By Dave Zuchowski featuring photos by Bill Rockwell
Even those with no sense of humor whatsoever can probably enjoy a visit to Jamestown, New York. But if you appreciate humor in any or all its forms, a visit to this historic town located at the southern end of beautiful Lake Chautauqua in southwestern New York comes highly recommended.
In upstate New York the beautiful Chautauqua Lake. photo courtesy of Chautauqua Visitors Bureau.
The birthplace of radio, film, and TV star, Lucille Ball, Jamestown has honored its most famous resident and her husband, Desi Arnaz, with a museum that dates back to 1996. Since then, the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum has moved to a larger venue and has grown by leaps and bounds.
Lucy’s Childhood Home in Jamestown.
With careers that entwined since the couple first met in 1940 on an RKO film set of Too Many Girls, Lucy and Desi went on the become household names. While Lucille made an appearance in over 100 films, her greatest popular achievement came on October 15, 1951 when she and Desi starred in the first airing of comedy sitcom, “I Love Lucy.” The show ran on prime time TV for six seasons, earning a total of five Emmys.
Outside the Lucy Desi Museum
The museum is made up two sections. The focus of the East Gallery is on “I Love Lucy,” while the West Gallery explores the personal side of Lucille and Desi. Exhibits discuss a significant collection of the couple’s personal belongings, including costumes, gowns, photographs, letters, film posters, scripts and awards. You’ll discover early eye-opening history of Lucille, who left Jamestown at 15 to pursue a career in New York, and of Desi, who lived a privileged childhood in his native Cuba, until a revolution forced him to flee to the U.S.
The Recreated Set of Lucy’s Living Room
One of the museum’s most impressive displays is the recreations of the show’s studio sets. They include the New York City apartment living room and kitchen and the Hollywood hotel suite, down to the same color scheme and 50s furniture.
The Show Becomes a Media Hit
Visitors will be able to see some of Lucille’s original wardrobe and props from the show and try their hand at starring in the iconic Vitameatavegamin commercial. The “First Couple of Comedy’s” successful formation of Desilu Productions also get significant coverage. Allow at least one hour to explore the museum. For more information, phone 716-484-0800 or lucy-desi.com.
Reproduction of Ricky’s Bandstand
Annually, Jamestown is home to the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival, which takes place for several days around her birthday on August 6 (Aug.2-6 in 2023). With over 50 live events, the festival offers stand-up showcases, late night comedy, block parties, live music, Lucy tributes, kids comedy and more.
Previous Festival headliners include Jerry Seinfeld, Trevor Noah, Lily Tomlin, Amy Schumer, W. Kamau Bell, Jim Gaffigan, Paula Poundstone, Joan Rivers, and more than one hundred other comedic artists. For more information, go to comedycenter.org/festival/.
More Lucy in Town
While the house where Lucy was born at 60 Stewart Avenue in Jamestown is now privately owned, visitors can drive past the structure and maybe take an exterior photo as well. Please be respectful of the owner’s privacy.
Lucille;s Childhood Home in Nearby Celeron
Lucille’s childhood and teenage years were spent at her grandfather’s home, located at 59 Lucy Lane in the adjacent town of Celeron. The garage in back sports the polka dot dress pattern Lucy sometimes wore in the TV series. The house is private property and may not be toured or entered.
Lucy’s Statue in the Lucille Ball Memorial Park
In Celeron, two statues of the red-headed comedienne can be found in Lucille Ball Memorial Park. In Jamestown, Lucille is buried in Lakeview Cemetery in the Hunt (her mother’s maiden name) family plot. Just follow the red heart symbol in the road to find her grave.
The National Comedy Center
Outside the National Comedy Center
Just a couple blocks away, the $50 million National Comedy Center has been getting rave reviews ever since it opened in August 0f 2018.
Condé Nast Traveler called it “One of the best museums in the country,” the readers of USA Today voted it a “Best New Attraction,” while visitors from all 50 states and nine countries have given the Center a rare 5/5 rating on TripAdvisor.
Megan Arnone Eckwahl, the Center’s manager of marketing and communications, said that Lucille wanted Jamestown to be about more than her. “Lucille Ball’s vision was that her hometown celebrates comedy as an art form, as well as foster up-and-coming talent,” she said. “We fulfill her vision through the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival and the National Comedy Center.”
Chairs Close Friends Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner Used When Visiting One Another
On arrival, visitors begin their journey by creating their sense of humor profile, which is saved on a digitized wristband called a LaughBand, so that the exhibits serve personalized comedy content.
While visitors can view props and costumes such as Jerry Seinfeld’s puffy coat, Charlie Chaplin’s cane, Smothers Brother’s jackets and guitars and Andy Kaufman’s Elvis jacket, the Center also boats over 50 immersive comedy experiences.
Late Night Comedy Gets Its Own Exhibit
Near the entrance across from the newly installed Johnny Carson Immersive Experience, the display of George Carlin’s archival collection amassed over a 50-year period was donated by his daughter. “We’ve digitized his archive and made it available for all Comedy Center guests to browse,” Eckwahl said.
Sketch and Improv Section
In the Stand-Up Lounge, visitors can tap their wrist band on a sensor that merges their choice of comedy with that of others in the room to find a common sense of humor such as abrasive, high energy or lively comics. Then stand back and watch a video clip of the stand-up comedian who matches the best audience mix.
Remember the Lucy segment where she’s working the line in a candy enterprise, trying to keep up with the assembly line? Visitors get to try their hand at the skit as well as the one where Lucy stomped grapes in Italy.
You can also match your comedic talent with a partner in a joke telling competition, act out a popular comedy skit Karaoke-style format, add sound effects to a comedy classic, design your own digitized comic strip and create a digital funny face using that of a comedian as a template.
Prop Case Used to Activate Sensory Board
In another section, pick up a prop that suits your taste and place it on a sensory board that will then show related video clips. Downstairs, the Blue Room covers adult themes and language, with sections devoted to Lenny Bruce, the art of the roast, dangerous words and the history of comic taboo. The space focuses on how censorship has shaped comedy in America.
Lenny Bruce Display in the Blue Room
At the end of the tour, visitors have to opportunity to receive an email summarizing their experiences, including content they may have created on the interactive exhibits. One final word of caution: To avoid some embarrassing moments, avoid sitting on the whoopee cushions, which are placed where you’d least expect them.
For more information, phone 716-484-2222 or ComedyCenter.org.
For a Place to Stay
The Lobby of the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel
The Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, 10 Dunham Ave. Celeron features a Hilarious Package that includes an overnight stay, a $30 restaurant voucher,
Two tickets to The National Comedy Center and Lucy/Desi Museums
two tickets to e the Lucy Desi Museum and The National Comedy Center, and a set of “Groucho glasses.” If you wear them in the restaurant, you’ll be awarded a free dessert. Phone 716-489-2800 or TheChautauquaHarborHotel.com.
The Fire Pits Outside the Hotel Overlooking Lake Chautauqua
For a Place to Dine, the Lake House Tap and Grill has a spectacular view of Lake Chautauqua as well as patio dining in warmer months. In addition to its regular classical American menu, the kitchen features a seasonal menu that currently includes clams casino appetizer and an apple brined Pork Chop. Phone 716-489-2800.