What some may have once written off as a pipe dream is about to get real for a small western New York city.
Wednesday, August 1 is the grand opening of the National Comedy Center in Jamestown. The $50 million high tech venue has been years in the making. It was inspired by hometown hero and comedy legend Lucille Ball.
"The Arts Council of Jamestown came to her in the late eighties asking about the celebration of her legacy and wanting to really do something in Jamestown,” said Journey Gunderson, the center’s executive director, “and she was the one who said, 'Don't just make this about me. Don't just celebrate "I Love Lucy" nostalgia; celebrate all comedy in a way that would educate and foster and inspire.' "
Visitors will be invited to take a "sense of humor profile". Their comedy preferences will be recorded in a microchip bracelet and that will trigger a personalized experience as they walk through the exhibits. One wing of the center is dedicated to the archives of George Carlin including his handwritten notes and scripts.
Comedians Amy Schumer, Lily Tomlin, and Dan Akroyd are just a few of the stars kicking off the five day opening celebration. Gunderson said it was critical to get their support.
"We're very aware of the fact that we are Jamestown, New York and we aren't New York or Los Angeles or Chicago and so we said to ourselves, 'Even if we raised all of the money and hired the best design firms and producers in the world, if we don't do this hand in hand with the comedy community and artists themselves along the way in forming its development, it could become the butt of a joke.' "
The August 4 Lily Tomlin performance and the August 2 Saturday Night Live originators event are sold out, but tickets are available for other events.
On Thursday, August 2, the Willow Bay Theater will host a Lucille “ball” featuring 1950s music and a contest for the best “I Love Lucy” themed costumes.
A feasibility firm estimates the Comedy Center will draw 114,000 visitors a year.