National Comedy Center Inspires Storytelling

“My father and Lucy went on a date once.”

These are the kinds of interesting memories that are being retold as the National Comedy Center edges ever closer to opening. The big event is unearthing local stories, and at least in my house, inspiring people to talk about comedy.

My mother and her friend Jean came to dinner last week and we sat around my wooden island with a glass of wine and barbecue talking about the comedians that have punctuated our lives.

Jean likes slapstick comedy, while I favor more irony in my routines. What we agreed on was that we all loved the “Carol Burnett Show,” and we recounted tales of laughing so hard we cried when Burnett came down the stairs wearing a curtain, complete with curtain rod in her comedic recounting of “Gone With The Wind.”

Who does not remember Harvey Corman and Tim Conway trying not to laugh out loud at one another on Burnett’s show? Their show-stopping moments are history.

There are classic comedic moments we shall all take to our graves: Lucille Ball stuffing chocolates down her blouse, and Tim Conway as the slow-moving, aged fireman trying to get to the scene of a fire on the “Carol Burnett Show.” Or George Carlin reciting the seven things you can’t say on TV.

What I’m trying to point out here is that the Comedy Center is inspiring conversations beyond ticket prices and opening acts. We’re immersed in the theme, thinking about the ways in which comedy has been an intricate part of our own lives. Whether George Carlin or Shelley Bergman is your thing, comedy has touched us all.

Especially interesting to me has been hearing people’s memories about Lucille Ball.

Truth be told, my grandmother Anne Eckerd was a friend of hers. They occasionally swam together in front of my grandmother’s parent’s house in Lakewood many, many years ago. They weren’t lasting friends as a few others were, but we have a picture of the two of them together that we love.

My mother’s mother went to California often to visit her daughter, and she sat with Lucy’s mother several times who was also on her way out west. They were happy to while away the flight together, exchanging Jamestown gossip.

And my friend Jean retold her two Lucille Ball stories: her father went on a date with Lucy. It consisted of a bike ride that ended up with the two of them wiping out in a ditch, and so that was the end of that.

Another story is the time Lucille called Jean’s house to talk to her mother and Jean got to talk to the famous actress for a minute or two on the phone.

I love these stories, not so much for their claim to fame but because so many people here became the lovely B roll to the life of the iconic actress. She so obviously loved this place; it was the repository of her childhood memories.

And that’s something I understand. There is truth to the claim that we are where we came from. I remember once hearing Lucy exclaim on one of her shows, “I wish I was back in Jamestown, New York again.”

A lot of people who grew up here felt the same way and moved back — people like my mother.

What I’ve loved the most is the recounting of Lucille’s trip to Jamestown for the premiere of her MGM movie “Forever Darling.”

I’ve asked everyone I know over 70 if they were at the premiere and I have yet to find someone who lived here that wasn’t awaiting Lucy and Desi’s arrival by helicopter at the old football field behind Jamestown High School, or lined up on a street downtown to catch a glimpse of the famous couple in the parade. It was a great moment in the city’s history.

I’ve been studying the birth and the progress of The Comedy Center for some articles I’m writing and I’m truly impressed with the press and support they’ve been receiving across the country.

There were people in show business who were skeptical about the project at first, but as the years have passed and the money rolled in and this state-of-the-art center took shape, the showbiz world has gotten on board and supported it. The donation of the George Carlin and Shelley Berman collections is a strong testament of that support.

I read an article written by a New York City comedy reporter entitled, “National Comedy Center Coming to Jamestown NY: 10 Reasons to Start Paying Attention.”

The writer admitted he was first a doubter of the project until he got in the car and drove the six hours from his home to take a special VIP tour of the Comedy Center.

He walked away with a whole new perspective and he listed ten reasons why he changed his mind, including the professionalism of Journey Gunderson, the Carlin archives, and the impressive plans they had in place to bring comedy alive.

The 10th reason was Jamestown itself. He thought Jamestown was the perfect place for the center.

“Jamestown could be just right for a revival,” he wrote.

I think he’s right.