One week ago- two years after breaking ground- a brand new home for comedy opened to the public kicking off six days of celebration that attracted the likes of comedy celebrities and legacy keepers like Lewis Black, Dan Aykroyd, Loraine Newman, Alan Zweibel, Paul Provenza, W. Kamau Bell, George Shapiro, Ron Bennington, Lucie Arnaz, Fran Drescher, Lily Tomlin, George Schlatter, Stephen J. Morrison, Judy Gold, Amy Schumer, Bridget Everett Pete Lee, Dulce Sloan, and Sara Tollemache. Plus the families and representatives of the families of Shelly Berman, Allan Sherman, Ernie Kovacs, Jonathan Winters, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Harold Ramis, Andy Kaufman, Rusty Warren, Rose Marie and Lucile Ball and Desi Arnaz including Kitty Bruce, Kelly Carlin, Lucie Arnaz, Violet Ramis Stiehl, Josh Mills, and so many more. The speakers really got to the heart of the importance of comedy, and why its so meaningful that the art form has a home. Most mentioned their eye roll moments upon
At an exclusive VIP event held in front of the backdrop of the center’s new “comedy continuum” the board of the National Comedy Center celebrated an eight-year journey with their honored guests with a lot of laughs, and plenty of tears from those who were emotionally moved by the culmination of years of work.
Kelly Carlin, daughter of George Carlin, and keeper not only of the legacy of her father, but also a true guardian of comedy opened the night with remarks about what the evening meant to her. Her statement echoed just about everyone in the room when she said, that four years ago, a friend had told her about this place. “I rolled my eyes and said, I’ve heard it a million fucking times already and it never happened.” But, Kelly recalled coming to Jamestown, meeting Journey and the people of Jamestown, “And I saw, not only their intention, and their heart but the vision and their will to get this done. And so I’ am so thrilled that it is done. And I can’t tell you how big my heart is right now so full of love and happiness and just so happy, I love this town.” Carlin talked about her father’s exhibition in the center, and said that she cannot spend more than two minutes in the exhibit at a time because she starts to cry, but expressed great pride that it exists and vowed to get through all of it. “I’m here to say those words and introduce this woman who is a rock star in my eyes,” she said referring to the center’s Executive Director Journey Gunderson. “I’ve described her before as the biggest fucking balls in the world. She’s of such service. Her vision, her commitment, her love and her energy is why I’m here.”
The new center’s Executive Director Journey Gunderson thanked the room for believing in the new center, which she said is “dedicated to telling the vital story of comedy in America.” She added that it was “appropriate that we’re having this reception in the room called the comedy continuum cause at the core of our mission is to draw connections, provide context that makes the past relevant to the present.”
There were other great speakers and toasters including Dulce Sloan, Violet Ramis Stiehl, and Alan Zweibel who said he was thrilled that he’ll forever be under the same roof with all the new comedy friends he’s met at the center, adding, “its about time comedy had a roof like this.”
George Shapiro saluted the new center, recalling that it was Kelly Carlin who persuaded him to be there at the grand opening where he cut the ribbon on the infamous Seinfeld Puffy Shirt, as he expressed amazement at how great the new Center is.
W. Kamau Bell called the National Comedy Center “the place where the First Amendment lives,” adding that stand up comedy, and comedy in general always has pushed the boundaries of the First Amendment. “Our job is not to be agreeable,” he told the other comedians in the room. “Our job is to push the limits of the First Amendment. Whether it was Lucille Ball not being able to say the word pregnant on the Lucy show, whether it’s black comedians going to the chitlin circuit cause they knew they can’t say this shit in front of white people, whether its Lenny Bruce being arrested for obscenity or an unknown comedian getting heckled by two trump supporters. That’s why I love this place.”
Then Lucie Arnaz got up to speak, and shared the long history of the comedy center which began a month before Lucille Ball died when she said asked that people honor the art of comedy. And when the people of Jamestown called Ball asking if they could honor her, she said “don’t do a thing for me, just honor comedy.” Many attempts to use Jamestown as a place to honor Lucille Ball followed, with Lucie Arnaz a part of them, but she said, none of them were right. She knew it had to be about more than just celebrating one woman or one show. “Nothing really chaned till I left,” she said, telling them to go big or go home, “and they hired their own board of directors and a woman named Journey Gunderson.” And Journey and Tom Benson she said, with their Board of Directors finally fulfilled her mother’s dream that people honor the art of comedy.
Lewis Black closed the night, thanking everyone who build the place he was standing in. “This is fucking amazing. This is not supposed to be here. There’s no reason this should be here,” he said, particularly amazed at how correctly the center was created. “There were no assholes in the room,” he said. “This doesn’t happen. This hall could be a piece of shit. Someone could have said what we need over there is a giant duck.” Black praised the citizens of Jamestown “who didn’t realize there is a map and they could leave here. And go somewhere else and get out of leading lives of quiet desperation.” He said, “everyone I’ve met in the past 3 years that I’ve been coming have all said ‘I’ve been living here for 30 years, I love this city, I love this town, it’s so important to me, and I thought oh wow this is stunning. Even Lucille Ball said I’ve got to get the fuck out of here.”
Lewis toasted the people of the town who stayed, and those who came back, and closed with what he said was the most important thing they did.
“You gave comedy a home, you gave it context, you have begun to find a historical thru line for it,” he said. “We’ve always seen this craft especially that of the stand up comic is a lonely profession. This museum shows that’s not true. This museum shows that if it weren’t for the people who came before me and the people who come after me…. I’m not alone. Thank you.”