Going for the Laughs in Jamestown, New York

In the world of comedy, one day is significant – Lucille Ball’s August 6th birthday. That event took place in the city of Jamestown, NY, which is also mentioned in the I Love Lucy classic as the birthplace of the beloved, Lucille McGillicuddy.  Lucy, the real Lucy, loved her hometown, and during her illustrious and madcap career, she requested that comedy be celebrated as an art form, and that her hometown be its center.  Not only did her vision become reality with the Lucy Desi Museum which opened in 1996, but the addition of the National Comedy Center in 2018, located just a few blocks away, has truly crowned Jamestown as the place where comedy is king. 

It was hard to choose which museum to visit first on a recent weekend trip to the western part of New York.  Since the National Comedy Museum has a ton of interactive exhibits and experiences which could take three to four hours to enjoy in a relaxed time frame, it was decided to spend Saturday there, and see Lucy on Sunday morning before heading home. The comedy museum is housed in part in the former Jamestown Gateway Station, a sprawling, high-ceiled building from the 1930’s, and ideal for large exhibits.  

Upon entering the museum, guests are given a wristband with a computer chip that becomes the pathway to a personal experience. Guests step over to a kiosk to create a profile where a photo is taken which becomes an identifying symbol throughout the visit, and a short survey gathers info about comedy preferences and favorite comedians. It’s quick and easy to complete. That chip in the wrist band is used to “tap in” to an exhibit so the users’ preferences are played. Then guests “tap out” when moving on tp the next. 

“We hope to instill within our guests a deep appreciation for the art form of comedy,” says the center’s Manager of Marketing and Communications Megan Arnone Eckwahl. “Visitors will experience comedy across all eras and genres, from classics to some of today’s biggest names – it’s nothing like clicking on your favorite comedians’ YouTube or social media videos. More than entertainment, comedy is a form of social commentary and a tool to measure the progress of social movements in American history. When you come to the National Comedy Center, expect to be immersed in the art form, discover previously unfamiliar artists, and fully realize that comedy presents a rich history worth preserving.” 

Popular experiences at the museum include the Johnny Carson Immersive Experience where a Jimmy Fallon hologram introduces guests to nine short videos from Carson’s long-running Tonight Show, and where we learn how Carson kept America laughing for decades. His opening monologue, for instance, helped America to understand the happenings of the times, and if Carson could laugh along with it, so could we. A visit to the comedy karaoke bar offers guests the opportunity to grab a bite, but also pick a favorite comedy bit and perform it on stage. This reporter chose one of Roseanne Barr’s early bits about being a “housewife.” No, let me correct that, “a domestic goddess.” Performed on stage, with a live mic, was a moment to remember. Guests can also get a lesson in drawing their own cartoon character, a la Charlie Brown; insert themselves into a Lucy and Desi TV moment; listen to their favorite comedian and their inspiration. The list goes on and on: Carl Reiner, Joan Rivers, a tribute to Carolines on Broadway, a room dedicated to George Carlin and an elevator to the second floor to bring guests to the Blue Room for “adult-only” comedy.  

As for me, comedy began with Lucy. Just three blocks away are two buildings dedicated to Lucy and Desi: The East Gallery which showcases the I Love Lucy TV show, and The West Gallery which focuses on the personal side and homelife of the couple. On display are exact recreations of the studio sets: living room, kitchen, and Hollywood suite; costumes, props, letters, and scripts. Video interviews with the head writers describe what it was like to write for the show, and how Lucy would approach a script. Whenever something zany was being suggested, Lucy would say to “write it” and then she’d go off, figure it out and make it funny. One particular show, where Lucy was auditioning to sell Vitameatavegamin is a fan favorite, and guests have the opportunity to perform that exact bit on a stage. (I gave that a go as well.)

August is popular in Jamestown due to Lucy’s birthday celebration, and the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival, happening August 2 through 6, 2023. Over 50 Live events over five days: block parties, comedy trivia, stand-up showcase, comedy late night, Lucy and Ethel shows, Tropicana lunches, etc. The annual event also celebrates the surrounding Chautauqua County region of New York. Lucy would like that. 

The National Comedy Museum recently announced that it will be the home of Joan Rivers’ archive, including her 65,000-joke file; and in 2025, a collection from the estate of Betty White. They will be housed along with rare artifacts and materials received in the Center’s Carl Reiner Department of Archives and Preservation.  

Accommodations: Hilton’s Doubletree is within walking distance of both museums and offers free parking on-site. There’s a Comedy Combo package that includes two tickets to both museums.  Enjoy its Indoor pool, buffet breakfast, and a just-baked cookie on arrival. Jamestown is a fun, eclectic city with a lively summer schedule and proud historical significance.  It’s as they say, “worth the drive.”

Photos by MJ Hanley-Goff

Comedy Center

Lucy Desi

Double Tree by Hilton

Tour Chautauqua

About MJ Hanley-Goff (158 Articles)
MJ Hanley-Goff has been contributing to Woman Around Town since its inception in 2009. She began her career at Newsday in the early 90’s and has continued writing professionally for other New York publications like the Times Herald-Record, Orange Magazine, and Hudson Valley magazine. Former editor of Hudson Valley Parent magazine, she also contributed stories to AAA’s Car & Travel, and Tri-County Woman. After completing her novel and a self-help book, she created MJWRITES, INC. to offer writing workshops and book coaching to first time authors, and college essay writing help to students. MJ is thrilled and honored to write for WAT for the amazing adventures it offers, like reviewing concerts, people, authors, events, and tourist attractions in New York, and around the world. “I enjoy drawing attention to the off-the-beaten path kinds of stories,” she says. “It’s great big world out there, with so many talented and creative artists, doers, and thinkers.”