It all starts with Lucille Ball – and next week, she will be remembered – and laughed about – in grand fashion.
Once a year, coinciding with the comedienne’s Aug. 6 birthday, legions of Lucy lovers from around the country and overseas converge on Jamestown for the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival. The five-day event, which starts Wednesday and continues through Aug. 10, includes headliners Jay Leno, Tom Cotter and Caroline Rhea; several interactive lunches and comedy classes; and plenty of Lucy-centric activities. (Think you can stomp grapes and wrap chocolate as well as Lucy and Ethel? You’ll get a chance to find out.)
Lucie Arnaz, daughter of Ball and Desi Arnaz and herself a noted entertainer, is the featured musical guest, sharing the stage with Leno, whose Saturday evening performance has been sold out for weeks.
Rhea, meanwhile, is headlining a Thursday evening stand-up comedy showcase, while Cotter is featured on Friday night. His wife, comedian Kerri Louise, will open for him.
“The fact that we’re going to share the stage with Caroline Rhea and Jay Leno is huge for us,” said Cotter, a veteran comic who was a runner-up on America’s Got Talent. “There aren’t that many chances for female comics – I know that, because I’m married to one. Caroline Rhea is cream of the crop. And I grew up watching ‘The Tonight Show.’ So when I finally got to do (Leno’s) show, that was bigger than ‘AGT’ for me.”
Translation: Jamestown is landing some heavy hitters. It’s becoming a trend: Past festivals have featured Joan Rivers, Bill Engvall and Kathleen Madigan, and an event last October was headlined by Martin Short.
The leadership of the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Center is in the midst of pursuing an ambitious plan to transform the Chautauqua County city into a national hotbed of comedy. They’re deep into planning and funding a National Comedy Center that, if realized, will function a few years from now as both an interactive museum and training center for future comics. Each performer, and each festival, is a step toward building that larger vision, which is far beyond what Ball envisioned when she agreed to allow Jamestown to open an institution in her honor before her 1989 death.
“Originally, she just wanted someone to remember her by promoting comedy in her name,” Ball’s daughter Arnaz said in an interview earlier this year.
The festival next week aims to do just that, without leaving Lucy behind.
A full schedule of events and details are available at www.lucycomedyfest.com.