No, We’re Serious: They Just Spent $50 Million to Build the First-Ever Comedy Museum in Upstate New York

Located in Lucille Ball's hometown, the 37,000-square-foot temple of yuks has something for everyone.

Inside the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the museum.

The world’s first museum of comedy is here—and it’s no joke. The National Comedy Center, which just opened in Lucille Ball’s hometown of Jamestown, New York, is dedicated to the art of humor and the people that shaped it.

Covering 37,000 square feet, the $50 million institution includes more than 50 immersive exhibits exploring the history of what has made us laugh and how humor has evolved over the years. On display, you’ll find profiles of legendary comics and an array of historical comedy-related artifacts.

Executive director Journey Gunderson knows that attracting people to upstate New York will require state-of-the-art material that appeals to both occasional stand-up fans and hardened aficionados. “If somebody is going to come all the way to Jamestown, New York, we can’t have an exhibit that tells them the same thing they could pull up on Wikipedia,” she told Smithsonian Magazine.

That’s why the museum consulted the design team behind mega-popular attractions like Universal Studios and the College Football Hall of Fame. Beating others to the punchline, so to speak, the designers came up with an array of comedy highlights, including memorabilia like Lenny Bruce’s iconic trench coat and George Carlin’s handwritten notes for a 1990 appearance on David Letterman.

At the same time, the museum secured expert advice by assembling a board of comedy veterans, including Carl Reiner, Jim Gaffigan, W. Kamau Bell, and Pamela Poundstone.

But the museum isn’t here just for laughs. The institution also tackles serious issues, such as comedy’s rocky relationship with freedom of speech. Last Thursday, the museum hosted a panel on the topic of “Comedy and the First Amendment: How far is too far and who decides?” The event focused on the legacy of Lenny Bruce, who was convicted of obscenity in 1964 before finally being posthumously pardoned by former New York Governor George Pataki in 2003.

So what can you expect on a visit? According to the website, the museum asks visitors to create a “humor profile” and subsequently guides them to content tailored to their specific tastes. So, whether you’re into shock humor or political satire, there should be something here to tickle your funny bone.

The National Comedy Center is located at 203 West Second Street, Jamestown, New York. Hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 10 a.m.–9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. 

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