Tour Highlights Progress Of Comedy Center
Construction continues on the national attraction based on the celebration of comedy.
On Wednesday, Tom Benson, National Comedy Center chairman, and Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center executive director, took The Post-Journal on a tour of the facility’s construction.
Center officials completed their capital funding campaign this spring on the $50 million experience, which allowed them to continue into the production phase with Cortina Productions, Electrosonic, Adirondack Studios, Clark Patterson Lee, E.E. Austin & Son, Jack Rouse Associates and most recently, Herzog & Company, the firm producing the media components of the immersive exhibits.
“We’ve got once chance to get this right,” Gunderson said. “Completing the capital budget this past April allowed us to execute the production phase contracts with seven different firms involved in the experience.”
Concurrent to the production of the visitor experience, the National Comedy Center is developing a national marketing plan and working with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s I Love New York program to create partnerships with regional attractions including Niagara Falls, local and regional hotels, casinos, tour bus operators and more.
“Because this will be a modern museum that features interactive technology, there are many more moving parts than a traditional museum. Construction is right on schedule, but in addition to the exhibit production, we’re only now able to move forward on key operational elements, including the selection, installation and integration of an RFID-capable ticketing system, development of retail merchandising programs, food and beverage programs, security, hiring and training of staff and much more.” Benson said. “Each week we’re seeing great progress, and with every finalized contract and every painted wall comes more clarity with which to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
During the tour, Benson said the Comedy Center Plaza, which will be located outside the facility’s new entrance area, will be completed in a couple weeks. In 2015, center officials received a $500,000 state grant for the public plaza project. He said in the plaza area there will be a special Founders Plaque that will recognize all who contributed to the National Comedy Center.
Outside the National Comedy Center, there will also be two large LED screens that will be located on the exterior walls that will be used to display a variety of videos, including the showing of comedy routines and movies. Benson said the sound from exterior speakers will be able to reach the whole block so people throughout the area of the National Comedy Center will be able to watch and listen to the video on the screens.
Additionally, the Comedy Center Park, which is already completed behind the Jamestown Gateway Train Station, will become a more popular site once the national attraction opens, Benson said. The Comedy Center Park can be visited by walking along the Greater Jamestown Riverwalk’s north shore extension or by stairs on the west side of the former train station along West Second Street.
“It adds to the flavor of the whole vibrant downtown Jamestown,” he said.
Once inside the new entrance area, there is a vibrant mix of colors, new technology and old-world brick. Gunderson said comedians and others who have toured the construction of the facility love the mixture of new and old.
“Comedians have said the bricks remind them of many backstage areas at a lot of comedy clubs,” she said.
At the entrance, Benson said there will be kiosk where visitors will answer questions about their sense of humor to customize the experience for each individual through a radio frequency identification chip that will be placed in a bracelet they wear while walking around the facility. He said the center will have 70 exhibits, with 35 of them using the RFID technology to personalize the experience of each display. He added the National Comedy Center experience can be different each time depending on how a visitor answers the comedy questions.
The first stop in the center will be the the world’s first Hologram Comedy Club. In partnership with the National Comedy Center, Hologram USA has created the Hologram Comedy Club that will display holograms of famous comedians delivering well-known routines. Benson said each performance will be about 15 minutes in length. He said there will be comedy club table seating and stadium seating, which will seat about 80 people.
Other exhibits will include a tribute to late night television, which is where many stand-up comedians get their first big break into show business; a comedy continuum to educate people on comedians and who they were influenced by and who they have influenced; a writing, drawing and cartoon area where people can create their own comic strip; a writers room where people will collaborate to create a comedy routine; and a participation area where people can perform comedy karaoke or be implanted into a famous scene using green screen technology.
Benson said most of the exhibits will contain PG or PG-13 age-appropriate comedy. However, for those looking for adult humor, there will be a designated blue room that only those 18 years or older will be able to enter without parental supervision. Gunderson said in the blue room, along with vulgar or crude humor, visitors will also be able to learn about the different types of censorship or taboos throughout the history of comedy. The blue room will also contain a bar for visitors looking to enjoy an adult beverage while hearing dirty jokes.
At the end of the tour, visitors will be able to discover what type of comedy they enjoy the most because the RFID chip will provide them with information about their experience that they will be able to share via social media. Once the visit is completed, tourist will be led into the former train station’s center corridor, which, because it is on the list of the National Register of Historic Places, can not be retrofitted for the National Comedy Center. In the train station corridor, Benson said there will be kiosk, which can easily be removed, selling merchandise and concessions to visitors.
The team of stakeholders in the National Comedy Center project includes the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy; the Gebbie Foundation; the Oishei Foundation; the Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation; Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation; Lenna Foundation; and the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation.
Global leisure economics firm AECOM, who has been the financial feasibility consultant on the project, estimates a $23 million annual economic impact from the National Comedy Center on the region resulting from a projected 114,000 visitors.
The National Comedy Center is designed to be a national attraction based on the celebration of comedy: the craft and its contributors, and embodies Lucille Ball’s vision for her hometown of Jamestown.