The Rotary Club of Jamestown welcomed Journey Gunderson, Executive Director of the National Comedy Center, to its weekly noon luncheon meeting recently. The Comedy Center is hailed as the United States’ official cultural institution dedicated to the art of comedy.
A native of the area, Journey has led the planning, strategy, fundraising and creative development for this ambitious project and has been named to the “Business First” top 40 under 40. 
 
Based on the vision of Jamestown native Lucille Ball for her hometown in Western New York to become a destination for comedy, the non-profit Comedy Center showcases comedy’s great minds and unique voices in ways that educate, engage, and inspire future generations.
 
Since its opening in 2018, the National Comedy Center was named “Best New Museum” in the country in 2020 by USA Today,one of the “World’s Greatest Places” by TIME magazine and one of “100 Reasons to Love America” by PEOPLE magazine.
Journey has skillfully navigated the Comedy Center through the COVID era, raising significant funds to keep the museum on solid financial ground, while finding new and innovative ways to stay connected to comedy fans across the country.
 
Journey also serves as Executive Director of the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum and the acclaimed Lucille Ball Comedy Festival, both of which have reached new heights under her leadership. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the debut of “I Love Lucy.”
Last fall, Journey was named one of the Top 50 Museum Influencers in the world by international museum and attractions authority Blooloop.
 
Journey has been cited as one of Buffalo Business First’s “Top-Forty-Under-Forty” and was listed on its “Power Women” list annually since 2018. Buffalo Business First just announced that Journey was selected for its prestigious “C-Level Executive” award for 2021.
Gunderson told the group that running the Comedy Center during the pandemic and keeping it not just afloat but thriving has required a dedicated team effort.
 
Two weeks after being named the best new museum in the country, the pandemic shut down everything thing included the town’s new comedy center. There had been so much momentum and 2020 was to be the first real season.
 
The museum staff rallied and continued to promote the Center, even while closed. They went online with a Virtual Comedy Festival, which won a Telly award for the best online series, and garnered 960,000,000 media impressions, each one mentioning Jamestown.
In October of 2020, it was announced that the National Comedy Center would be the new preservation home for the Johnny Carson archives, and that a new exhibit would open in 2022, “30 years of late night 30 years later”.
 
Comedian, producer, and director, Carl Reiner, was a founding advisor of the NCC and when he passed away, the preservation and archive department of the National Comedy Center was named after him.
 
Gunderson complimented her talented staff by highlighting Gary Hahn, VP of marketing and communications. He came to the NCC from Graceland and has brought a level of expertise at the national level to the Comedy Center. He and his family now live in Fredonia.
Gary’s expertise at developing relationships, garnering support, and achieving national publicity has been critical. He worked with the Reiner family to bring Carl’s archives to the Comedy Center and was able to orchestrate national public announcements on the Today Show of the acquisitions. 
 
Another kudo for the NCC is the award received for “Laugh Safe”, which was an effort with major epidemiologists to make the museum safe, and then to brand it. It was groundbreaking and received nationwide attention.
 
Gunderson was quick to note that the community made it all possible. The staff started 2020 knowing that the National Comedy Center needed to be 20% better than 2019 to advance. And then the pandemic hit and the NCC had to close. The community stepped in and made it possible to continue to go forward. The foundations all rallied their support, the Comedy Center did not pause and did not lose their talented team.
 
Come the Summer of 2021 and the “Summer Fun Weeks”. The publicity of these activities brought more people to the museum than projected. It motivated people to make the day trip. Each week culminated in Riverside Saturdays at the Waterfront which featured Comedy Center Park. As people passed over the railroad crossing into the park, they could read the plaque recognizing that the Rotary Club of Jamestown funded it. 
 
The first Riverside Saturday attendance was approximately 500. That number almost doubled over the weeks. These events did not cost anything and about half the participants were local residents. The Comedy Center recruited restaurants to deliver to the Waterfront, supporting local business. During the Summer Fun Weeks there were nine interns, 20 volunteers, staff and board members all working to make it happen.
 
The joint comedy week with Chautauqua Institution was a mutual success, bringing people from Chautauqua to the city, which is difficult to do.
 
Most recently, on August 6, Lucille Ball’s birthday, it was announced that Tiffany Hadish has joined the Advisory Board. She is an Emmy and Grammy winner.
 
The expansion that was planned before ethe pandemic is back on track. Netflix will be doing a show featuring the new hall that will now take place in May. Also in 2022, Carl Reiner and Johnny Carson exhibits will open.
 
Gunderson is proud to point out that all these milestones, even in these difficult times, show that this was the right investment for Jamestown, which is reaching fruition - just a little delayed.
 
PHOTO CAPTION:  John Healy, President-Elect of the Rotary Club of Jamestown, welcomed Journey Gunderson, Executive Director of the National Comedy Center to their meeting for an update on the Center.
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