As full-time travelers, we’re often skeptical when we hear about “must-see” sights. Can this museum or that hotel really be so spectacular?
In the case of the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, N.Y., the answer is a laugh-out-loud, “Yes!”
We can understand why Time magazine listed it as one of the 100 greatest places (in the world!) to visit in 2019. It’s that good.
The National Comedy Center opened in 2018 in Lucille Ball’s hometown, four blocks from the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum, a traditional display of artifacts that opened in 1996. The legendary redhead comedian, who died in 1989 at 77, had expressed a desire to see the creation of a museum celebrating all of comedy. That took 22 more years, and the two museums are now managed by one organization.
There are some classic comedy artifacts on display, like Jerry Seinfeld’s Puffy Shirt from 1993 and Carol Burnett’s cleaning lady costume. But what really sets the National Comedy Center apart from is the totally customized interactive experience.
Upon entry, visitors create a personal “sense of humor” profile, selecting favorites on a series of touch screens from hundreds of comedians, TV shows, and movies. This information is loaded into a Laugh Band worn on the wrist to be scanned at various exhibits throughout the museum. Each visitor will see slightly different footage, depending on specific comedic preferences.
Swipe your Laugh Band at the entrance to the Comedy Club, and the room-size video screen will switch to one of your favorites. Don headphones at the Late Night exhibit, and watch monologues by Johnny Carson, Arsenio Hall, or Jon Stewart, among others. In the Props Area, take a plastic version of a classic comedic prop, such as a frying pan, and place it on an interactive touch screen table; a menu appears showing different scenes — Road Runner, Friends — where a frying pan is used.
Adult comedy is handled well. Swipe your Laugh Band to access the Blue Room — kids’ bands won’t work here — and see exhibits of comedians who have pushed the boundaries of comedy, such as Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin.
Visitors can also act out a classic comedy skit in front of a green screen. We did Lucy and Ethel working on the chocolate assembly line that keeps speeding up. (Younger folks might instead remember Drake and Josh working with sushi.) The museum emailed us our personalized video clip later in the day.
One last swipe of the Laugh Band provided us with our personalized humor profile, based on our selections throughout the museum, along with a printed copy of a joke to take home.
There are over 50 immersive exhibits to explore. You can spend four or five hours at the National Comedy Center and literally leave laughing out loud. We highly recommend it.
(Jamestown, N.Y., is about 50 miles east of Erie off Interstate 86. For information on both museums, go to ComedyCenter.org.)