Jamestown, New York – January 23, 2019 – The National Comedy Center will celebrate the centennial year of legendary comedy innovator Ernie Kovacs with the acquisition and display of never-before-seen material and rare artifacts courtesy of the comedian’s estate. The acquisition and exhibit were announced today – on Ernie Kovacs’ 100th birthday – by the National Comedy Center and Kovacs estate executive Josh Mills.
The Ernie Kovacs Collection is comprised of one-of-a-kind creative material that offers a glimpse into one of comedy’s most inventive minds. The Collection includes notes and sketches in Kovacs’ own hand, annotated scripts, candid backstage photography, screen-used props and wardrobe, personal effects, and rare production documents that chronicle the career of Ernie Kovacs, who has been called “Television’s Original Genius,” as well as the history of the early television industry. National Comedy Center archivists, in collaboration with the Kovacs estate, recently identified the material, which was personally retained by Ernie Kovacs and his wife/creative collaborator, Edie Adams, and had been packed away since Kovacs’ untimely 1962 death at the age of 42.
“The Ernie Kovacs Centennial Exhibit” will debut in August 2019, during the National Comedy Center’s annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival. The installation will showcase never-before-exhibited creative papers, rare audiovisual content and original, screen-used artifacts from Kovacs’ influential 1950s and early 1960s television shows and specials. The Festival week (August 7-11) will also feature a panel event honoring Kovacs’ art and legacy.
“We are so pleased to partner with the National Comedy Center to celebrate Ernie Kovacs’ centennial,” said Josh Mills, executive for the Kovacs estate and son of actress/comedienne Edie Adams, who was Kovacs’ wife, co-star, and creative collaborator. “Most of this material has never been exhibited before, so it’s an unprecedented, first-hand look at Ernie’s comedic genius and his unique approach to his work.”
“Ernie Kovacs’ pioneering comedic spirit has influenced generations of comedians and entertainers,” said Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center Executive Director. “We are honored and thrilled to present our visitors with this wonderful opportunity to learn about, and be inspired by, one of the true legends of comedy, as we showcase his archives in this very special exhibit.”
Ernie Kovacs influenced generations of comedic artists including Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, and Andy Kaufman, and laid the groundwork for the creation of franchises as diverse as Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Saturday Night Live, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse andThe Muppet Show. His pioneering approach to television was noteworthy for its improvisational and spontaneous style, often featuring experimental visual effects and blackout gags, as well as a propensity to break the “fourth wall,” bringing the cameras behind the scenes, into the studio control room and onto the streets. Kovacs was killed at the age of 42, at the height of his popularity, in an automobile accident. His posthumous 1962 Emmy Award is currently on view in the National Comedy Center’s galleries.
George Schlatter, the pioneering producer behind TV’s Laugh-In and National Comedy Center advisory board member, found a mentor and close friend in Ernie Kovacs: “Ernie saw life differently than the rest of us. The idea that TV is a playpen – not work, but just play – permeated his work. He was an original; he was not another anything. The National Comedy Center’s exhibit will be an opportunity for visitors to watch him closely, enjoy what he does, and learn.” Schlatter attended the grand opening of the National Comedy Center in August 2018, along with his wife, Jolene Brand, an actress who appeared alongside Ernie Kovacs in several of his landmark television specials in the 1960s.
The Kovacs exhibit joins rare artifacts and creative material already on display at the National Comedy Center from the likes of artists and creators including George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Joan Rivers, Charlie Chaplin, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Lily Tomlin, Phyllis Diller, and Rodney Dangerfield, in addition to over 50 state-of-the-art interactive and immersive exhibits.
The Ernie Kovacs Archive is the latest acquisition for the National Comedy Center, which houses creative papers from comedy innovators including George Carlin, Lucille Ball, Shelley Berman, Lenny Bruce and Rose Marie, among others.
About the National Comedy Center
The National Comedy Center opened August 1, 2018 in Jamestown, New York as the nation’s first state-of-the-art museum dedicated to sharing the vital story of comedy in America. Based on the vision of Jamestown native Lucille Ball for her hometown to become a destination for the celebration of comedy, the National Comedy Center showcases comedy’s great minds and unique voices, from Charlie Chaplin to David Chappelle. As a non-profit cultural institution, the National Comedy Center was created with a $50 million investment, funded by a mix of federal, state and private philanthropic support, including partnership with I LOVE NEW YORK ™, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State’s Empire State Development.
The National Comedy Center features exclusive collections and world-class exhibits that give comedy fans an unprecedented, behind-the-scenes look at the time-honed creative processes that have elevated comedy entertainment to an art form. Over 50 innovative exhibitions across 37,000 square feet of space enable visitors to take an interactive journey through comedy history, from early vaudeville to the latest viral memes. Cutting-edge personalization technology makes the entire experience unique. Throughout the experience, visitors gain a profound appreciation for comedy icons and innovators, as well as for the tremendous influence of humor on how we think, live and laugh.
The National Comedy Center was recently voted one of the “Best New Attractions” in the country by USA Today 10Best. Condé Nast Traveler called the National Comedy Center “One of the best museums in the country,” while comedy website The Interrobang named the design team of the National Comedy Center second on its list of “Innovators Who Changed Comedy” in 2018. Visitors from 49 states and nine countries have given the Center a rare 5/5 rating on TripAdvisor. Design for the National Comedy Center was led by the most prominent cultural and interactive design firms in the world, whose portfolios collectively include the award-winning 9/11 Memorial Museum, The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, The College Football Hall of Fame, SNL: The Experience, and more.
The National Comedy Center also operates the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum, and for the last 25 years has produced the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival, with performers including Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Schumer, Jay Leno, Lewis Black, Trevor Noah, Joan Rivers, Ellen DeGeneres, Jim Gaffigan, Paula Poundstone, Ray Romano, Bob Newhart, The Smothers Brothers and more than 100 other comedic artists.