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'Funniest Home Videos' Find a Home at Smithsonian

And now, it's part of history: Tom Bergeron shows off some of the artifacts from "America's Funniest Home Videos," now part of the Smithsonian's collection. (Hugh Talman for the Smithsonian)

It seems like every week someone is offloading celebrity detritus at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, usually while promoting a new movie, DVD or album: Jerry Seinfeld's puffy shirt, Bruce Willis's dirty "Die Hard" undershirt, Chuck Mangione's hat. So when we heard the camcorder from the first "America's Funniest Home Videos" was being donated ... we were unimpressed.

We're talking, after all, about the museum with the actual Star Spangled Banner, Abraham Lincoln's top hat, "The Wizard of Oz" ruby slippers. A camcorder? Meh.

But we showed up for the news conference yesterday and remembered why the show's been on for 20 years: a laugh-out-loud video of silly pets, people falling down, and those famous guy-gets-hit-in-crotch shots. (No, seriously -- it was really funny.)

"One of my thrusts has been to collect artifacts of comedy," said curator Dwight Blocker Bowers, who oversees the music, sports and entertainment collections. "We're very interested that part of the American character is laughing at ourselves." AFHV, he told us, is a direct descendant of vaudeville's slapstick and the first show created from viewers' own clips. (Yes, kids, it was YouTube before the Internet.)

The museum displays only about 4 percent of its 3 million items at any given time, and turns down four out of five proposed donations. When AFHV creator Vin Di Bona approached the Smithsonian, Bowers was interested ... but only if they could get the clunky old camcorder used to shoot the first winning video. (It was still in the owner's garage.) They also got one of the audience voting machines, a copy of the pilot and other stuff from Di Bona and host Tom Bergeron, who took the red-eye from Los Angeles after Tuesday's "Dancing With the Stars" to be here. (His nickname for AFHV? "The Annuity.")

By the way, museum techies went nuts for the camcorder. Said Bowers: "We have nothing like that."

By The Reliable Source  |  April 9, 2009; 1:04 AM ET
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