Jamestown is probably classified as “Western New York,” though it has many aspects of “The Southern Tier,” as well, both of which are good things. You can get beef on weck there and you’ll see rolling hills and, in about another week, some good leaf color. It even has a fair number of solid manufacturing jobs, which is unusual for a city of just over 30,000.
What you can’t get in Jamestown is “there from here,” which is something of a problem because I stumbled over a reason that, if you like comedy, you really, really should make the effort, and it wasn’t the Lucy-Desi Museum, though that’s why I stopped off on my way home from CXC in Columbus.
I went to the Lucy-Desi with low expectations, though I should be clear: I love Lucy, and you may put her anywhere on the scale you like, but it’s impossible to like comedy and not appreciate one of the hardest working comediennes (and producers) who ever graced the boards.
But the Lucy-Desi was what I expected: A fan site that exemplifies what Samuel Johnson said of the Giant’s Causeway: “Worth seeing, yes; but not worth going to see.”
In fact, it appears to be two fan sites and there’s probably a TLDNR magazine article in how it came about, but they sell one wrist band that gets you into a pair of adjoining museums, each with its own gift shop.
One is, the woman explained, “more personal” and leans more towards personal memorabilia and Ball’s entire career, and is more the “small town remembers its big star” oriented, which I had expected.
The other is more “I Love Lucy” oriented, with a number of personal items that might have been in either museum, but also things like a mockup of their apartment, though I didn’t see that the back of the oven and wall behind had been cut away to allow Lucy Ricardo to bake a loaf of bread that grew to monstrous proportions. Ball, ever the perfectionist, had called in the workmen for the sake of a 10-second gag because that’s who she was.
And I feel like I should have made this pic grayscale, but this is the real deal and another example of Lucy’s detailed approach is that every middleclass family in America had this kitchen, including that tablecloth and those bowls on the back cupboard.
They also have some script pages on display — including this one, the last page of the departure to California, with Fred scratched in to lead off the “California, Here I Come” singing and the handwritten notation: “They sing as they dissapear (sic) offstage. We pick this up with rear projector later.”
It’s a fun little place — they’ve even got a small set with props and idiot cards so you can use your phone to make your own Vitameatavegamin commercial — and worth stopping off if you’re passing through, but probably not worth making the trip just for that, unless you are a true diehard fan, in which case it’s a nicely done mid-level fan museum and you should go.
However, here’s why, if you love comedy, you need to go to Jamestown: A few blocks from the Lucy-Desi is the brand new, as of about two months ago, National Comedy Center, which is very much worth the trip.
This is an intensely interactive museum that begins with a wristband that has an RFID chip to identify you. You then go to a kiosk to choose your favorite comedians, movies and TV shows (past and present), and you get your 15 seconds of fame on the entry arch — that’s me, in da house at left.
More important, at various spots, you tap your now-individualized wristband on a sensor and an exhibit tailored to your tastes pops up.
For example, at the Standup Lounge, they began by noting a few of my preferences, then delivered several minutes that started with some Brian Regan quick jokes, but then went to Jeff Foxworthy talking about how he developed his “You Might Be A Redneck” bit, from a response to kidding from other comedians to something that paid for the house in which livingroom is framed the original, wadded-up yellow sheet of paper with the first 10 jokes.
The set concluded with Jim Gaffigan similarly running through his development of his Hot Pockets routine, interspersed, as Foxworthy’s had been, with performance clips.
And if analysis of how it all comes together is your thing, wander into the George Carlin pavilion, where you will see several pages of his notes and videos explaining how he developed his material.
One expectation I had going in was that I’d be the old guy awash in modern comedians and a flood of Seinfeld/SNL gag lines, but, while they do, in fact, recognize the past 20 years or so, they’re not stuck there. So they’ve got Andy Kaufman’s Elvis jacket and his Intergender Wrestling belt.
But they’ve also got the telegram that Mort Sahl sent to Shelly Berman, telling him that he had spoken to someone at Verve who wanted to give him a recording deal.
And, at the risk of dragging this blog entry screaming and kicking on topic, they’ve got a mock-up of local-boy Brad Anderson’s studio where he produced “Marmaduke” for all those years, on the artist’s table his father had bought him when he was in high school. The video above is the CNN piece on comedy that focused on comic strips and there are a number of comic and cartoon books and memorabilia in the vicinity.
Then, they did something brilliant, which was to set aside a “Blue Room,” with an appropriate warning and an elevator to a separate part of the museum, which allows them to tackle more edgy material without having Mom, Dad, Bud and Sis blunder into it. You can’t get there without wanting to.
However, it’s not just poop jokes, though there’s some of that. Rather, it’s more of the place’s examples-and-analysis, only now we’re talking about roasts and blackface and people like Lenny Bruce, whose daughter, on a video, points out that he didn’t use profanity for its own sake but only in the context of social commentary.
And Richard Pryor, who, a professor of such stuff notes, was the first comedian to say in front of white audiences what black people had been saying to each other for years.
There’s more, a whole lot more. There is a history timeline that starts with the Ancient Greeks, and another, shorter, timeline of late night TV comedy, and there are things like Dwight K. Schrute’s “Employee of the Month” plaque, Clem Kadiddlehopper’s outfit as well as Maudie Frickert’s, and a small cabaret where you can give your own stand-up chops a try, a draw-your-own-cartoon booth, and, as you exit through the gift shop, you can buy a rubber conehead to wear.
Though I just got a ball cap because, as you can see, my main preference in humor is intellectual, while absurd/surreal things are down at #3.
Serious note: This was four hours from Columbus, so would make an excellent second-day with a trip to the Billy Ireland museum, and it’s also four hours from Cooperstown, which has the Baseball Hall of Fame and a lot of other stuff.
Jamestown is in the middle of nowhere, but you can, actually get there from nearly any place. And this is not only worth seeing, but worth going to see.
Back to comics tomorrow.