Chautauqua County: Where to Celebrate (and Laugh) after WorldPride

by Sarah Jaquay

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday June 3, 2019

Chautauqua Institution
Chautauqua Institution  (Source:Getty Images)

All eyes will be on New York City this summer for the city's annual Pride celebration, as well as WorldPride and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. But New York State has plenty to offer besides Manhattan. For kicks and giggles, head west to pastoral Chautauqua County — a quick drive from Buffalo, Cleveland or Pittsburgh. And if you're up for a road trip, the destination provides a welcome contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple.

Big Laughs in Tiny Jamestown
Jamestown (population approx. 30,000) punches way above its weight in terms of attractions and LGBTQ-friendliness. It's home to the National Comedy Center, the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Museum, and the annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival (August 7-11, 2019). Before she died, Ball implored the town's civic leaders to build something beyond her legacy that would trace the arc of American comedy. After decades of planning, Jamestown opened its National Comedy Center in 2018. It's been a mirthful gathering place for people who enjoy laughing ever since.

Humor is subjective; more fun in like-minded groups and "best served with a two-drink minimum" according to Journey Gunderson, the Comedy Center's Executive Director. Through lobby kiosks, visitors select comedians, funny movies and television shows before starting a tour tailored to genre preferences such as memorable characters (think Dana Garvey's church lady on "Saturday Night Live"), edgy satire or physical comedy.

(Source: National Comedy Center)

When guests gather in front of comic video clips and vote for what they want, the photos (taken at the kiosk) of the majority's selection appear. It's a clever way to point out who shares your sense of humor. Be sure to check out the downstairs bar and Blue Room, where you'll discover adult-only content, including previously censored historic LGBTQ materials.

The National Comedy Center also presents stand-up comedians. Matteo Lane fans will enjoy knowing he'll perform two shows at the Tropicana Room (above the Lucy-Desi Museum) on Saturday, July 6, 2019. The openly gay, NYC-based comedians special can be seen on Netflix's "The Comedy Lineup." He's also developing a half-hour pilot at Comedy Central and hosting the Snapchat series "We Got Issues." He's performed on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," "Late Night with Seth Myers," Comedy Central's "Adam Devine's House Party" and HBO's "Crashing."

Get Educated
(Source: Chautauqua Institution)

Get Educated

Chautauqua County summers revolve around programming at the venerable Chautauqua Institution where a Utopian community developed along the shores of placid Chautauqua Lake to celebrate the arts, recreation, education and religion. Several events are planned for July 2 to commemorate WorldPride and Stonewall50.

At 2 p.m. at the Institution's Hall of Philosophy, Judy Shepard will speak about the Matthew Shepard Foundation whose mission is to advance "social justice, diversity awareness and education, and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people." Afterward, there will be a Q&A curated by writer and journalist James Fallows.

At 3:30 p.m. in the same venue there will be a panel discussion moderated by Bishop Gene Robinson, the Institution's Vice President of Religion and the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop. Robinson will lead a discussion about the building of America's LGBTQ community through significant events including Stonewall, the AIDS crisis and marriage equality. After the panel, the Institution's LGBTQ community will host a reception at the majestic waterfront hotel, The Athenaeum.

The Institution is like summer camp for adults, but there are some quirky aspects including many Victorian-era accommodations requiring weekly rentals. The new, 135-room Chautauqua Harbor Hotel near Jamestown on the Lake's southeastern edge, is a more contemporary option.

Chautauqua Harbor Hotel leverages its waterfront location with patio seating at the Lakehouse Tap & Grille, plus its Carousel Bar juts out into the lake — great for watching sunsets. It offers a dining program run by talented Chef Justin Carlson who trained at Pittsburgh's Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute. The hotel's outdoor and indoor pools plus a hot tub make it an ideal locale for unwinding after exploring area attractions.

So if scenic vistas, stimulating programming and belly laughs are on your agenda after your Pride-centric trip to New York City, head to Chautauqua County for more LGBTQ history with a side of giggles.

Sarah Jaquay is a freelance writer in Shaker Heights who writes about food and travel for AAA Journeys Magazine, Country Living, Currents, TheWineBuzz and many other publications.

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