JAMESTOWN, N.Y. — Tony Uva of Colorado is visiting his daughter and recently went to the National Comedy Center in Jamestown for a trip back in time to relive the early days of the art form.
"Carl Reiner and all that gang," said Uva. "All the comics I've been interested in since I was a little kid, and so when I got to come here, it was fantastic."
Tony customized his selections before making his way through the interactive center, which opened in 2018 and will celebrate five years in August.
Despite the pandemic, center leaders say raising the $50 million to preserve the legacy of the greatest voices and contributors to comedy has lived up to the hype and visitor expectations.
"The cultural and economic impact on Western New York of an institution that continues to garner national press and accolades is exactly the impact everybody hoped for," said Executive Director Journey Gunderson.
Last year, the center opened two major exhibits, "Carl Reiner: Keep Laughing" and "Johnny Carson, the Immersive Experience," honoring his 30 years in late night.
"We really try to put visitors in an environment where they can relax and relish in the nostalgia of the laughs they've experienced over the course of a lifetime," said Gunderson.
The center is also remembering comics recently lost, like Bob Saget and Betty White. Some of her personal items are on display.
"Norm Macdonald, Louie Anderson — such a great loss to the art form because it's irreplaceable," said Gunderson. "It also speaks to the need for and the role of a cultural institution to preserve those stories and celebrate that heritage."
To celebrate the heritage and preserve the stories of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the center's Lucy-Desi Museum was recently awarded a prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities grant of $400,000, the largest to be awarded in the state.
Funding from the three-year project, featuring bilingual content, will be used for research, state-of-the-art access to thousands of archives and collaborations for a deeper look into the first couple of comedy's legacy and trailblazing contributions.
"A richer telling of the stories of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, a more accessible interface with the archives themselves," Gunderson said. "People will actually be able to dig through the archives in ways we've never allowed before."
Tony is just happy the center gives him a new opportunity to look at his old favorites.
"It's a gem," said Uva. "It's the escape we all need. And this is the depository of all the greats."