JAMESTOWN, NEW YORK — Americans love to laugh.
So much so that humor’s indelible role in this nation’s life, liberty and pursuit of happiness begs to be celebrated.
Comedic superstar Lucille Désirée Ball thought so, too.
Enter the National Comedy Center. Ball envisioned her native Jamestown, New York, as a destination to celebrate the art of comedy. She considered the power of laughter serious business and wanted to educate the public of its importance.
The long-anticipated National Comedy Center embodies this vision. Nearly 30 years after Ball’s death, the museum and archives opened in 2018 and was designated by Congress as the United States’ official cultural institution dedicated to comedy.
After an initial humor assessment, your visit is tailored to your own comedic tastes. Guests are provided a stylus pen, bar-coded wristband and ear buds to access over 50 interactive, high-tech exhibits. A comprehensive exploration of comedy awaits, honoring all facets of the art form — movies, television, radio, stage, burlesque, vaudeville, digital, comic strips, comedic types and famous entertainers.
Get ready — you can hear guests laughing out loud in every room.
Jamestown is an unassuming place for a humor celebration. Sitting on the eastern edge of picturesque Lake Chautauqua in western New York, the little town boasted a booming furniture industry a century ago.
Celoron, Jamestown’s small lakeside suburb, once was home to an amusement park that drew crowds from across New England. The prestigious Chautauqua Institution sits on the opposite end of the lake and has appealed to scholars for decades.
Ball was born in Jamestown on August 6, 1911. She was raised in her grandfather’s tiny house in Celoron. She developed a strong interest in performing by watching traveling vaudeville shows on Celoron Amusement Park’s stage each summer.
Told she would never be successful after a failed attempt at a New York City dramatic school, she became a department store model to survive. Recruited as a stock chorus girl in 1933, she left for Hollywood and made over 70 movies before finally finding her niche in radio and television comedy. Lucy married Cuban musician Desi Arnaz in 1940, resulting in one of the entertainment industry’s most storied unions.
The couple’s iconic television show, “I Love Lucy,” achieved comedic perfection. It was a ratings powerhouse, with viewership totals unmatched before or since. The show remains popular on network television and multiple streaming services today, 70 years after its premiere. Desi and Lucy’s innovations and contributions to comedy significantly shaped the entertainment industry and are still felt. The multi-camera studio audience production approach to television comedies, re-runs and pioneering women’s roles in once a male-dominated field all trace to Desi and Lucy.
Lucy further championed the art form on her subsequent television programs and taught university-level comedy classes later in her life. She became the first female Hollywood studio president and green-lighted such programs as “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible.” There has rarely been an American entertainer with such long-lasting popularity and influence.
This comedic legacy is prominent in Jamestown and has bolstered the area’s tourism industry. Besides the National Comedy Center, Jamestown is home to the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum. It highlights the couple’s lives with many personal items, costumes, set pieces and props on display.
Lucy’s birth home and childhood home are both still standing in the Jamestown vicinity. Her quiet gravesite is on the edge of town in Lakeview Cemetery.
Western New York is an easy six-hour drive from the Charleston area. Travel north until you reach Lake Erie, then head east. Jamestown is not far from the New York-Pennsylvania border. The newly built Chautauqua Harbor Hotel sits on the former lakeside grounds of Celoron Amusement Park and is prime for accessing the area’s sights. The Lucille Ball Memorial Park shares grounds with the hotel and features statues of the icon.
The area could also be a convenient base for further travels to Niagara Falls, Buffalo, New York’s wine and Amish countries, or Lake Erie adventures. In the summer months, quaint communities, marinas and boats line Lake Chautauqua’s shorelines. COVID-19 safety measures are in place but do not currently inhibit site accessibility.
If you are ready to travel after a year of quarantine, hop in the car and head for Jamestown. Time dedicated to humor and learning of its value is needed as we rebuild from our national shut-down. Do yourself a favor and go laugh on purpose this spring.