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Comedy festival-goers show love of Lucy

By Stephanie Gallman, CNN
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Everyone loves 'Lucy' on her 100th birthday
  • Fans come from overseas, around U.S. for New York event
  • Joan Rivers, Paula Poundstone headline this year
  • Executive director of Lucy Ball Desi Arnaz Center for Comedy hopes to expand

(CNN) -- Donning her signature red updo and red lipstick and polka-dotted dress, 915 Lucy Ricardo look-alikes gathered in Jamestown, New York, on Saturday, setting a record for the most Lucys in one place at one time.

Setting the "Lucy" record was just one part of a weekend's worth of events celebrating the comedienne and star of the "I Love Lucy" show's 100th birthday.

Especially this year, "we've really tried to stay true to (Lucy's) vision with as much comedy as we can pack into a weekend," said Journey Gunderson, executive director of the Lucy Ball Desi Arnaz Center for Comedy.

Joan Rivers and Paula Poundstone were two of the headlining comics scheduled to perform over the event of several days in Jamestown, which also included a parade, a showcase for amateur comics and a performance by the Story Pirates sketch comedy group for kids.

Now in its 20th year, The Lucille Ball Festival of Comedy draws diehard Lucy fans and comedy enthusiasts from countries as far away as Australia, Britain, Canada and Japan to tour the Lucy-Desi museum and Desilu Playhouse, two of the attractions at the Center.

Instead of simply maintaining the grounds for idol worship, though, Gunderson said her goal is to create a festival that will offer "new and contemporary comedy for years to come."

Gunderson's vision for the festival is one that she hopes will reflect the successful, progressive and still-relevant career that Lucy created.

"She was the first woman to ever be pregnant on television," Gunderson said. "Lucy was the first female head of a Hollywood studio."

And in her comedy, "she found a way to be clean, but still edgy." She remained "independent of societal standards."

Lucy Fest has always been a weekend to celebrate Lucy's contributions to comedy on what would have been her birthday. But in honor of her 100th birthday, Gunderson said a concerted marketing effort including social media was launched, and she expected anywhere between 5,000 to 10,000 people to participate in the festival.

The increased presence will hopefully kick-start the "programmatic expansion into truly being a center for comedy," she said.

The festival is one of the four pillars in the center's plan to stay more true to Lucy's vision.

The second pillar is developing educational programming for the comedic arts. Gunderson said they are in talks with colleges and universities about offering master classes and seminars in comedy.

Pillar three is a comedy film festival that would pay tribute to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's work behind the camera as producers of comedy.

Gunderson says bringing a national Comedy Hall of Fame to Jamestown, New York, could be the "most aggressive" of the four pillars in their vision.

"We want Jamestown to be the Cooperstown of comedy," Gunderson said, though she acknowledges pitching Jamestown as a host city for the hall of fame as opposed to some better-known, bigger cities like Chicago or New York will likely be met with some laughter. And that's just fine with her.

"Go ahead and laugh," she said. "That's the point."