As you step inside of the National Comedy Center, you are immediately overwhelmed. You look up, and there is comedy in every form imaginable. The National Comedy Center, which opened last week in Jamestown, NY is said by many to be the “Cooperstown of comedy.” But honestly, this is bigger than Cooperstown. If you wander this Earth, you are sure to find someone who does not like baseball. But wander this earth and find someone that has gone their entire life without at the very least cracking a smile, if not laughing? It’s impossible. The National Comedy Center is for everyone.
The first thing you do when you walk in is choose your profile. This is integral to the interactive component of the museum. You literally have hundreds of options to choose from. These will come in handy later throughout the museum, as it will allow your museum experience to be tailor made for you.
To your left as you walk in is the hologram theater. After a brief video about the comedy clubs, we are joined by Jim Gaffigan via hologram. Jim Gaffigan’s hologram is there to welcome you to the museum as well as do something pretty fascinating, and that’s show you the evolution of a comedian. We see modern Jim Gaffigan morph into early Jim Gaffigan, then into mid-Jim Gaffigan, before we finally are treated to current – Jim Gaffigan. And nothing will ever make you appreciate the years that it takes a comedian to find their voice more than watching the process happen right in front of your very eyes.
Next up, you will find artifacts from a variety of comedians, including a case designated to Joan Rivers, Rodney Dangerfield’s signature suit and red tie, Jerry Seinfeld’s puffy shirt, Andy Kaufman’s Elvis jacket and wrestling belt, Harold Ramis’ Ghostbusters suit, and even Charlie Chaplin’s cane.
Kitty-corner to all of this is the granddaddy of the archives here at the National Comedy Center. It is George Carlin’s archives. Hundreds and hundreds of his jokes and handwritings have found themselves digitized, sitting on top of trunks that he kept them in. George Carlin was meticulous in his organization, which is something that is being kept alive here. You can swipe through a large amount of some of George Carlin’s materials and see a smattering of his belongings. This is all encompassed in a surrounding shrine to the man. It was, after all, his archives being obtained that helped get the museum up and running.
It is important to note that this is not just all about the archives. There is much more to be had. You are a member of the audience, but as you walk through the halls, you become an integral piece to the puzzle. You will find yourself on a journey into the world of late night, a wall that links together all of your comedy interests and intersects them with each other, a whoopee cushion bench you can sit on, and a table that allows you to follow the process of your favorite works from the page to the screen.
And yes, throughout the museum, there are plenty more archives still to be had. You’ve got Garry Shandling’s Larry Sanders talk show set, Lucille Ball’s Kennedy Center Honors attire, Carl Reiner’s Alan Brady toupee and Emmy, Jonathan Winter’s dress, Tracy Morgan’s EGOT bling, Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” lyrics, “Weird Al’s” accordion, and Shelley Berman’s stool.
One of the coolest things about the center is downstairs. If you are 18 or older, you can go visit the Blue Room. The Blue Room is where things get really down and dirty, as you hear comedians completely uncensored. And as you enter, the first thing you see are George Carlin’s seven dirty words. It’s very fitting that this is in the basement of the center, as it makes you feel as if you’re in the 1950s underground nightclubs where you’d go to hear language like this. And subsequently, you would also see Lenny Bruce get arrested in a place like that. This is where Lenny thrives. On display here are Lenny’s infamous trench coat and typewriter. Additional comics who are paid tribute down here are Carlin, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison, and hell, even Rusty Warren.
What makes the National Comedy Center so important is that it preserves the things that are in danger of getting lost. More and more you meet people who didn’t grow up watching I Love Lucy or the Marx Brothers on T.V. The only reference most people of this generation have of The Three Stooges is the movie from 2012. Here, this is where you go. You bring people so they can appreciate and learn about the big picture; the history of comedy as an art form. There’s a big wall here that covers all of comedy from the Greek period up until present day. They are serious about all of this.
And this is only the beginning. Further talks are underway as far as the evolution and expansion of the museum. There is so much more to cover, and I can only imagine what else they have up their sleeve. But for starters, the National Comedy Center has done it right. Finally!