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A Laugh-Out-Loud Weekend: Exploring the National Comedy Center

Tonya Prater, Owner

Hello comedy enthusiasts and I love Lucy fans! Do I have a getaway idea for you! My husband and I recently had a blast exploring Jamestown, New York and I’m excited to share our experience so you can plan one of your own.

Experience laughter and history at the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, NY! Explore the interactive exhibits, celebrate comedy legends, and enjoy a day filled with humor and entertainment.

Discovering Jamestown: The Birthplace of Lucille Ball   

Jamestown is the birthplace of Lucille Ball and they have wholeheartedly embraced that status. You’ll find an I Love Lucy driving tour, the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum and the National Comedy Center which  I absolutely recommend.

For those who may be familiar with Lucy but not too familiar, the driving tour provides an introduction to her and the role she played in the community. If you’re a diehard fan, you wouldn’t consider visiting Jamestown and NOT taking the tour.

A few things you’ll see on The Lucytown Tour include: 

  • Colorful murals, including the world’s largest I Love Lucy mural
  • her childhood home
  • the site where she attended high school and later landed in a helicopter when she flew home with her husband, Desi Arnaz
  • her final resting place- and the Lucy Desi Museum. 

The tour is on the website (linked above) for anyone to do, but note that there is a $5 donation requested. 

Lucy Desi Museum: A Walk Through Comedy History

The Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum explores the lives of the duo that became a Hollywood power couple. From two very different backgrounds, to one impressive production company that not only produced  I Love Lucy, but Star Trek, The Andy Griffith Showand The Dick Van Dyke Show too. 

You’ll find galleries filled with photos, props and costumes worn by Lucy and Desi. Be prepared to linger a bit and read the signs that give insight into their lives and careers that pushed the limits as to what could and would be shown on television. I had no idea that Lucy and Desi were the first biracial couple to ever appear on TV or that Luci was the first pregnant woman to make a television appearance. 

Lucy was known for her slapstick comedy and won awards to prove she was a gifted comedian (you’ll see her Emmy Awards on display) but you may be surprised to learn she was also a shrewd businesswoman. I left the museum with a deeper appreciation for Lucille Ball who not only entertained millions in her lifetime but whose efforts then, have shaped comedy and TV through the decades. 

You can take a self-guided tour and learn plenty about Lucy and Desi, but I suggest you upgrade your experience with ETHEL, an audio narration device that guides you through the museum galleries to present a deeper dive into the Lucy and Desi story. The device is narrated by Lucie Arnaz, the daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

You can also upgrade your ticket with a fabulous photo opp! Step onto the I Love Lucy New York set and snap a photo on one of the most famous studio sets in history. How fun is that? Just keep in mind when it was first shown to audiences, it was in black and white.

Allow a minimum of an hour to tour the Lucy Desi Museum. My husband and I spent over an hour and a half. You’ll also want to allow time to shop in the gift shop that has a variety of coffee mugs (I wanted all of them) t-shirts, books, ornaments and even a pressed penny machine so make sure you have a few pennies and quarters on hand. 

Lucy Desi Museum | WEBSITE
Address: 2 W. 3rd Street Jamestown, NY 14701
Phone: 716-484-0800
See the website for hours of operation.

National Comedy Center: Laughs Galore Under One Roof

Jamestown is also home to the National Comedy Center. You won’t find this impressive and interactive museum focused on Lucille Ball or any one comedian in particular,  but rather, a showcase for the entire comedic art. As you step inside, you’ll find 37,000 square feet of memorabilia, state-of-the-art exhibits and opportunities to learn about the art of comedy and if you’re brave, you can even take the stage and try stand-up karaoke.

Housed in a repurposed and reimagined train station, the exposed brick walls and high ceilings are the perfect backdrop for colorful and state-of-the-art galleries and exhibits.

The museum provides a curated experience of comedy’s greatest hits. While you will see glimpses of Jamestown’s sweetheart, Lucille Ball, throughout the center, you’ll find that she’s certainly not center stage. However, the museum is based on her vision for her hometown to be a destination to celebrate comedy.

The first thing you need to do as you enter the National Comedy Center is to set up a comedy profile. This is done by scanning the wristband you were given as you entered and choosing an avatar or taking a photo of yourself at the stations inside the lobby and selecting your favorite comedians, TV shows and movies from an interactive screen. The computer compiles the information and creates a comedy profile that will provide a personalized experience for you during your visit. 

As you go through the museum and scan your wristband, or Laughband, and interact with each station, the computer will analyze your wit. At the end of your visit you’ll receive the top three attributes of your sense of humor which will be displayed on the screen and emailed to you along with several photos from your visit. You may find the type of comedy that resonates the most with you a bit surprising. I know I did. 

The National Comedy Center isn’t simply a fun place to visit, it also provides insight into comedy’s tremendous influence on our lives. You’ll leave the comedy center with a deeper appreciation for comedians who have truly honed their art, and understand that comedy is much more difficult than it looks. 

There are over 50 interactive exhibits in the museum covering everything from vaudeville acts to the latest reels and memes. Highlights for everyone who visits the museum will be different but a few that really stood out to my husband and myself were:

  • The Johnny Carson Immersive Experience- We both grew up watching Johnny Carson so to “take a seat” in the famed Tonight Show Theater with Jimmy Fallon serving as a holographic host and seeing guests like Steve Martin and Jay Leno was an incredible way to start our visit. In addition to the theater, you’ll also see a portion of his original trademark curtain and costumes in the new exhibit. 
  • The Fart Bench- If you hear flatulence after someone sits down on a certain bench, don’t be too quick to judge. I have to mention this one because it’s sure to be a hit with the little ones who visit and may have put a smile on my face as well.
  • The Comedy Continuum- This state-of-the-art exhibit presents your favorite comedians to create a web of comedic talent through the ages to show you how they’re all connected. For instance, Mindy Kaling was influenced by Robin Williams early in life and appropriately so as she was named after Mindy, the character in Mork & Mindy.
  • Prop Star- Select a prop and learn how it’s been used in comedy. Popular props include a rubber chicken, anvil and frying pan. You can probably guess what some of the scenes may be but it’s fun to see your hunch was right. 
  • Laugh Battle- My husband and I loved this friendly competition to make each other laugh. An AI feature maps your face to see if you crack a smile or laugh when your opponent delivers a joke. If you laugh, they get a point. 
  • The Blue Room- This adults-only room in the basement is where you’ll find the rule breakers, Lenny Bruce and Richard Prior. You’ll see George Carlin’s seven dirty words that were part of an FCC battle.

Okay, so I need to stop because with so many interactive exhibits I could go on and on. The only regret I have is that neither of us was brave enough to try Comedy Karaoke.

I truly can’t remember having so much fun in another museum. But this isn’t a museum just for adults, this is also a museum that families can visit and enjoy together and it’s for all ages. Why not make it a multi-generational trip with Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa and the kids? I can’t think of a better way to bond and make memories than over some belly laughs. 

From now through December, the National Comedy Center is offering free admission for kids and teens (up to 2 per paying adult). It’s a fantastic opportunity to introduce the young ones to the world of comedy and make those memories!

Plan for a minimum of 2.5 hours at the National Comedy Center, but trust me, you’ll be so immersed in the world of comedy that time will fly. We actually spent almost double that and still didn’t want to leave! Unfortunately, my husband’s back had other plans.

My suggestion is to arrive by 10, when it opens, spend a couple of hours at the exhibits, take a break for lunch or grab sandwiches in the on-site cafe and then explore more. A friend of mine was there with her kids, from elementary to college-age, for six hours! Yes, it is that much fun!

National Comedy Center | WEBSITE
Address: 203 West Second Street Jamestown, NY 14701
Phone: 716-484-2222
See the website for hours.

Other Things to Do in the Area

We were only in the area overnight and our visit was focused on the National Comedy Center. However, we did find a couple of other spots to explore that I haven’t mentioned yet.

Downtown Art

We found cool murals and artwork as we were walking in Jamestown. A large metal grasshopper, a butterfly mural and an eclectic mix of artists’ works hung on buildings throughout the downtown area.

The Lucille Ball Memorial Park & Celoron Lighthouse

If you love lighthouses, and I do, you won’t want to miss the Celoron Lighthouse which is located right beside the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel. My husband and I walked over to see it in the morning fog during our stay and loved it.

The lighthouse is right beside the Lucille Ball Memorial Park where you’ll find two statues that pay homage to the hometown legend. One looks a bit better than the other. Visit both and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll also find a walking path, playground, picnic area and more.

Lucille Ball Memorial Park | WEBSITE
Address: 21 Boulevard Ave Celoron, NY 14720

Panama Rocks Park

Rated as one of the best hikes in New York, this privately owned park is a nature lover’s playground. An easy to moderate (due to rocks and roots along the path) loop trail, visitors are encouraged to get off the trail and take a closer look at all 16 labeled rock formations.

Make sure to wear sturdy, close-toed shoes, take water and keep a close eye on the kids if you’re hiking with little ones. You’ll find drop-offs, crevices and caves at this property.

We visited during the Annual Fall Foliage Festival and enjoyed shopping, listening to the performers, watching the demonstrations and eating the festival food.

Panama Rocks Park | WEBSITE
Address: 11 Rock Hill Rd Panama, NY 14767
Phone: 716-703-0021

Where to Stay When Visiting the National Comedy Center

Located in western New York, you’ll find Jamestown a fun day trip from Cleveland, Buffalo and Pittsburgh, but if you prefer to make it an overnight or weekend trip (which I suggest), I have a beautiful recommendation of where you should stay. 

My husband and I stayed at the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel. This property sits on the site of the former nine-acre site of the Celoron Amusement Park where the world’s largest ferris wheel once stood. Today, you’ll find a quiet, lakefront property that provides wonderful service, great food at the onsite restaurant and incredible sunsets. 

The hotel also offers the Hilarious Package for those planning to visit the National Comedy Center. You’ll get deluxe accommodations, discounted tickets to the National Comedy Center, a $30 voucher to the LakeHouse Tap & Grille and a gift bag with Groucho Marx glasses. If you wear them to dinner you’ll get a free dessert.  

In case you’re curious, we did not wear them to dinner. But I was game.

Tips for Visiting

I shared most of these in the article but these are worth repeating.

1. Buy a Dual Admission Ticket.

Not only will you save money, but you’ll have two days to use your tickets. This way, you can split your visit and spend one day at each museum. It’s a win-win. Just make sure you check the hours of the museums before arriving. The National Comedy Center is currently closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

2. Save Money by Purchasing your Ticket in Advance and Other Discounts.

Save $2 per ticket for when you purchase them online in advance. There are also discounts available for Chautauqua County residents, active duty military/veterans, and Museum for All program participants (for EBT card holders or SNAP participants).

3. Review the National Comedy Center website carefully.

You’ll find information on where to park (we parked in the free lot just down the block), various exhibits so you can plan your day, and even where to eat and stay.  

3. Don’t forget your pennies! 

Take your quarters and pennies! Both museums have a pressed penny machine, perfect for a fun, memorable and inexpensive souvenir to take home for kids and adults. 

Have you visited the National Comedy Museum? What tips do you have for a first-time visitor? Leave a comment below.   

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