My husband, Roger, and I grew up as fans of “I Love Lucy.” We had known about the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Museum in Lucy’s hometown, Jamestown, N.Y., for more than years, but it was still on the bucket list.
When I heard about the new National Comedy Center opening in Jamestown, we decided to set out on a road trip. The 37,000-square-foot, $50 million National Comedy Center is, according to what Lucy’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz, said at the opening, just what her mother would have wanted. It isn’t a monument to her, but rather the first state-of-the-art museum dedicated to an appreciation of comedy as a healing art form.
Getting the laughs going
The fun began with the National Comedy Center satellite exhibits in the Comedy Room of the new Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, located on the shores of Chautauqua Lake. The hotel’s rustic wood and stone accents fit right in with the natural setting and it adds a new level of upscale accommodations to the area.
The Chautauqua Harbor Hotel is just west of Jamestown, Lucy’s birthplace, in the village of Celoron, near the house where she grew up. It was built on the former site of one of Lucy’s favorite places, Celoron Amusement Park, which had what was then the largest Ferris wheel in the world.
Lucille Ball Memorial Park, which has two bronze statues of the First Lady of Comedy, is a short stroll away. Thankfully, a more realistic 2016 “Lovely Lucy” statue has been added. We were surprised that they kept the controversial 2009 statue of the Vitameatavegamin commercial dubbed “Ugly or Scary Lucy” that doesn’t even resemble the actress.
We booked the Hilarious Getaway package, a deal certain to raise your spirits. It includes accommodations for two, a $30 voucher to the hotel’s Lakehouse Tap and Grill, and two tickets to the National Comedy Center and The Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum (usually $30 each), priced from $239.
It also came with a pair of Groucho Marx glasses and a voucher that read, “No Joke! Wear your Groucho Marx glasses to the Lakehouse Tap & Grille and enjoy a complimentary dessert.”
We had time before our dinner at the Lakehouse Tap and Grille to enjoy the indoor pool and to relax in the plush bathrobes in our guest room, enjoying the lake view.
Later, we basked in the glow of the fire pits on the patio. Back at our room, the bedding was luxurious and in the morning, there was a complimentary coffee and tea bar on every floor.
The National Comedy Center: New York’s funniest attraction
When we arrived at the $50 million National Comedy Center the next morning we each created our own comedy preference profile on an electronic screen by selecting shows and comedians we like. Then we were given a wristband with an RFID chip that uses personalization technology to create a humor profile and an individualized experience at more than 50 interactive exhibits.
There were costumes from favorite shows and areas for trying cartooning or comedy writing. We put ourselves into scenes from shows from “I Love Lucy” to “Saturday Night Live.” Holograms of our favorite media moguls began to form when we correctly answered questions about their work.
A teen performing a scripted stand-up routine drew a crowd. We read jokes and scored points in a laugh battle where facial recognition software detects an opponent’s laugh or smile.
This is a place to celebrate the art of comedy in all its forms, from early vaudeville to Internet memes. We learned about great minds in comedy and created a wall-sized web of influence that connected one comedian to another. We read original scripts and had a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process.
We could have spent days there. We had a ball.
The Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum
It’s a short walk from there to the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum, a place to relive memories through costumes, memorabilia, photographs and awards. There were replica sets of the some of the most famous rooms in television history, including the living room where Desi opened the door and said “Lucy, I’m home!”
The Lucy-Desi Museum, which opened in 1996, focuses on their personal lives and careers. The Desilu Studio area is about the highly successful business aspect of their lives.
Did you know that Lucy and Desi met when he was cast in the New York production of “Too Many Girls”? Lucy was the leading lady.
Lucy also starred with Richard Denning in the 1940’s radio show “My Favorite Husband” and was offered a similar role in the newly emerging television industry. She agreed, but only if Desi was hired to play her husband.
Executives didn’t think viewers would accept a Cuban bandleader as her spouse. The couple formed their own production company, Desilu, and went on the road with a musical comedy show to prove them wrong.
CBS approved the pilot episode. “I Love Lucy” went on to top the charts as America’s highest-rated show. It has never been off the air.