Jamestown's comic and economic development, as seen by Lewis Black
A well-seasoned comedian, actor and commentator was in the building when Governor Cuomo announced additional state support for the National Comedy Center's future home Thursday. Lewis Black, who has stopped in Jamestown many times throughout his career, sees the potential of the center and he, too, has noticed the city's development.
Black did not speak at Governor Cuomo's appearance, which was scheduled to announce additional state support for the forthcoming National Comedy Center home within a former train station. He did receive a standing ovation when introduced during the appearance but told the crowd, "sit down."
Black made his own appearance Monday at the Chautauqua Institution to kick off this year's Lucille Ball Comedy Festival. He has performed in the city several times including participation in the first Lucyfests.
"This place was... whooo," said Black to reporters Thursday when describing the city in past years. "You had the Reg Lenna Center, you had a nice little restaurant next door, and it was a town that was suffering."
Comedy is seen by many as the voice of the underdog or downtrodden. Jamestown, as he observed it, certainly was. But upon his return to the region last year, even he noticed new development.
"There was new business in this town. It looked like people started painting their houses again."
The National Comedy Center is one of New York State's multi-million dollar investments throughout Chautauqua County. The state's commitment to the Jamestown project is estimated at $14 million, funded through a combination of Buffalo Billion and Regional Council dollars and Empire State Development tax credits. On Thursday, Governor Cuomo announced Albany will commit $500,000 to promote the National Comedy Center through the state's "I Love NY" campaign in 2018.
Black told reporters that he would, if asked, gladly help spotlight the National Comedy Center as part of that effort.
He sees great potential with the center, which is expected to open next year. Black noted it has already received the donation of the late George Carlin's notes and other artifacts by his daughter. That, he suggests, may encourage other comedians to donate their mementos to the center, as opposed to their colleges, which Black said often happens.
He offered one suggestion to improve prospects for tourist turnout: get the rail lines active again. He told reporters Jamestown is an ideal spot for the National Comedy Center, in part, because it is equidistant to two up-and-coming cities.
"Buffalo has made a comeback. Cleveland is making a comeback. Why wouldn't you want to connect those cities? And you're in the middle," Black said of Jamestown. "It's just a perfect place."
Reopening rail lines, he added, would make travel and access easier. Getting to Jamestown now, in his words, is a "pain in the neck."
Black was asked about the current political climate and the material it generates for working comedians. He revealed he doesn't like talking directly about President Donald Trump. He prefers focusing on the common people affected by what's happening.
"I've never really enjoyed talking about whatever schmuck is in charge," he said. "I've never enjoyed that. What I've really enjoyed talking about is what it is the schmuck is doing that determines the effect on people."
He also raised the question, how can he satirize a situation that is already satiric in its own right? He cited former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci as an example.
"The first time he spoke, then the tie, and then talking to the New Yorker. What can I possibly say that's funnier? The fact is this guy was going to be working for the president and just letting the F-bomb fly at will!"
He did offer a fun critique of the comic abilities of Governor Cuomo and Empire State Development chief Howard Zemsky, who shared a story of riding in a race car at Watkins Glen during an appearance just hours before their scheduled Jamestown stop.
Black said he'd hire them, but would only give them about 10 minutes.