AILSA CHANG, HOST:
In the 1980s, when comedian Lucille Ball was in her final years, she was approached by her hometown in upstate New York. They asked how she'd like to see her legacy preserved.
JOURNEY GUNDERSON: She said, don't just make this about me. Don't just make it "I Love Lucy" nostalgia. Celebrate all comedy, and establish Jamestown as a destination for that.
CHANG: Well, now, decades later, Jamestown, N.Y., has done exactly what Lucy asked for. The voice you just heard is Journey Gunderson. She's executive director of the brand-new National Comedy Center. It just opened this week.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It's a 37,000-square-foot museum. And Gunderson says it's chock-full of comedy history.
GUNDERSON: In the first wing alone visitors encounter a dress and joke cards from Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers' personal and creative papers, Jack Benny's tuxedo, Charlie Chaplin's cane, Seinfeld's puffy shirt and Emmy award, Harold Ramis'...
CORNISH: Whether you're a casual fan or a comedy nerd, Gunderson says there's enough within the walls of the National Comedy Center to keep you occupied for days.
CHANG: Stand-up comedian Lewis Black, veteran of "The Daily Show," is an adviser for the museum. So we asked what he found most impressive on his first stroll through the collection.
LEWIS BLACK: When I see myself (laughter). I get the most excited when I see my work. No.
CORNISH: Joking aside, Black says his favorite part of the collection is George Carlin's extensive personal archive.
BLACK: You'll see notes that he wrote of his comedy sketches.
CORNISH: It's a peek into the process of a comedy genius, something Black says is important to save for the next generation.
BLACK: There's a real possibility that a lot of the work in terms of comedy, in terms of the history of comedy is going to get lost. And so what this provided was a space in which that through line could be maintained and expanded on so that a kid could go back and see if they're doing comedy or they love comedy, you know, where it came from.
CHANG: Now, Jamestown is about 80 miles south of Buffalo, not exactly a prime tourist destination yet. Lewis Black has been coming to the area for a long time for the annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival.
BLACK: I mean, I used to do jokes. I said, why are you people living here?
CHANG: But he says the area grows on you. And if you're devoted to comedy, the trip is well worth it.
CORNISH: The National Comedy Center is open as of this week in Lucille Ball's hometown, Jamestown, N.Y.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE TV THEME PLAYERS' "I LOVE LUCY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.