Lucille Ball Comedy Festival To Feature Leno, Tom Cotter, Lucie Arnaz And Much More

What better way to honor Lucille Ball’s legacy than by hosting an annual celebration that features a top-notch comedian such as Jay Leno, and by developing the gateway to her hometown.

More than 100 area residents gathered at the renewed Gateway Train Station on Wednesday to witness the unveiling of the lineup for Western New York’s largest annual comedy festival.

In addition to announcing Leno’s Saturday, Aug. 9, performance at the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena and Tom Cotter’s Friday, Aug. 8, appearance at The Reg Lenna Center for the Arts, the event also featured a nearly complete listing of the many reasons why the 2014 Lucille Ball Comedy festival will be a can’t-miss event.

According to Journey Gunderson, executive director for the Lucy-Desi Center for Comedy, the opportunity to make the announcement to the people of Jamestown was a wonderful feeling.

“To see the reactions on the faces of more than 100 people in the room here today was wonderful,” Gunderson said. “I admit I get bogged down in the stress and rarely get to take a moment to reflect or celebrate, but seeing everybody’s faces, the cheers and excitement for Mr. Leno and the rest of the lineup is a rewarding moment for sure.”

Adults who venture into Jamestown during the festival will be presented with a variety of entertaining opportunities such as: Lucie Arnaz’s return to the festival as a musical guest during Leno’s performance, a “Comics to Watch” showcase hosted by Caroline Rhea at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts, three nights of “Comedy Late Night” in the Tropicana Room, a vintage ball, as well as an appearance by Lucille Ball’s Emmy award-winning costume designer, Ret Turner.

The festival will also provide families with much to do too, including: an attempt at breaking the grape-stomping world record, a Kids Comedy Show featuring Nels Ross, and Universal Studios renowned “I Love Lucy” impersonators at the Willow Bay Theater. Bus tours, cemetery tours, Chautauqua Lake cruises, comedy workshops at Infinity Visual and Performing Arts, art classes with outdoor mural artist Gary Peters, conga workshops, movie showings and much more will also take place during the five-day festival.

The 2014 Lucille Ball Festival Comedy Festival is scheduled for Aug. 6-10 in downtown Jamestown. Tickets to the festival enter presale mode at noon on Friday, which means they are only available to sponsors, supporters and museum members. Tickets will be made available to the general public at noon on Friday, April 18. For more information, call 484-0800 or visit www.lucycomedyfest.com.

FESTIVAL OF LAUGHS

One of the major facets of hosting an annual comedy festival in Jamestown is to honor Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as the “First Couple of Comedy,” as well as their mission of enriching the world through the healing power of love and laughter.

After serving for two decades as the host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” Leno has become regarded by his peers as one of the hardest working men in show business. He’s also a stand-up comedian, best-selling children’s book author, car collector, mechanic and philanthropist. Leno will perform at the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena, 319 W. Third St. in Jamestown, on Saturday, Aug. 9. at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $47.50.

According to Gunderson, it’s perfect timing to have a legend such as Leno perform in Jamestown as the area becomes poised to implement the master plan for the National Comedy Center. She also feels that he will be the perfect representative of the healing power of laughter.

“He’s already cemented his place in our culture’s history, and nothing he does from this day forward will change that. He will be a (Johnny) Carson-esque figure that is celebrated forever, and we intend to celebrate him here,” Gunderson said. “If you saw his tearful goodbye that he did on late night you can tell that he really values his staff and gives them a lot of credit. It’s also nice to see a guy who started in standup appear on Carson, Letterman and dominate the ratings for two decades, but still want to continue to perform live – I think that’s really unique. He doesn’t need to do it, he does it because this is what he is meant to do and it’s his passion. So, coming to Jamestown to essentially be one-on-one with the audience without the TV cameras speaks to the true artist he is.”

Arnaz, who performed as a musical guest during the 2012 “Comics to Watch” showcase, will return to this year’s festival as a featured guest during Leno’s performance. Arnaz’s career is diversified, and includes more than 45 years in show business. She is a successful producer, singer, actor and director.

Tom Cotter, the first comedian to ever reach the finals of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” will serve as the second headliner of the festival. In addition to his television appearances, Cotter is also winner of the annual Seattle International Comedy Competition, grand-prize winner of the Boston Comedy Festival and was voted “Best Stand-Up” at the Las Vegas Comedy Festival. Cotter will appear at 8 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 8, at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts, 116 E. Third St. in Jamestown.

Caroline Rhea, a star of ABC’s “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” and a former host of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” will serve as host and performer for the “Comics to Watch” showcase. The event aims to feature a variety of comedians who are on the rise to the top. Tickets to the showcase are $30, and the event will be held at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts.

Kathleen Eads, executive director for the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts, is quite pleased for the opportunity to take part in the festival and to have so many events held at the Center for the Arts.

“I’m very pleased and happy to continue the partnership with Lucy-Desi,” Eads said. “Journey and I have been meeting separately, and I enjoy her very much. We’re just excited to be a part of it because it’s an important part of Jamestown.”

Ret Turner, the winner of five Emmy awards and one of Lucille Ball’s favorite costume designers, will visit Jamestown during the festival to share his stories about Ball, as well as participate in exhibit unveilings at the Lucy Desi Museum. In addition to serving as head of NBC Studios’ wardrobe department for 20 years, Turner’s works have been worn by Ball, Carol Burnett, Billy Crystal, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, Shirley Booth, Jean Stapleton and many others. Turner will host a Tropicana Room lunch at noon on Thursday, Aug. 7. Tickets are $35.

Rooftop Comedy’s “Comedy Late Night” is set to feature a variety of comedians who will provide adult-only material. A live album recording of this year’s events will be co-produced by Rooftop Comedy. The organization also co-produced an album based on 2013’s festival, which will become available on Tuesday, May 6. For more information about “Live From Jamestown: The 2013 Lucille Ball Comedy Festival,” visit www.soundcloud.com/lucilleballcomedyfestival. The three late nights of comedy are set for 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 7, Friday, Aug. 8, and Saturday, Aug. 9. The events will be held at the Tropicana Room, which is located at the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Center for Comedy, 2 W. Third St. in Jamestown. Tickets are $15 a night.

According to an economic impact study conducted by Buffalo firm Paradigm Economics, which was commissioned by the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy and the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, more than 13,000 people attended the five-day festival in 2011. The overwhelming support for the festival resulted in a direct impact of $3.6 million for Chautauqua County. In 2013, the festival welcomed visitors from 29 states and four countries. It has brought a number of standup comedians to Jamestown, including: Ray Romano, Ellen DeGeneres, Lewis Black, Billy Gardell, Joan Rivers, Paula Poundstone, Tammy Pescatelli and many more.

GATEWAY TO JAMESTOWN

As massively impressive as the festival has become, it is still only the first pillar in a four-pillar “Legacy of Laughter” vision for the Lucy Desi Museum and Center for Comedy. The other three pillars are still in their infancy, but have the potential to grow to be just as significant. The other three pillars include: a comedic arts education program, a comedy film festival and the establishment of the first National Comedy Center.

According to Todd Tranum, president and CEO of the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce, when the National Comedy Center project is completed, it is expected to host 120,000 visitors a year and create a $26 million impact on the region.

Investment into the project is already underway, and area residents will begin to see the results soon. The construction of the Gateway Park, which will be located on a portion of land between the Gateway Train Station and the Chadakoin River that also includes the Riverwalk system, is set to begin this year.

Tom Benson, president of the Lucy-Desi Center for Comedy’s board of directors and chairman of the National Comedy Center, presented a virtual model of the project to outline the features of the development during the festival lineup announcement.

“Normally when there’s a renovation of a city there seems to always be a waterfront involved, and we’ve got this really nice basin here that has never been accessible or usable by the public,” Benson said. “So, what this does is it allows access to the waterfront, creation of a park and will have people coming and going to this beautiful facility (The Gateway Train Station). It sets the table for us to create the National Comedy Center not in an area that’s in a vacuum, but in one that has things happening. It helps us with the momentum in what we’re trying to accomplish.”

The projected date for the grand opening of the National Comedy Center is set for 2016.