National Comedy Center – It’s on THE Map!

By Sabrina Völz

When I start­ed out as a teach­ing assis­tant at Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty at the ripe old age of twen­ty, I instinc­tive­ly knew I should get to know my stu­dents bet­ter. The obvi­ous way to do that was to make small talk before or after class. My ques­tions were noth­ing too per­son­al or spe­cial, but the answers to one ques­tion puz­zled me. “Well, what are you doing this week­end?” The respons­es var­ied, but they all had some­thing in com­mon: “Going to THE bas­ket­ball game,” “Going to THE lake,” “Going to THE City” Okay. The first two were obvi­ous. Bas­ket­ball meant Syra­cuse University’s finest. THE lake meant Ononda­ga Lake, after all it was the clos­est one. But THE city? As if there is no oth­er. Where, for cry­ing out loud, is THE city? “Going to the City?” I asked meek­ly. “Yes, going to the City. You know, THE City.”

I felt like I was in the mid­dle of a Lau­rel and Hardy rou­tine. No, I real­ly didn’t know. So I had to muster up a large dose of courage. After all, some of the stu­dents were actu­al­ly old­er than me, and I, the new T.A. and grad­u­ate stu­dent from Iowa, obvi­ous­ly didn’t want to look stu­pid. After an excru­ci­at­ing­ly long minute of silence passed, I final­ly spit out my ques­tion. Try­ing to keep a straight face, my stu­dent respond­ed in slow motion, over enun­ci­at­ing his words: “New York City.”

Right then and there, I learned an impor­tant les­son: For most New York­ers, there was, is, and nev­er will be anoth­er city besides the Big Apple. Well, at least until now. Move over N.Y.C! Jamestown, N.Y., is on THE map. So what does Jamestown, a city with a pop­u­la­tion of rough­ly 30,000, have that THE City doesn’t? It has THE Nation­al Com­e­dy Cen­ter.

pho­to cred­it: Steve Neilan

The 50 mil­lion dol­lar Nation­al Com­e­dy Cen­ter opened this year on August 1 and is unlike any oth­er muse­um you’ve vis­it­ed before. Chances are you haven’t been to a muse­um that lives and breathes com­e­dy. In fact, the Cen­ter might actu­al­ly be called an art muse­um since it is ded­i­cat­ed to the art of com­e­dy. And yes, com­e­dy is an art. Just ask the orig­i­na­tors of Sat­ur­day Night Live, who appeared on August 2 as part of the open­ing fes­tiv­i­ties:

pho­to cred­it: Steve Neilans. From left to right: Alan Zweibel, Laraine New­man, and Dan Aykroyd

Apart from edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties and a holo­gram the­ater, where vis­i­tors can expe­ri­ence some of the great­est come­di­ans of all times, there are many hands-on activ­i­ties, such as live stand-up, faux pie fights, com­e­dy writ­ing, and car­toon­ing. Irre­sistible offers for com­e­dy artists-in-wait­ing and come­di­ans-to-be. Then there are the 50 exhibits that span com­e­dy his­to­ry from vaude­ville acts to vir­tu­al memes. The lov­ing­ly designed exhibits also include rare arte­facts, rang­ing from Char­lie Chaplin’s icon­ic cane and scripts with numer­ous edits by a vari­ety of Amer­i­can come­di­ans to Lenny Bruce’s type­writer. It was this type­writer on which he wrote the 1960s com­e­dy and satire that chal­lenged obscen­i­ty laws and land­ed him a one-way tick­et to jail.

And there is more good news. After spend­ing a few hours at the Nation­al Com­e­dy Cen­ter, you can also vis­it the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Muse­um, also locat­ed in Lucy’s home town, Jamestown, N.Y. After all, Lucille Ball, who was nom­i­nat­ed for 13 Emmy Awards and won 4, is the rea­son the Nation­al Com­e­dy Cen­ter land­ed in small town U.S.A.

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