As the Executive Director of the National Comedy Center — the United States’ official cultural institution dedicated to comedy as designated by the U.S. Congress — Journey Gunderson has demonstrated the entrepreneurial passion, creative energy, and innovative spirit reminiscent of the pioneering woman whose vision she was hired to bring to life — Jamestown, New York’s own Lucille Ball.
Named one of the “Top 50 Museum Influencers” worldwide by the international museum and attractions resource Blooloop and second on its list of “Innovators Who Changed Comedy” by the comedy authority The Interrobang, Gunderson has guided the National Comedy Center in its 21st Century museum design, featuring state-of-the-art technology, interactivity and personalization customized for each visitor’s specific interests and tastes.
Gunderson led the planning, strategy, fundraising, and creative development for this ambitious project, forging relationships with supporters that range from local community organizers to the halls of state and federal government, and from cultural philanthropists to legendary comedy innovators.
Called “the Smithsonian of Comedy” by NBC’s TODAY Show, 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. Opened in 2018 in Jamestown, New York, the museum complex offers an unprecedented, immersive visitor experience using state-of-the-art technology, interactivity, and personalization to honor comedy’s great minds and unique voices.
The National Comedy Center was voted the “Best New Museum” in the country by USA Today, named one of the “World’s Greatest Places” by Time magazine, and selected as one of “100 Reasons to Love America” by People magazine. Condé Nast Traveler called it “One of the best museums in the country,” while U.S. News & World Report named it among the “25 Top Family Weekend Getaways in the U.S.” on a list that includes Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Visitors from all 50 states and 21 countries have given the Comedy Center a rare 5/5 rating on TripAdvisor, ranking among the highest in the attraction and tourism industry.
A $50 million investment — funded by a mix of federal, state and private philanthropic support — the 37,000-square-foot museum complex is expected to have a $23 million impact on the local and regional economy in Western New York as a major tourism driver.
Gunderson and her team launched the National Comedy Center with a grand opening that featured Lily Tomlin, Amy Schumer, George and Jolene Brand Schlatter, Lewis Black, W. Kamau Bell, George Shapiro, and original Saturday Night Live performers Dan Aykroyd and Laraine Newman, and writer Alan Zweibel.
With the National Comedy Center team, Gunderson has collaborated with dozens of artists and estates to preserve materials that represent comedy’s significant artistic, social, and political contributions to American culture including collections illustrating the careers of legendary artists like George Carlin, Betty White, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Lenny Bruce, Joan Rivers, The Smothers Brothers, and Laugh-In creator George Schlatter, and the development of groundbreaking creative work such as sketch comedy series In Living Color, Saturday Night Live, and more. Two new exhibits recently opened – Johnny Carson: The Immersive Experience with Hologram Host Jimmy Fallon, a multi-screen theater presentation celebrating Johnny Carson’s 30 years of hosting The Tonight Show, featuring Steve Martin, Bette Midler, Mel Brooks, Martin Short, Byron Allen, Paula Poundstone, Billy Crystal, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and more – and Carl Reiner: Keep Laughing, a multi-media, interactive exhibit that honors and celebrates Carl Reiner and his legendary collaborations with Mel Brooks, Sid Caesar, Steve Martin, Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore.
Gunderson navigated the National Comedy Center through the COVID era, raising significant funds to keep the museum on solid financial ground while finding new
and innovative ways to stay connected to comedy fans across the country. She and her team transformed one of the most interactive museums in the world into a safe, touch-free, and worry-free visitor experience with the introduction of its award-winning LaughSafe health and safety program, launched the Center’s new digital content platform National Comedy Center Anywhere, and reimagined its annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival as a virtual experience, featuring online comedy conversations with over 30 major artists, including Jimmy Fallon, Tiffany Haddish, Debra Messing, Jay Leno, Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Gilbert Gottfried, Roy Wood Jr., and SNL’s Aidy Bryant and Kenan Thompson.
She has been featured in The New York Times, on
CBS Saturday Morning and on CBS Sunday Morning. In 2022, she appeared in the Emmy Award-winning Imagine Entertainment documentary feature Lucy and Desi, directed by Amy Poehler and executive produced by Ron Howard.
Gunderson also leads the planning and execution of the National Comedy Center’s annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival, which, for over 30 years now, has showcased comedy’s rising young comedians and its greatest stars, including Jerry Seinfeld, Trevor Noah, John Mulaney, Lily Tomlin, Joan Rivers, Amy Schumer, Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias, Sebastian Maniscalco, Taylor Tomlinson, Paula Poundstone, Jim Gaffigan, The Smothers Brothers, Jeff Foxworthy, Margaret Cho, and SNL alumni David Spade, Kevin Nealon and Rob Schneider.
While leading the National Comedy Center, Gunderson also serves as Executive Director of Jamestown’s Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum, preserving and celebrating the lives, careers, and legacies of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, America’s “First Couple of Comedy,” and the incredible impact they had on the world, as well as the pioneering role and remarkable influence that I Love Lucy and Desilu Studios had on the entertainment industry for generations to come.
Gunderson was named by Buffalo Business First to its “Top-Forty-Under Forty” list, selected annually for its “Power Women” list since 2018, and honored with its “C-Level” Executive Award in 2021. She serves as an event partner for the renowned Chautauqua Institution, programming a five-day lecture series focused on comedy during its summer season.
Prior to the National Comedy Center, Gunderson spent nearly a decade with Billie Jean King’s Women’s Sports Foundation, the most powerful women’s sports organization in the world. She served as Editorial Director and Educational Media Producer from both New York City and San Sebastian, Spain.