Lucy’s Vision Heals Us: The Art of Comedy in America

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  • November 30, 2020

by Karen Feld

Chautauqua Harbor Hotel

Who doesn’t need a good laugh these days? The Hilarious Getaway Package at the new Chautauqua Harbor Hotel situated on Chautauqua Lake in Celoron, NY, has one answer. After visiting the area, you’re certain to feel the deep influence of humor on every aspect of your life.

Late Night ZoomIt’s an easy getaway from New York City, a quick flight to Buffalo and then a 90 minute shuttle ride to

Chautauqua County in Western NY not far from the famed Chautauqua Institution. The new National Comedy Center, which opened in 2018, and the more traditional Lucy Desi Museum are drawing visitors to Jamestown, Lucille Ball’s hometown, and the nearby lakes of Chautauqua County.

The National Comedy Center is the first museum to tell the story of comedy in America. The visitor is immersed on an interactive creative journey from Charlie Chaplin and vaudeville to the viral memes of today tailored to her own sense of humor every step of the way.  Upon entry, swipe your wristband to  set up a profile with your preferred comedy preferences in all media. This personalizes your visit so that when you again swipe your wristband at each of the 50 exhibits, your experience will match your  preferences. Comedy here is live and ever changing. This works for visits with your peers and grandkids as well since each experience is personalized for tastes, gender and multi-generations.

The former railroad station where Lucy boarded the train to the city combined with a large storage unit have been converted to 27,000 square feet of laughter. The top level is rated PG-13 and there’s a Blue Room on the bottom level. It’s design is reminiscent of the small one-time smokey clubs in the Village. That’s where you can explore the contents of George Carlin’s trunk going through his notes and raw material to see how he crafted his routines. A NBC memo with words not used on air takes us back to Carlin’s time.

Take your turn at the control booth for late night TV. Watch signature bits and monologues. Surprises everywhere!  Sit on a “fart bench” as you view the history of the comedy art form. Pick your favorite prop at the comedy continuum, place it on the interactive table and see how it earned laughs. Watch the history of it’s use and connections between comedians. Games are presented in fun ways. Guess the moguls at the Hall of Moguls. An interactive table with scripts reveals how the skit actually looks. More than 50 exhibits are dedicated to various aspects of the genre. Delve into political humor with Samantha Bee and Stephen Colbert, who can say what journalists can’t.

Brad Anderson’s comic strip, Marmaduke, originated in Jamestown where he lived. Not only is his studio set up in the museum, but you can create your own interactive cartoon and add funny sound effects. Sketch and improv is on the “Laugh In” wall.  Lyrical laughter, the marriage of comedy and music, such as “The Book of Mormon” is there. And  couch potatoes, you can relax on comfy sofas in the 50’s TV Room while tuning in for laughs.
The Internet has altered comedy. Anyone can be discovered via Twitter. The bite-sized comedy saved Conan O’Brien when he was legally barred from TV. Internet humor is set up in an office cubicle since most of it is consumed during office hours. We gain insight as to how the Internet inspired flights of creativity and launched new talent thus shaping comedy today. When U-tube went mainstream it reached huge audiences with low cost production and became a launch pad for wannabes— Leah Kauffman’s “Crush on Obama” or Garfunkel and Oates “Sex With Ducks.”  A trail-blazing exhibit is devoted to the Rise of the Podcast. Voiceovers and overdubbing gave voice to uncounted numbers of critters and hundreds of millions views.

Upon exiting the elevator to The Blue Room, we were welcomed by George Carlin’s 7 Dirty Words indicating that we are about to enter raw, uncensored and taboo material. Timing is key to comedy. Comedy has broken barriers. Lucy couldn’t say she was pregnant, but “expecting” was ok. Lenny Bruce broke barriers with freedom of speech. We see his trench coat and 60’s manual typewriter when he knew he was going to jail. Richard Pryor’s tux leads us to the birth of roasts as an comedic art form. I felt like I was in a village comedy club, in a basement with exposed pipes. Learn about Rusty Warren, the mother of the sexual revolution before heading to the Comedy Karaoke Room. Grab a drink and walk onto the stage. Choose a routine on the TelePrompter and break a leg as a comic. Create your dream scene. Put yourself in a scene and then play it back using state of the art facial recognition technology that recommends jobs for you. The takeaway: it’s about delivery.

Don’t forget to grab your “joke to go” upon exiting. And tap your wrist band one more time as you leave so you’ll receive your personalized sense of humor analysis via email.  My results: 17% satire/topical (comedy mined from news and pop culture); 12% wry/sophisticated (comedy presented with a worldly perspective); 9% observational (the ridiculousness of the ordinary).  The universal experience of comedy is personalized at the National Comedy Center.

It’s easy to spend most of the day exploring this museum, but allocate time to walk a couple blocks to the more traditional Lucy Desi Museum to see her 1972 gold Mercedes 280SE, replicas of the Ricardo’s NY apt, Lucy’s bedroom, Hollywood hotel room and her Vitameatavegamin commercial set where she spooned her way to health.

Feel even more enlightened when you visit the nearby Lily Dale Assembly. This quirky spiritual community, the world’s largest, known for its mediums is steeped in religion from its inspirational stump to squirrel alter. Very much about porch life, you’re welcome to stop in for a reading at many of the homes. Workshops in spiritual wisdom are plentiful as well.

We stopped there on our way to the Chautauqua Institution 30 minutes away. It’s a welcoming walkable or bike-able community known for its recreational facilities and lifelong learning in all areas. It’s about community and shared experience in the arts, religion and education. Consider using your leisure time productively. Relationships form organically in the community of all ages and interests so solo travelers feel very much at home. Sounds from the 30 individual practice shacks for musicians form an eclectic nighttime symphony. The kids curriculum reflects what their parents or grandparents are learning so the conversation includes those of all ages.

Regardless of your interests, it’s enlightening to learn to appreciate humor in all aspects of life and participate in an amazing nearby learning experience.

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