The National Comedy Center is a museum dedicated to the history of comedy in the United States. Located in Jamestown, New York, the museum is home to over 50 interactive exhibits and immersive experiences that allow visitors to learn about the history of comedy, from its origins to the present day.
The National Comedy Center – A Laugh a Minute
I’ve been watching stand-up comedy for as long as I can remember. And thinking back, my parents must have been very liberal with regard to comedy because I could recite Eddie Murphy’s “Delirious” by heart. Personally, I have nothing but love for comedians that push the limits of hilarity and he was definitely one of them.
To walk into a place that’s entire goal is to preserve the history of comedy in all of its forms and all of its eras was like going to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for folks with a sweet tooth. Moseying through each section and 37,000 square feet of funny (I really do suggest taking your time or even backtracking if you feel you missed out on an area) was like a trip through my comedic mind palace. Sure, there are comedians like George Carlin and Lucille Ball that are never far from my memory. Still, the likes of some new funny folks, including Sebastian Maniscalco, Amy Poehler, and Kristin Wiig are presented with the same high regard.
When you first enter the Center, you’ll receive a band, complete with an RFID chip. You’ll then be asked to take a small quiz to determine what your personal style of comedy is. Afterward, you’re free to explore the Center as you like, but please make sure to visit Johnny Carson: The Immersive Experience with Hologram Host Jimmy Fallon, as it sets you up with small clips of some of the best comedic interviews and stand-up sessions on his show.
A super popular exhibit is “Comedy Karaoke.” This exhibit allows visitors to try their hand at stand-up comedy. You can also recreate iconic bits from some of the biggest names in stand-up like Jerry Seinfeld, Brian Regan, Ali Wong, Chris Rock, and more.)
Personally, I really enjoyed this section of the Center as it took me out of my comfort zone to test my chops at being a comedian and testing my joke delivery. Side note: I won’t be quitting my day job anytime soon.
The National Comedy Center is also home to a number of other interactive exhibits, including:
The Hall of Moguls is a fun exhibit that tests your knowledge of comedy legends, including directors and producers. You have seven attempts to guess the artist before the answer is revealed and the image of the mogul is displayed.
Prop Stars is super fun, especially for younger children, as you can pick up rubber model props, put them on an interactive table, and learn about the history of each. With the swipe of a finger, you can see comedy clips that include each piece as well.
The Comedy Continuum is an exploration of comedy’s connections, stories of collaboration, influence, and inspiration. Learn the “six degrees of separation” between your favorite comedy stars of all genres and eras.
Act the Part, where visitors have an opportunity to insert themselves into different iconic movie and TV shows using green screen technology. Steal the scene and recreate Anchorman’s “Goodnight San Diego” bit, the iconic I Love Lucy chocolate wrapping scene, and more.
The Blue Room
Comedians love pushing boundaries, that’s a fact. I grew up watching and listening to great comedians including Eddie Murphy, Andrew “Dice” Clay, Lenny Bruce, and George Carlin. Sure, they were raunchy, raucous, and outrageous, but they were brutally honest. Enter the Blue Room. Located on the lower level of the Center, you have to be over 18 to access the area, but, man, it is worth it. The first thing you’ll see is an homage to Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” If you know, you know.
As you walk through the Blue Room, it’s not just about dirty humor. Truthfully, it’s about the First Amendment and how these comedians took it as far as they could – Did you know that Lenny Bruce was posthumously pardoned 37 years after he passed? Yep, New York State’s Governor George E. Pataki did the honors ‘to drive home “a declaration of New York’s commitment to upholding the First Amendment.”
I understand there may be some sensitivity when it comes to this comedic style, but I personally, have never taken it personally. Yes, Andrew “Dice” Clay. I’m looking at you.
Lucy Desi Museum
Dual Admission is the best ticket value and gains you entry to both the National Comedy Center and the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum, just three blocks apart from each other. Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown, New York, and, as a tribute to the great comedienne and Desi Arnaz, a beautiful homage showcasing both “I Love Lucy” and the couple’s history is immaculately displayed.
Along with well-known costumes and reconstructed sets, I loved the fact that the museum highlights the early days of Desi and Lucy and how she put her foot down (a definite feat for the time period) and refused to film without her husband playing the lead male character.
Where to Stay in the Jamestown Area
If you’re coming from out of town like we did, a great place to stay is the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, a resort on Chautauqua Lake in nearby Celoron. Its guest rooms are beautifully appointed and the view of the lake is unbelievably calming no matter what time of day you spy it. I loved waking up early in the morning to walk down to the water and begin my day! We really loved the fact that our two-queen guest room had a balcony overlooking the lake, too. The property offers free parking, free wifi, a complimentary snack and drink in the lobby each afternoon, and free coffee on each floor every morning – some nice perks for staying.
Additionally, the onsite restaurant, Lakehouse Tap & Grille, was where we ate for dinner and weren’t disappointed. The menu is varied and there are plenty of appetizers and entrées for folks that don’t eat meat, aka, me.