Posted: Aug. 8, 2018 12:01 am
JAMESTOWN, N.Y. — As thousands of tourists crowded into the center of town in search of hearty laughs, I walked over to Lake View Cemetery for a look at Lucy’s grave.
Although Lucille Ball’s cremated remains were originally interred at Forest Lawn cemetery in Hollywood in 1989, they were moved here 16 years ago. Her children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr., wanted Lucy’s final resting place to be in the city where she was born.
They also envisioned making Jamestown the epicenter for celebrating not only the First Lady of comedy, but the art form itself. This month, that dream was realized with the opening of the $50 million National Comedy Center.
The non-profit center now oversees the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum as well as the annual Lucy Fest that draws top performers here each August for a week of live comedy. The center itself is a marvel of both technology and memorabilia — certain to place it among must-visit destinations such as the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, some 300 miles to the east.
Curators at the Comedy Center are careful to avoid the term “museum,” preferring to describe their 40,000 square feet of exhibit space as being equally focused on the art as well as the artists. In a small theater, for example, a hologram of the comedian Jim Gaffigan guides visitors through the three-decade long evolution of his stand-up act.
In every corner, the center has sought to use interactive devices and computer technology to appeal to a new generation of fans, who presumably might have a hard time identifying performers such as Lenny Bruce, Ernie Kovacs or other comedy pioneers.
One nice touch is a follow-up email to each visitor outlining his “Sense of Humor Profile.” Mine proved spot-on, identifying my interests in “wry” and “observational” comedy, which the email described as, “Pointing out the humor or ridiculousness of things deemed ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ by society.”
But as the center polishes its act it might want to dial back some of its other tech gimmicks in favor of a more compressive study of the art. It also must refine its display of physical memorabilia which, at the outset, seems to be shaped primarily by what comics and their families were willing to donate to get the facility off the ground.
On balance, the center is a marvelous show place, well worth your time. Coupled with Lucy’s museum and the annual comedy festival, Jamestown should be bustling and chuckling for years to come — proving that if you build it, they will laugh.
As I walked through the vast Lake View Cemetery, covering 150 acres of towering oaks and a scattering of smaller pines on a gently rolling hillside, I was overcome by the tranquility of this beautiful place.
Many tombstones here are quite large and dramatic. But Lucy is interred, along with three family members, beneath a rather simple marker. Standing beside it, you’d almost expect to hear the laughter that came as Lucy stomped grapes or struggled to make candy on an assembly line.
Happily, those laughs, and so many others, are now preserved just a few blocks away from where the words on Lucy’s tombstone read: “You’ve Come Home.”
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker.