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National Comedy Center holds grand-opening celebration in Lucille Ball's hometown of Jamestown


Wed, Aug 8th 2018 09:50 pm
Dan Aykroyd donates his motorcycle to the National Comedy Center in Jamestown.
Dan Aykroyd donates his motorcycle to the National Comedy Center in Jamestown.
About 30 years ago, just before Lucille Ball passed away, she told her hometown of Jamestown that, rather than a museum celebrating her life, there should be a place that celebrates all comedy. This past weekend, that vision was realized with the grand opening of the National Comedy Center.
The National Comedy Center is now the first nonprofit cultural institution and national-scale visitor experience dedicated to the art of comedy. This new, 37,000-square-foot, $50 million facility tells the story of comedy from its origins through the present, with more than 50 immersive, interactive exhibits and rare comedy artifacts.
The weeklong opening celebration featured Amy Schumer; Lily Tomlin; a tribute to the original "Saturday Night Live" cast, with Dan Aykroyd, Laraine Newman and writer Alan Zweibel; Fran Drescher; Ball's daughter, Lucie Arnaz; "Laugh-In" producer George Schlatter; and comedians Lewis Black, W. Kamau Bell and Judy Gold. In total, the celebration featured more than 50 events and 40 artists, including the innovators, creators and legends of comedy, with thousands of visitors in attendance from across the country.
The celebration kicked off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. It was highlighted by Aykroyd riding his motorcycle to the front door of the National Comedy Center, and then donating it to museum.
Family members and representatives of legendary figures in comedy were in attendance, including Shelley Berman, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Ernie Kovacs, Andy Kaufman, Rose Marie, Harold Ramis, Allan Sherman, Jonathan Winters and Rusty Warren.
Journey Gunderson, executive director for the National Comedy Center, stated, "What we saw this week was that the National Comedy Center experience managed to garner extraordinary praise from comedians and 'civilians' alike. From Lily Tomlin, Amy Schumer, Dan Aykroyd and George Schlatter raving about it, to droves of visitors from all 50 states remarking they could spend days inside, the consistent response has been that this is much, much more than anyone ever imagined. Lucille Ball understood the power of comedy and had the vision for her hometown to become a destination that would educate, foster and inspire. To say it feels good is an understatement."
"It's incredible," expressed Tomlin, who toured the center at midnight after her sold-out performance.
Schumer remarked, "When I got into the National Comedy Center I got really overwhelmed and really emotional. It was just really moving and it was really meaningful that we have a place now for our heroes. It's so important to share the legacies of the comedians before us, because you look at Lenny Bruce and these comedians that would fight for their right to say what they wanted and express themselves and make jokes about things that maybe they weren't supposed to.
"I'm really grateful to the women who have come before me. It was a different time and, because they got up there, is why I have the luxury of even being able to do stand-up and say any of the things I want to on stage.
"I'm really grateful that the National Comedy Center exists. It felt good to believe that our legacies will be remembered."
Schlatter boasted, "This is the best thing that ever happened to comedy."
Manager/producer George Shapiro remarked, "I never thought I could fall more in love with comedy, but I just did by spending four days at the National Comedy Center. The laughs keep coming!" Shapiro further tweeted, "THE NATIONAL COMEDY CENTER RULES!"
Carlin's daughter, Kelly, noted, "I always knew that it would be fantastic, but it blew me away. When I walked out I suddenly had renewed hope for America. I thought, 'The world needs to laugh, and most importantly, we need to learn to laugh together again.' The National Comedy Center makes that happen in every moment."
Black, a member of the center's advisory board, said, "There is an art in this craft of comedy. It's timeless. Therefore, it needs a dedicated home. And now, we have a place where somebody who really wants to be a student of comedy can go and study the history of it. Or if somebody is just looking for a laugh, the National Comedy Center is the place where laughter dwells."
Bell simply stated, "This is the house where the First Amendment lives."
"So proud and grateful to be a part of the National Comedy Center. The entire museum is fantastic. Come to Jamestown and check it out," remarked Ramis' daughter, Violet Ramis Stiel.
Zweibel put it succinctly: "The art of comedy finally has a home. And a spectacular home at that."
Arnaz said, "My mother would be over the moon with joy that her hometown decided to follow her advice and, instead of erecting some passive monument to her, pay homage to the healing power of love and laughter, the remarkable, life-saving tonic that is humor. Celebrate it. Study it. And find out how to make sure there is always more of it. The National Comedy Center will do just that in her memory."
"From now on, when anybody says they want to get into comedy, I'll tell them that the first thing they should do is come here," Aykroyd said.

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