Arts & Humanities Campus News

Richard Prince takes on the jokes of Milton Berle

Artist Richard Prince has appropriated works from all over American culture throughout his career. He may be best known for his “rephotographs” in which he photographed existing photographs, then enlarged them.

Starting in the mid-1980s, he began making a series of works about jokes. He started with handwritten jokes on pieces of paper, then began silk-screening the text of jokes on painted canvas. Prince sees jokes as expressing the American subconscious and has said, “Being funny is a way to survive.”

Richard Prince (American, b. 1949), untitled (Milton Berle), 2021. Inkjet on canvas, 118 3/4 × 55 1/4 inches. Courtesy Richard Prince.

In 2013, Prince bought the joke files of American comedian Milton Berle. These upright file cabinets contained thousands of jokes typewritten on 3- by 5-inch index cards, arranged by subject. He then started making art based on those files, photographing them and then printing the photos on canvas.

Guests can see the results in the exhibition “Richard Prince: Tell Me Everything,” on view at the Georgia Museum of Art through June 16, along with one of the joke paintings and Berle’s file cabinets.

Unlike the joke paintings, Prince’s images of the joke files do not show the actual jokes, just their subjects, arranged in categories like argument, rent, moving, maid, luggage and so on. Instead, these images serve as a testament to the enduring importance of jokes as conduits for ideas about everyday life, broader cultural norms and even taboo subjects.

Prince pays homage to Berle’s comedic genius while infusing his contemporary perspective into the narrative. He makes the ephemeral aspect of the comedy archive visible and tangible. The title of the exhibition comes from the first joke Prince came across in a secondhand bookshop: “I went to see a psychiatrist. He said, ‘Tell me everything.’ I did, and now he’s doing my act.”

Shawnya Harris, the museum’s deputy director of curatorial and academic affairs and Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Curator of African American and African Diasporic Art, worked with the artist’s studio to assemble this iteration of the exhibition from a series produced a few years earlier.

“I have always been curious about Prince’s practice as an artist, which has been both celebrated and critiqued. Our curatorial department took an interest in this material as many of us were familiar with Prince’s older joke paintings and his reputation for reappropriation,” she said. “Although my specialization makes me an unlikely curator to host this exhibition, conceptually I found myself asking lots of questions about value, ownership, originality and how that could engage various audiences using comedy as the basis.”

Related events include:

  • A curator talk by Harris on Feb. 21 at 2 p.m.
  • Student Night, geared to and organized by UGA students, on Feb. 29 from 6-8 p.m.
  • A performance by Improv Athens, a comedy troupe made up of UGA students, on Feb. 29 at 7 p.m.
  • A performance by Bad ATH Babes comedians on March 14 at 7:30 p.m.
  • A Family Day on March 16 from 10 a.m. to noon
  • A creative-aging art workshop geared to ages 55+ with teaching artist Toni Carlucci on April 16 from 10- 11:30 a.m.
  • An art and wellness studio with art therapist Meg Abbot on May 19 from 2-4 p.m.
  • Improv Comedy 101 with Flying Squid Comedy, a class on June 13 from 6-8:30 p.m.
  • And two films: a documentary on Milton Berle produced by the Museum of Broadcasting on May 9 at 7 p.m. and the 1963 epic comedy “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” on June 13 at 7 p.m.

Family Day is sponsored by Lucy and Buddy Allen and the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art. Student Night and films are sponsored by the UGA Parents Leadership Council. The creative aging program, the art and wellness studio and the improv comedy program with Flying Squid are free but have limited space and require registration at All programs are free and open to the public unless otherwise indicated.