Jamestown, NY – October 23, 2020– As the country remembers comedy and late-night legend Johnny Carson on his 95th birthday today, the National Comedy Center—the nation’s official cultural institution dedicated to comedy—and the Elkhorn Valley Museum in Johnny Carson’s hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska have announced that the National Comedy Center will lead preservation of the historic Johnny Carson archives. The rich archive includes screen-used artifacts, wardrobe, creative documents and awards that will be jointly exhibited by the National Comedy Center and the Elkhorn Valley Museum. The National Comedy Center will oversee the digital preservation and conservation of this historic collection, which chronicles Carson’s early life, career and legendary thirty-year reign as the king of late night television and one of the most beloved personalities in comedy history.
The Elkhorn Valley Museum will debut a new and significantly-expanded Johnny Carson Gallery by early 2021 with new artifacts, memorabilia, awards and interactive experiences. The exhibition gallery will trace the path that Johnny took across the years from Norfolk to New York City to California and back again, as Norfolk celebrates and remembers one of its favorite sons for his enduring legacy in entertainment. The opening of the expanded gallery will kick off the milestone 30th anniversary year of Johnny’s return to his beloved hometown to film his Emmy Award-winning NBC special “Johnny Goes Home.”
In 2022, the National Comedy Center will celebrate the 60th anniversary of Johnny Carson’s legendary run as the host of The Tonight Show with a new multi-media exhibit: 30 Years of Late Night Television, 30 Years Later — at the National Comedy Center’s state-of-the-art museum in Jamestown, New York. The exhibit will feature never-before-seen documents and creative papers (including Tonight Show monologues personally annotated by Carson), rare artifacts and wardrobe, and archival video from Carson’s storied television career. Curated selections from The Tonight Show will present a comedic time capsule of world events for three decades, including legendary monologues, classic Carson characters like Carnac the Magnificent, Floyd R. Turbo and Art Fern, and historic performances by many of stand-up comedy’s greatest talents —often seen in their earliest national television appearances.
The National Comedy Center exhibit will not only showcase Carson’s career, but highlight The Tonight Show’s formative and pivotal role as the most influential platform for stand-up comedy during the three decades that Carson served as the show’s host.
Jeff Sotzing, president of Carson Entertainment Group, and the Elkhorn Valley Museum selected the non-profit National Comedy Center — recently named the “Best New Museum” in the country by USA Today and one of the “World’s Greatest Places” by TIME magazine —to lead preservation of the Johnny Carson Archive, while ensuring that Johnny’s hometown history museum will continue to showcase Carson’s formative years in Nebraska and his legendary entertainment career.
Sotzing, Carson’s nephew, will also be providing the National Comedy Center with thousands of rare Carson documents and creative papers for the Center’s permanent archival collection. Sotzingheld multiple production roles at The Tonight Showand has managed Johnny Carson’s legacy and program licensing since Carson’s retirement in 1992.
“Johnny Carson is one of the most beloved and influential late night hosts of all time. For 30 years, Johnny kept the country laughing through good times and bad, while also introducing us to many of the greatest stand-up comedians ever to take the stage,” stated National Comedy Center Executive Director Journey Gunderson. “The story of comedy in America simply cannot be told properly without presenting Johnny Carson’s enormous and invaluable contribution to the art form. We are excited to be partnering with the Elkhorn Valley Museum and Carson Entertainment Group to preserve Johnny’s legacy for generations to come.”
“We’re tremendously excited about the upcoming expansion of our Johnny Carson Gallery at the Elkhorn Valley Museum in Johnny’s hometown of Norfolk,” stated Austen Hagood of the Elkhorn Valley Museum board of directors. “And we’re so pleased to be joining forces with the National Comedy Center so that together we can continue to present Johnny’s story, his Norfolk roots and his remarkable career to comedy fans around the world.”
“Johnny Carson personally directed that the television memorabilia in his office be placed in the Elkhorn Valley Museum in Norfolk, Nebraska, his boyhood home. The fact that the National Comedy Center is located in the hometown of Lucille Ball, and that these two cultural institutions are working together to preserve comedy history is very exciting. Time goes by so quickly and people forget how good these two performers really were. The preservation of their careers and legacies is so very important,” stated Jeff Sotzing, president of Carson Entertainment Group. “I am honored to be a part of this new partnership and look forward to seeing it keep comedy alive.”
As the National Comedy Center develops its 60th anniversary Carson exhibit, its archival team will be reaching out to former production staff and crew for Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show for additional archival material, as well as to guest stars and stand-up comedians who made notable appearances, in order to create the most comprehensive presentation of Carson’s Tonight Show legacy ever assembled in exhibit form.
The National Comedy Center and the Elkhorn Valley Museum will also collaborate on future exhibits and special projects and share access to archival materials that celebrate the life, career and legacy of Johnny Carson.
Enjoy some of TV Confidential‘s segments on the career of Johnny Carson:
About the National Comedy Center
The National Comedy Center is the United States’ official cultural institution and museum dedicated to presenting the vital story of comedy and preserving its heritage for future generations, as formally designated by the U.S. Congress in 2019. Opened in August 2018 in Jamestown, New York, the museum complex offers an unprecedented visitor experience using state-of-the-art technology, interactivity and personalization to create the first true 21st Century museum environment.
USA Today named the National Comedy Center the “Best New Museum in the Country” in 2020 while TIME magazine named it one of its “World’s Greatest Places,” ¾one of only “100 new and newly noteworthy destinations to experience right now” and one of only nine attractions to visit in the United States. Condé Nast Traveler called the National Comedy Center “One of the best museums in the country,” and People magazine named it one of “100 Reasons to Love America.” The National Comedy Center was also voted a “Best New Attraction” in the county, ranking #2 out of 20 new attractions by USA Today readers, and chosen as the #1 museum and #1 ticketed attraction. Comedy industry authority The Interrobang named the design team second on its list of “Innovators Who Changed Comedy” in 2018. Visitors from all 50 states and nine countries have given the Center a rare 5/5 raring on TripAdvisor, ranking among the highest in the attraction and tourism industry.
Based on the vision of Jamestown native Lucille Ball for her hometown to become a destination for comedy, the non-profit National Comedy Center showcases comedy’s great minds and unique voices in ways that engage, inspire, educate and entertain.
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, SNL: The Experience, and more.
The National Comedy Center has been embraced by artists and industry, with archival material provided by many of the most revered names in comedy. Exhibition partners include Kelly Carlin and the George Carlin estate, George Shapiro and Jerry Seinfeld, the Andy Kaufman Memorial Trust, Dan Aykroyd, Alan and Robin Zweibel, Joan Dangerfield, The Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation, Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner, The Harold Ramis Family, The Garry Shandling Estate, George Schlatter, Bill Marx and the Harpo Marx Family, the Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams estate, Desilu Too, NBC Universal, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Corporate Archive, and many more.
The National Comedy Center operates the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum, which explores the lives, careers and legacy of the “First Couple of Comedy” and the incredible impact they had on the world.
The Lucille Ball Comedy Festival, produced and presented by the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, NY, was last headlined by John Mulaney and Sebastian Maniscalco, and has showcased comedy’s greatest stars and rising young comedians, including Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres, Trevor Noah, Lily Tomlin, Jay Leno, Amy Schumer, Brian Regan, Lewis Black, W. Kamau Bell, Jim Gaffigan, Paula Poundstone, Joan Rivers, Bob Newhart, the Smothers Brothers and more than one hundred other comedic artists.
Stay connected to the National Comedy Center and Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum:
About the Elkhorn Valley Museum
The Elkhorn Valley Museum presents the history of Northeastern Nebraska and features thousands of historical artifacts. Located in Johnny Carson’s hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska, the museum also hosts the Johnny Carson Gallery, which showcases Carson’s television years and explores his early years in Norfolk. The museum’s research center contains family files, books, and photos relating to the Norfolk and Elkhorn Valley area for anyone wishing to conduct genealogical research. The Children’s Discovery Zonefeatures a hands-on activity areageared for children age 2 to 8 and their families.
The Elkhorn Valley Historical Society was founded in 1958. The members of the society believe in the value of preserving the past and the memory and legacy of the lives of the people of the Elkhorn Valley for future generations. Thanks to the generosity of area citizens, businesses, organizations and grants, the society was able to complete the construction of a beautiful museum building in 1997.