Personae Ridiculae, Getty Villa VI

Plenty of his gags are still circulating.See the little bronze mask above? Note the Robin Williams smirk, the Bob Hope nose, the Bart Simpson eyes. See the absurd wig. You may be tempted to hoot. Well, go right ahead. Give in to Thalia the Comic Muse. This is her room, her temple to giggles ‘n’ grins, a gallery just off the atrium, where you may shake off the fusty holy-moley aura that clings to most art collections like a PBS documentary about Eleanor Roosevelt.

The Romans of old loved nothing more than a good laugh (risus bonus) and when they had run out of Dacians to roast in public they would enlist the services of professional comedians. Greeks went to the show to get dejected about Oedipus or Agamemnon. Roman playgoers preferred to spend their entertainment drachmae on early versions of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Even when they weren’t wearing out their diaphragms in the amphitheaters, they kept fresh the memory of good ‘uns with statuettes, coins, trinkets, cups and every sort of Happy Meal toy dedicated to the Tribe of Thalia. Getty Villa has here gathered a jokeshopful of them – like the green fellow above, whom you can almost hear repeating ad nauseum the comic catchphrase he’d made ubiquitous for a season in Trajan’s reign.

When you have enjoyed about as much merriment as you can bear, turn abruptly 180°, push past the startled fellow who has been looking over your shoulder, and cross the gallery in three confident strides. You now stand plastered against a glass case containing, among other comiculae, the little clay mask pictured below. Carefully study this fist-sized tribute to some first century funnyman and try to decide — we could not — whether it’s Sean Penn as Harvey Milk or Brent Spiner as Commander Data.

It's Data!

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Getty Villa.
Los Angeles
On the Pacific Coast Highway just north of Sunset Blvd
You need an entrance ticket to get in. Also a car.
The entrance ticket is FREE. Call or Web to get one.
Parking is $10.

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