women who have come before me. It was a different time and because they got up there is why I have the luxury of even being able to do stand-up and say any of the things I want to on stage.”
“I’m really grateful that the National Comedy Center exists. It felt good to believe that our legacies will be remembered,” concluded Schumer.
George Schlatter boasted, “This is the best thing that ever happened to comedy.”
Manager/Producer George Shapiro remarked, “I never thought I could fall more in love with comedy, but I just did by spending four days at the National Comedy Center. The laughs keep coming!” Shapiro further tweeted, “THE NATIONAL COMEDY CENTER RULES!”
Kelly Carlin, daughter of comedian George Carlin, cuts the red ribbon on a JRA-designed exhibit celebrating her father.
George Carlin’s daughter, Kelly, noted, “I always knew that it would be fantastic, but it blew me away. When I walked out I suddenly had renewed hope for America. I thought, ‘The world needs to laugh, and most importantly, we need to learn to laugh together again.’ The National Comedy Center makes that happen in every moment.”
Lewis Black, a member of the center’s advisory board said, “There is an art in this craft of comedy. It’s timeless. Therefore, it needs a dedicated home. And now, we have a place where somebody who really wants to be a student of comedy can go and study the history of it. Or if somebody is just looking for a laugh, the National Comedy Center is the place where laughter dwells.”
W. Kamau Bell performs during National Comedy Center Opening Weekend.
W. Kamau Bell simply stated, “This is the House where the First Amendment lives.”
“So proud and grateful to be a part of the National Comedy Center. The entire museum is fantastic. Come to Jamestown and check it out,” remarked Harold Ramis’ daughter Violet Ramis Stiel.
Writer/Producer Alan Zweibel put it succinctly: “The art of comedy finally has a home. And a spectacular home at that.”
Fran Drescher and Lucie Arnaz
Lucie Arnaz said, “My mother would be over the moon with joy that her hometown decided to follow her advice and, instead of erecting some passive monument to her, pay homage to the healing power of love and laughter, the remarkable, life-saving tonic that is humor. Celebrate it. Study it. And find out how to make sure there is always more of it. The National Comedy Center will do just that in her memory.”
“From now on, when anybody says they want to get into comedy, I’ll tell them that the first thing they should do is come here,” said Dan Aykroyd.
Featured image: SNL Writer Alan Zweibel, Robin Zweibel, and comedian and SNL Alum Laraine Newman cut the ribbon on the SNL exhibit at the National Comedy Center.
Press release and images courtesy National Comedy Center. For tickets, please visit ComedyCenter.org.