Comedy Center Acquires And Displays Kovacs Material

The National Comedy Center will celebrate the centennial year of legendary comedy innovator Ernie Kovacs with the acquisition and display of never-before-seen material and rare artifacts courtesy of the comedian’s estate.

The Ernie Kovacs Collection is comprised of one-of-a-kind creative material and includes notes and sketches in Kovacs’ own hand, annotated scripts, candid backstage photography, screen-used props and wardrobe, personal effects, and rare production documents that chronicle the career of Ernie Kovacs, who has been called “Television’s Original Genius,” as well as the history of the early television industry. National Comedy Center archivists, in collaboration with the Kovacs estate, recently identified the material, which was personally retained by Ernie Kovacs and his wife/creative collaborator, Edie Adams, and had been packed away since Kovacs’ untimely 1962 death at the age of 42.

“The Ernie Kovacs Centennial Exhibit” will debut in August during the National Comedy Center’s annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival. The installation will showcase never-before-exhibited creative papers, rare audiovisual content and original, screen-used artifacts from Kovacs’ influential 1950s and early 1960s television shows and specials. The festival week (Aug. 7-11) will also feature a panel event honoring Kovacs’ art and legacy.

“We are so pleased to partner with the National Comedy Center to celebrate Ernie Kovacs’ centennial,” said Josh Mills, executive for the Kovacs estate and son of actress/comedienne Edie Adams, who was Kovacs’ wife, co-star, and creative collaborator. “Most of this material has never been exhibited before, so it’s an unprecedented, first-hand look at Ernie’s comedic genius and his unique approach to his work.”

“Ernie Kovacs’ pioneering comedic spirit has influenced generations of comedians and entertainers,” said Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center Executive Director. “We are honored and thrilled to present our visitors with this wonderful opportunity to learn about, and be inspired by, one of the true legends of comedy, as we showcase his archives in this very special exhibit.”

Ernie Kovacs influenced generations of comedic artists including Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, and Andy Kaufman, and laid the groundwork for the creation of franchises as diverse as Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Saturday Night Live, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and The Muppet Show. His pioneering approach to television was noteworthy for its improvisational and spontaneous style, often featuring experimental visual effects and blackout gags, as well as a propensity to break the “fourth wall,” bringing the cameras behind the scenes, into the studio control room and onto the streets. Kovacs was killed at the age of 42, at the height of his popularity, in an automobile accident. His posthumous 1962 Emmy Award is currently on view in the National Comedy Center’s galleries.

George Schlatter, the pioneering producer behind TV’s Laugh-In and National Comedy Center advisory board member, found a mentor and close friend in Ernie Kovacs.

“Ernie saw life differently than the rest of us. The idea that TV is a playpen — not work, but just play — permeated his work. He was an original; he was not another anything,” Schlatter said. “The National Comedy Center’s exhibit will be an opportunity for visitors to watch him closely, enjoy what he does, and learn.”

Schlatter attended the grand opening of the National Comedy Center in August 2018, along with his wife, Jolene Brand, an actress who appeared alongside Ernie Kovacs in several of his landmark television specials in the 1960s.

The Kovacs exhibit joins rare artifacts and creative material already on display at the National Comedy Center from the likes of artists and creators including George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Joan Rivers, Charlie Chaplin, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Lily Tomlin, Phyllis Diller and Rodney Dangerfield, in addition to more than 50 state-of-the-art interactive and immersive exhibits. The National Comedy Center also houses creative papers from comedy innovators including George Carlin, Lucille Ball, Shelley Berman, Lenny Bruce and Rose Marie, among others.