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When planning our weekend, the National Comedy Center was not on our radar of places to visit. We are so glad that our friends at VisitErie hosted our visit to this hidden gem just 40 minutes away, down I-86 in Jamestown, NY. It is not to be missed!
Located in Lucille Ball’s hometown, the National Comedy Center opened in August of 2018. It was Lucy’s vision to have a national comedy hall of fame established in Jamestown. The center has won several well deserved honors and is a point of pride amongst famous comedians, many of whom contributed items from their personal collections for display.
We have been to many museums in our travels. We have never seen a museum so technologically innovative. Your experience starts with getting your laugh band, a virtual wristband that has an RFID chip in it which you use to check in at different exhibits throughout the museum. But before you start the tour you create your Sense of Humor profile at one of the many touch screen kiosks at the entrance. By selecting the comedians, movies, and tv shows that make you laugh via the kiosk, your comedy profile is built and linked to your wristband. When you use your wristband to check in, each exhibit tailors its presentation to your comedic tastes. In some cases the exhibit may even introduce you to other comedians you might like but may not have heard of before. If you like the exhibit’s suggestion you can click a button and add the comedian to your profile. The best part is that there is an ADA kiosk for wheelchair users, like myself.
It was hard to pick my favorite highlights from our visit, but I absolutely loved the Act the Part green screen experience. I loved it so much that I did it twice! I got to join Margaret Jo and Terri from SNL’s Delicious Dish to do the “schweddyballs” skit. Next I got to do “Who’s on First?” with Abbott and Costello. Pulling off those lines while keeping a straight face is harder than it looks.
My second favorite part of the experience was the Draw the Cartoon experience on a digital screen. Often, drawing is challenging for me due to my tenodesis, but through the magic of the guided touch screen I could do it with ease. It is great to experience a museum activity that seamlessly breaks down barriers and lets me experience an activity first hand.
From an accessibility stand point, I could access and fully participate in each of the innovative technological exhibits. The touchscreens were all at wheelchair level and I could pull up to the tables. The theaters had spaces to accommodate my wheelchair and some had designed wheelchair seating. And the comedy karaoke stage had a ramp.
You can get through the museum in 2-3 hours, but you could also easily spend all day here.
When you reach the last exhibit you tap your wristband one more time and receive an overview of your comedy profile, which grows and evolves during your tour. I was quite surprised by my assessment and enjoyed reviewing the breakdown of what makes me laugh.
While in Jamestown, don’t miss the Lucy Desi Museum. You can buy a ticket to both the National Comedy Center and the Lucy Desi Museum. I highly recommend doing this. The Lucy Desi museum tells the story of the couple’s rise to fame, battling social norms and industry standards along the way. They cover the groundbreaking history of I Love Lucy and Desilu studios, which brought the world other TV classics such as Star Trek, Andy Griffith and Mission: Impossible.
The best part was my brief visit to the recreated I Love Lucy set. For an additional fee you can go onto the recreated set and have your picture taken. The museum made the set accessible in the last couple of years and I had no issue using the ramp. I really enjoyed sharing these pictures with my family as my grandma and sister religiously watched the show. The Lucy Desi Museum is small and you can get through it in 60-90 minutes.
I will definitely return here in the future with my family. My nephews would love all the technology and I thought of all the years I spent watching SNL with my parents growing up and know that they will enjoy it. Jamestown is about 2.5 hours from northeast Ohio. It would also be a very convenient stop on the way home from upstate New York like the Finger Lakes.