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Long Story Short: Funny thing ...


Legislators just say no

If you want to smoke weed legally, you’ll have to wait another year. Downstate senators couldn’t agree on the terms of a much-anticipated cannabis legalization bill, which reportedly fell one vote short of the required majority. Some of the reasons for the failure were political, i.e., New York City suburban Democrats, expecting formidable election challenges from Republicans, wussed-out.


Some reasons for the failure involved legitimate differences of opinion on the details. There was a concern by some senators that police would no longer be free to use the smell of cannabis in a car as an excuse for searching the vehicle and its occupants. The fact that this practice often turns up additional drugs and even guns is seen by some as justification enough. Others see it as a stop-and-frisk tactic predominantly targeting people of color. 


Some disagreement involved where revenue from taxes should go. Some wanted more funds to train police to detect drug use. And some wanted municipalities to be able to opt out altogether.


Plan B

What legislators did agree on, is to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot, lessening penalties, and allowing previous arrests and convictions to be expunged from the records. Since 1977, possession of under an ounce of cannabis was only supposed to result in a simple $100 fine. But the law has a loophole that police exploited. if the cannabis is in “public view,” it becomes a misdemeanor, so cops often forced suspects to empty their pockets, making them criminals. Unsurprisingly, this tactic was used much more often on black and brown people. The new law, set to be signed by Cuomo, will lower the fine to $50 and remove the “plain view” loophole.


What now?

Lawmakers say they will revisit legalization next year. In the meantime, people will continue to use cannabis and be fined, as millions of black-market dollars flow to drug cartels and support their violent global operations.



Cuomo green lights Green Light and Republicans pout

On June 17, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a controversial bill allowing undocumented workers in New York State to obtain driver’s licenses. New York is the thirteenth state to do so. The “Green Light Bill,” as it’s called, had the support of the state Business Council. Cuomo approved the bill after receiving assurance from Attorney General that there are sufficient safeguards preventing federal authorities from accessing the DMV database.


The bill was opposed by Republicans, who claim licensing illegal immigrants could endanger legal citizens, encourage illegal immigration, and potentially lead to voter fraud. The bill’s proponents say it will lower the number of uninsured drivers on the street, improve road safety, and generate nearly $84 million in government revenue over three years.


Who does the bill serve?

The people who will be licensed under the Green Light Bill are largely farm workers, who labor long hours for minimum wage doing work American’s don’t want (by law, the jobs are offered to local citizens first). These people are too poor to get visas and have no legal path to do the work that farmers desperately depend on. Without undocumented immigrants, crops we all consume would go unpicked or become prohibitively expensive, so the bill is meant to serve the public good. Congressman Chris Collins has proposed the Helping Labor Personnel on Farms Act, which would provide a pathway to legal status for farm workers, but it hasn’t yet been enacted.


Dumb and dumber

Erie County Clerk and former New York State Assemblyman Michael “Mickey” Kearns, says he will not grant licenses to undocumented immigrants, regardless of the law. In fact, he plans to launch a lawsuit in federal court over the bill. Kearns reportedly believes Green Light violates the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which makes it illegal to knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Republicans are all about state rights and federal noninterference—until they don’t like some state law.


As if to outdo Kearns, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw is urging county workers to use the Whistleblower Hotline—meant to curb government waste and corruption—to report suspected immigrants seeking driver’s licenses. "I have a fundamental core belief that an illegal immigrant should not have a driver's license in New York State," said Mychajliw in a WKBW news interview.


Sore losers

A question for Kearns and Mychajliw: should all elected officials who have beliefs that differ from a law disregard and undermine it? Doesn’t that make government even more of a free-for-all than it already is?


Republicans lost the state Senate in the last election after controlling it for more than four decades. It’s been hard on them. But the tide has turned, and it’s time to obey Democratic-led legislation, just as Democrats adhered to Republican control. If the public doesn’t like what Democrats do—and polls show fifty percent do not approve of this law—they can vote Republicans back into power. Isn’t that how government is supposed to work?  



What’s so funny?

Last Friday, we officially entered summer, which for the northeast, is peak tourist season. It’s also eight months since the National Comedy Center (NCC) opened in Jamestown, and a little over a month before the annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival, which is held there.  


So how does the center stack up as a summer tourist activity? Is it worth the drive from Buffalo? Though the center opened last August to much hoopla, a friend of mine only heard about it recently. Neither of us had gone yet, so last Thursday we made the trip. My report follows.  


Getting in

If you plan to stay in the museum longer than the two-hour parking meter limit (and you should), you’ll want to park in a public ramp about two blocks north and east of the center (on 4th Street, just west on Main). It tops out at $3.50. Admission to the museum, however, is a hefty $25 ($30, if you want to combine a visit with the Lucy Desi Museum, but we suggest you save that attraction for a separate visit).


The cost can quickly add up, but it’s worth it.


What is a Comedy Center anyway?

If you’re familiar with the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, this is the adult version.  Children will likely enjoy it, but adults will gain the most from it by far. The NCC is highly immersive, with a creative use of technology that includes numerous displays adapting to visitors’ individual interests, thanks to a wristband chip you register upon entering. (Don’t omit your email; you get fun stuff after your visit).


Or you might think of it as the Rock Hall of Fame for comedy. All the greats are here, in every conceivable genre, from radio, movies, TV, records, the comics, and internet to sketch and talk-show comedy, and of course, stand-up. No stone under which humor might lurk is left unturned. The center also honors comedy producers and writers, with plenty of obscure ephemera, from Andy Kaufman’s Elvis jacket (along with a letter he sent to Presley as a college student) to Conehead motorcycle helmets.  


What else?

The museum is thoughtfully conceived, with comfortable seating available at various points throughout. Roaming waiters take drink orders, should you wish to lubricate your funny bone. You can “attend” a nightclub to view customized comedy clips, participate in comic karaoke, or seamlessly insert yourself into a famous TV sketch (I displayed my Schweddy Balls on SNL). Every conceivable nook and cranny include some kind of comedy tribute. One innocuous looking padded bench even acts as an amplified whoopee cushion.


Take an elevator to the basement and (after ample warning) you enter the Blue Room, a space reserved for boundary-pushing comedy. An excellent film explains the origins of the term “blue” and documents the significance of comics who asserted their First Amendment rights. Upon entering the Blue Room, you’re greeted with George Carlin’s Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television, all of which can now be heard on cable TV.   


How long will it take?

My friend and I spent five hours there, and we could have stayed longer (it closes at 5 p.m.). With all the places to stop and relax, time went by quickly. I would suggest going during the week, early in the day. While the museum was reasonably well-attended, it wasn’t overly crowded. Some elements—like comic karaoke—would benefit from more audience-members, but there was no wait to gain access to any of the interactive exhibits. 


The takeaway

I left with a deeper appreciation for the arduous process of creating comedy. I gained a better understanding of the interconnected comedic influences among humorists. I also came away with a personalized Sense of Humor Profile and a joke card. An email arrived later with a candid picture of me, which I had selected earlier in the Blue Room. I also left with uplifted spirits, having enjoyed more than a few a few hearty laughs.


Speaking of Lucy

While I was at the National Comedy Museum, I received a long-awaited call from a member of Spectrum Cable’s tech team. I couldn’t talk, I explained, mentioning where I was. Then, noting the man’s thick Spanish accent, I asked where he was from. “Bolivia,” he answered. The technician had never heard of the Comedy Museum. I pointed out that Jamestown is the hometown of Lucille Ball, and his voice grew animated: “Really? Oh, I love Lucy,” he said. “Really?” I asked, “You get that in Bolivia?” He confirmed that it’s a favorite among Bolivians, then added, “My wife is from Morocco, and she also loves Lucy; they watch her in the Middle East too.”


It appears everyone really does love Lucy.


Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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