Lucille Ball grew up in Jamestown, New York and to this day, they couldn’t be any more proud of that feisty redhead. It is here that you can view numerous murals painted in her honor, visit Lucy’s childhood home, take snaps of two bronze sculptures at the Lucille Ball Memorial Park, take in a show at the Lucille Ball Little Theatre and even visit her gravesite at Lake View Cemetery. But the place you can’t miss when in town is the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum.
In 1996, the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum opened for the first-time allowing guests to get up close and personal with the couple while honoring the rich history of their TV series, I Love Lucy. Original costumes, props, awards are all put on display alongside amazingly exact replica sets from the show. The museum houses many gowns, photographs, letters, scripts and awards, thanks to their children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr. You can film your own Vitameatavegamin commercial and walk on the sets Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s New York City apartment living room and kitchen, their Hollywood hotel suite and even the “Tropicana” at the nearby National Comedy Center, just three blocks away.
In August of 2018, the National Comedy Center moved into the neighborhood and it is said that the place was inspired by Lucille’s dream of Jamestown becoming a destination for the celebration of comedy. Featuring 50 interactive exhibits, the Center features a little bit of every genre of comedy including stand-up, movies, TV, radio, cartoons, comic strips and the internet. Want to see the puffy shirt from Seinfeld? It’s here. Lucille Ball’s polka-dotted dress? Here too. There is so many pop culture comedy goodness to be found including the joke wall from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Charlie Chaplin’s cane and lots of paperwork like Johnny Carson’s monologue’s from The Tonight Show and scripts from Saturday Night Live. You can also view Joan Rivers’ notes on “How to Handle a Heckler”, handwritten notes from George Carlin and Rodney Dangerfield, the Smothers Brothers guitar, bass and red suit jackets.
In 2021, the Center recently acquired Carl Reiner’s career archives including unpublished comedy material, rare photographs, all 158 scripts from The Dick Van Dyke Show, screenplays and more. According to the Center, the exhibit features hundreds of never-before-seen archival materials from his 70 years as a writer, director, producer, author and performer. Other performers who have donated items include Dan Aykroyd, Carol Burnett, Lily Tomlin and the estates of Harpo Marx, Harold Ramis, Garry Shandling and Betty White among others.
This 37,000-foot museum incorporates state-of-the-art technology with its extensive collection of artifacts to share America’s rich history of comedy. Not only will you be entertained, but you just might learn a few things from the business of comedy to how comedy has changed over the years. Upon entry, you’ll receive a “humor profile” which is contained on a “laugh band.” As you move throughout the museum, special content will be presented according to your tastes. While there, you can give stand-up comedy a try or create your own comic strip with lots of inspiration to go on.
“Comedy is a potent form of social commentary and has been marshaled as a tool of progress during every major social movement in American history,” says the Center’s core values statement. “Our curatorial activities, public programs, and operational policies place a high value on diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion. We recognize and acknowledge that comedy’s history reflects systemic discrimination and bias in a way that has significantly impacted its artists and bodies of work.”
The National Comedy Center also features stand-up performances throughout the year and hosts the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival in August. Both museums look great, but you’ll get a bigger bang for your buck with a “dual admission” to both of them. Of course, not trip is complete without a trip through the gift shop on the way out.
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