“I remember the time I was kidnapped and they sent back a piece of my finger to my father. He said he wanted more proof.” – Rodney Dangerfield
Jokes written in longhand by Rodney Dangerfield are one of many treasures at the National Comedy Center, the $30 million facility that opens Wednesday in Jamestown.
On the site of a renovated train station, in the city that claims Lucille Ball as its own, the center represents a shining beacon of optimism in the blue-collar city in Chautauqua County.
After the grand opening celebration this week, which features appearances by Lily Tomlin, Amy Schumer, Dan Aykroyd and other luminaries, the question will be: Will the Comedy Center’s drawing power be strong enough to bring a steady stream of visitors to Jamestown? There’s no reason to think it can’t.
The center is more an interactive museum of comedy than a hall of fame, but comparisons to other halls come to mind. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is in Canton, Ohio. The basketball hall is in Springfield, Mass.; boxing’s hall in Canastota; and baseball’s, of course, is in Cooperstown. There’s no reason why Jamestown – a 75-minute drive from Buffalo – can’t become the Cooperstown of comedy.
Lucille Ball, who died in 1989, grew up outside Jamestown. The city has a Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Center and a comedy festival named for her, but it was the actress’ desire to have the art of comedy honored more broadly that led to the Comedy Center’s creation.
Lucie Arnaz, the comedian’s daughter, is among the performers appearing in Jamestown this week.
It may not be a hall of fame, but the Comedy Center’s advisory board is filled with heavy hitters. W. Kamau Bell, Lewis Black, Kelly Carlin, Jim Gaffigan, Laraine Newman, Paula Poundstone, Robert Klein and writer Alan Zweibel are on the board, among others.
“What was the best thing before sliced bread?” – George Carlin
Kelly Carlin donated seven trunks full of written material from the archive of her late father, the legendary George Carlin.
The museum also has memorabilia from the estates of Lenny Bruce, Johnny Carson, Rodney Dangerfield, Andy Kaufman, Ernie Kovacs, Garry Shandling, Allan Sherman and Jonathan Winters, among others. The archives alone would be worth the price of admission for any comedy connoisseur.
The National Comedy Center was built with funds from private foundations as well as state and federal money. Rep. Tom Reed and Sen. Charles E. Schumer were among the center’s champions, and New York State’s share of about $9 million arrived through Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion program.
A riddle: If a national museum opens in Jamestown and politicians aren’t there in front of a camera to take credit, did it really happen? ... Too soon?