‘Take My Wife … Please’

No. It’s not what you think. Sally and I are fine — terrific, actually. The title above is part of a stand-up comedy act performed by the great comedian, Henny Youngman, who got his Show Business break in 1937. Youngman never retired and continued performing up until his final days in 1998, when he passed at the age of 91. He was one of the greatest comedians I watched growing up.

Now, fast forward to July 2018:

A couple weeks ago, Sally and I, along with our friends Gina and Steven, attended a soft opening session of the National Comedy Center, which officially opened this past Wednesday. Our walkthrough of the center took place on July 24, and we spent a great deal of time becoming acclimated to the procedures, participating in many of the interactive exhibits and being entertained with this taste of what so many have been talking about for a long, long time.

After seeing Lewis Black on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” a couple weeks before getting this first look at the National Comedy Center, and seeing him wearing a T-shirt from the center, then hearing him describe what the center is all about what it offers, then hearing him talk about Jamestown, and some of the procedures people will become familiar with while visiting the center, we couldn’t wait to see firsthand what this was all about.

As we entered the center, we were greeted by a Center Staff member, who assisted us in the procedures of signing in, creating our profiles, and how to become involved in the interactive exhibits in the center. After that, the member turned us loose and we went through the center, room by room, reading, interacting, talking, guessing what entertainer was connected with certain memorabilia on display (some of the exhibits were not labeled yet on the day of our walkthrough), and remembering some of the taped routines we saw being played in certain exhibits.

Being hopelessly nostalgic, as attested in this column many times, I love many television sitcoms, and variety show stand-up routines, especially ones I saw growing up, and I’ve enjoyed the tremendously talented comedic minds performing them. I still watch many older sitcoms including “Andy Griffith” reruns, along with “I Love Lucy,” “The Three Stooges,” “M*A*S*H,” “Gomer Pyle USMC,” “Hogan’s Heroes,” “Seinfeld,” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” I also fondly remember some of the other real golden oldies which appear every once in a blue moon, like “The Honeymooners,” “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” “The Carol Burnett Show,” “The Jonathan Winters Show,” “Sanford and Son,” and “Car 54, Where are you,” and “The Phil Silvers Show,” to name a few.

I remember laughing at the comedic genius of Red Skelton, Don Rickles, Bob Hope, Bob Newhart, Lucille Ball, Phil Silvers, Buster Keaton, Carol Burnett, Johnny Carson, Robin Williams, Bill Dana, Rodney Dangerfield, Freddie Prinze, and members of comedy teams like Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, Martin and Lewis, The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Burns and Allen, and Jackie Gleason and Art Carney (though they weren’t a comedy team per se, they were great together as Kramden and Norton.) I also love(d) watching Jack Benny, Henny Youngman, George Carlin, Robert Klein, Victor Borge, Alan King, Richard Lewis, Lewis Black, Billy Crystal, Bill Murray, Dom Irrera, and Jerry Seinfeld. Add to the list: Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, John Belushi, Richard Pryor, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Gene Wilder, Steve Harvey, Lisa Lampanelli, Marty Feldman, Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, John Candy, Tim Allen, Foster Brooks, the McKenzie Brothers, and the Muppets, these also, among so many great past and present comedians of my time. Sadly, some of these comics, and many others who paved the roads of laughter, and who brought many smiles to faces, and much laughter to hearts, are no longer with us, but their legacy, and career, will now be able to live on, right here in Jamestown.

I also remember some comedy teams featured often on The Ed Sullivan Show, including Wayne and Shuster, Burns and Schreiber, Martin and Rossi, Stiller and Meara, and the human and not so human entertainers like Edgar Bergan and Charlie McCarthy, Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney, Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, and my favorite Little Italian Mouse, Topo Gigio.

I’ve created my own personal top ten list of Comedy Movies, which really is more like twenty five (plus?) if you include the series of movies starring the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, The Three Stooges, Mel Brooks, and Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. After my top ten list you can add those multiple movies series to it. These is my top 10 (not in any particular order): “Animal House,” “Stripes,” “Ghostbusters” (the original), “Ghostbusters II,” “City Slickers,” “City Slickers II,” “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Caddyshack,” and “The Blues Brothers.” Throw in “Major League” to make it a Baker’s 10.

Ironically, though not surprising, is that we “ran into” many of the entertainers mentioned in this piece, at the National Comedy Center during our pre-opening visit. Most of them were featured somewhere in one, or more, of the rooms, and/or exhibits, we saw there.

Believe it or not, I recalled all of these comedic personalities and memories right after returning home following our soft opening walkthrough of the National Comedy Center, so I started writing them down and eventually ended up with this narrative.

During our visit, as we went from room to room, and exhibit to exhibit, I found myself excited that I remembered so much, and I found myself chuckling at many of the routines I have seen so many times before, but they still make me laugh, often, harder than the last time I laughed at them. Though I didn’t do the interactive one while there this time, I did see someone doing the Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First” routine, and I recalled my brother, Lou, and I once memorizing the routine and performing it at a party. I still have a video tape of our performance — yes, a video tape.

The center was still being readied for its opening when we visited it, which was a good thing in my mind. We heard more about what wasn’t quite ready yet, but obviously didn’t see all of what it will eventually be offering. It was like taste-testing wine, or gourmet foods, and then visiting the businesses again to get the full servings the next time. We’re looking forward to getting back to the National Comedy Center very soon, and seeing what the finished product will be, for now. For now, because we’re sure that, as the center catches on, in the comedy world, many comedians, comedy duos, husband and wife comedy teams, ventriloquists and the children of these entertainers will be offering more artifacts of memorabilia from repertoires, routines, and/or shows adding to one of the cures for whatever ails every one of us from time to time, be it physical woes, mental woes, depression, sadness, anything that might have us down some. After all, Reader’s Digest (and if you can’t trust Reader’s Digest, who can you trust?) tells us that “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” It’ll be great to be able to provide some of that cure right here in our own hometown.

Sally and I recommend that you make it a point to visit the National Comedy Center as soon as you can. Plan on multiple visits over the years, because of our guess that the center will keep expanding. We definitely don’t think you’ll regret it. Laugh long, and loudly, my friends!