They say that “laughter is the best medicine.” Well, if you want a good dose of this remedy, you can find it just forty minutes from Spring Hill down U.S. 19. The Comedy Hall of Fame Museum, housed in a multi-story office building in Holiday is home to more than 800 exhibits containing innumerable pieces of memorabilia highlighting the history of comedy – from the ancient Greeks and Romans to today’s most popular funny people. These include photographs, posters, sound recordings and an old radio. There is even a video featuring the full-length version of Abbott and Costello’s famous shtick, “Who’s on First.”
The founder and president of the museum is Tony Belmont, who has had more than fifty years’ experience in show business. He was a member of The Belmonts, considered one of the most successful white Doo-Wop groups, for about a year and worked under the name Angelo D’Aleo. Then Tony went on to become a promoter for many entertainers and produced numerous musical, television and award shows. Since there were other Halls of Fame, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame, paying tribute to outstanding members of their professions, Belmont decided that great comedians deserved the same recognition. In 1991 he founded the National Comedy Hall of Fame (NCHOF). It is now trademarked in Canada, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, as well as the United States.
One of the first comedians to be inducted into the NCOF was Minnie Pearl and twenty-three comedians have been honored since. These include Jack Benny, Lucille Ball and Flip Wilson. At the museum in Holiday, Fla. there is an entire wall devoted to these great entertainers.
The museum also has a wall containing photographs and information on “traveling comedians.” These are people that tour all over the world. To be included on the wall you have to be nationally known. The honorees include Russell Brand, Jerry Seinfeld and Norm Macdonald. Local celebrity Elliott Smith was recently added to the list, becoming the first comedy magician to be honored in this way.
“We are proud to add Elliott Smith to our roster of wonderful comedians deserving of this recognition on the National Comedy Hall of Fame Museum Wall of Great Touring Comedians,” states Belmont.
Smith will be the opening act for the “Comedy Time-Tunnel” show that will be presented here in Hernando County in the fall. The show will be a benefit for Veterans HEAT Factory, a local 501 c3 non-profit organization that assists veterans, first responders and their families cope with the many issues surrounding Post Traumatic Stress. More information regarding date, location and purchasing tickets will be available in the coming weeks.
The “Comedy Time-Tunnel” travels all over the state of Florida. The show consists of recorded interviews, exhibits and videos that take you on a trip through the history of comedy.
Other exhibits at the Comedy Hall of Fame Museum include pictures of female comediennes, past and present, such as Jean Stapleton (Edith on “All in the Family”), Betty White and Ellen DeGeneres. An interesting little-known historic fact is featured in an exhibit on Thomas Wignell, America’s first comedian who became popular prior to the American Revolution. There is even a gift shop where one can purchase such items as T-shirts, posters and DVDs.
Belmont is a “walking encyclopedia” of information about comedy. He relates obscure stories about famous comedians, as well as anecdotes about his personal encounters with these giants of comedy. Tony’s enthusiasm and passion for this subject is evident as he conducts a tour through the museum.
“People love this [museum]. It’s fun and they walk out of here feeling good. This is a journey through America from the beginning of comedy until today,” Tony remarks.
The museum also houses a comedy school in which aspiring comedians, or even speakers and other people who want to learn how to tell a joke, can take classes. The cost is $150 for (5) one-hour classes. After the course is completed, Belmont will arrange for these beginning comedians to perform at Open Mike sessions at local comedy clubs.
Although the Comedy Hall of Fame Museum has been open at its Holiday location since December of last year, they have not had an official “grand opening” yet. When they are able to have this event, Mimi Hines will be one of the featured guests. She is known for her roles in the Broadway versions of Grease and Funny Girl. Another well-known comedic actor who will visit the museum soon is Dwayne Hickman, the lead actor in the sitcom “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” which also starred Bob Denver who went on to play the lead character in Gilligan’s Island. Chevy Chase will also appear at the museum.
Belmont hires college students to help set up the exhibits. While the museum was closed due to the coronavirus he continued to pay them. Professional history researchers also help with the back stories connected with the exhibits.
The sad news is that the museum is running out of space at its current location. Belmont is looking for more room so that he can display the hundreds of artifacts that are now in storage. He would like to stay in Florida for the weather, obviously, but also because Florida is a tourist destination for thousands of visitors from all over the world. If Belmont cannot find the means to relocate in Florida he will need to move to a major city, such as Baltimore or Louisville- and he’s already had generous offers.
If you have comedy-related memorabilia, you can donate it as a tax-deductible contribution. Belmont also welcomes monetary donations and has set up a Go Fund me page.
While the museum is still close by, you can visit this amazing place. It’s located at 2435 US Highway 19 in Holiday. The cost of admission is $12 and veterans get a discount. You can call 727-944-4453 or visit their website: www.NCHOF.com for information on hours of operation.