Talking Mel Brooks and history with the cast of “History of the World Part II”
March 9, 2023 Andrew Buss Features, News
History may repeat itself, but if History of the World Part II proves anything, it’s that there’s always room for more things to parody. Mel Brooks has made a career out of sending things up, and at 96, he’s clearly not planning on slowing down.
This week, History of the World Part II premiered on Hulu. The limited sketch series premiered Monday and airs its final two episodes tonight. Like the 1981 film before it, the show finds the humor in history and no time period is safe. The show covers everything from Shakespeare to Jesus to Hitler to Rasputin to Stalin and everyone else in between.
We caught up with some members of the cast on the red carpet for the series last week in Hollywood, and asked them all about Mel Brooks and history.
What Was Your First Exposure To Mel Brooks?
Sam Richardson: “My first exposure to Mel Brooks was probably History of the World Part I. As a kid, I watched that. Or High Anxiety. I even saw Blazing Saddles. I watched these movies a trillion times. Even Blazing Saddles had a black protagonist and was a heavy comedy movie in this white world.”
Tim Baltz: “I almost went in reverse. The first one I saw was Spaceballs. Loved it. Was obsessed with John Candy. Loved that entire cast. I think I might have even had some action figures. And then I probably saw it at a sleepover. I came home and I remember telling my dad about it. He’s like “Wait. You like Mel Brooks? Okay. I’ve got a treat for you. Then every few weeks, he’d bring home another one from Blockbuster and we’d just dig into it. Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles are two of my favorite comedies of all time. But honestly everything. I’m a gigantic Gene Wilder fan.”
Zahn McClornon: “The one that pops in my brain, the one that made me laugh as a kid, was Blazing Saddles. Guys sitting around the fire farting. I remember that vividly. Low brow humor. That’s what makes me laugh.”
Ken Marino: “I don’t remember what the first movie that I watched was, but I grew up with all his movies. So like History of the World Part I, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, High Anxiety, The Producers. There’s so many movies that he’s done that have touched me and touched my funny bone and made me want to know more about comedy and to explore comedy and to deconstruct comedy and figure out what things work, what things don’t work, why is that so funny, why is Gene Wilder saying “That son of a bitch shot me in the ass.” Or “And this is my shooting hand.”
There were just so many incredible jokes. “You look like the piss boy.” “You look like a bucket of sh*t.” Just all of the things. And him casting just the perfect people. Cloris Leachman: “I’ll let you wear my underwear.” Harvey Korman: “I’ll be there!”.
I could sit here and quote Mel Brooks more than any other writer that I’ve ever been around or worked with or experienced. There’s people who can quote Shakespeare left and right. For me, it’s Mel Brooks.”
Reggie Watts: “I think maybe Blazing Saddles. Then History of the World. But Spaceballs is probably the biggest one that I really mark as Mel Brooks Mel Brooks Mel Brooks.“
Jay Ellis: “Blazing Saddles. I was 7 years old, living in Austin, Texas. We had just moved there and my dad was watching a VHS. And I just remember hearing a lot of cussing. I remember hearing a list of stuff I shouldn’t have been hearing at 7 years old. And my dad just absolutely loving it and leaning in. Gene Wilder’s a genius, obviously. I remember wanting to understand the experience that my dad was having with the screen and what was happening on the screen, and wanting to do it and learn it and be apart of it. And also, I just wanted to understand the jokes because I had no idea what was going on.
A lot of sh*t I shouldn’t have been listening to or watching, my dad was the one [who showed it to me]. 100%. He’s like “Eddie Murphy, here you go! Here’s Raw! Listen to this Redd Foxx record. George Carlin!” I feel like my entire vocabulary of curse words comes from all of the comedy my dad introduced me to.
Playing Jesus [in the series], I felt like I had the whole world in my hands. It was amazing, man. Ike called me and he was like “Listen, we want you to come play Jesus. You have all the virtues to come play Jesus.” And I was like “I don’t even know what that means, but absolutely. As soon as you said Mel Brooks, I was in. You didn’t even have to finish. But I was super excited. What an amazing group of people to come work with. This cast is crazy, these producers are crazy. And then to be under the guidance of the genius that is Mel Brooks, I was beyond excited to say yes to be apart of this.”
What Do You Think Is The Funniest Era?
(Editor’s Note: This question elicited two different types of responses. Some talked about the funniest part of history, while others talked about the best time period in comedy).
Sam Richardson: “Probably Elizabethan, because of the clothing. They were just doing it. They were just really putting stuff out.”
Jason Mantzoukas: “Gotta be dinosaurs.”
Tim Baltz: “Gotta be the French Revolution. So much conflict. Comedy is just tragedy plus time. The wigs, the syphilis. That’s the funniest stuff.”
Zahn McClarnon: “I would have to say the 70’s, because that’s when I grew up watching Richard Pryor movies and Gene Wilder movies, Silver Streak and Stir Crazy and Mel Brooks.”
Ken Marino: “Dudes from the 50’s trying to be cool in the 60’s. Like older guys. I think that’s always funny. Like when The Rat Pack starts to become uncool to people, and they’re trying to figure out how to look more hippieish. I think that’s a funny time for me. Old dudes trying to look groovy.”
Reggie Watts: “I’d have to say probably starting in 78 until 92. Because that includes the golden age of stand-up, sketch comedy, kind of people busting through a lot of social walls and barriers. It was pretty dope.”
It’s Been 42 Years Between The Film And The Series. What Do You Think We’ll Have To Laugh About For Part III In The Next 42 Years?
Poppy Liu: “Oh, I don’t know. I feel like right now is dark times. Maybe like the end of the world? I don’t know if we have 42 years left. Maybe 4. 14 years. 42 is like a lot.”
Sam Richardson: “Probably a lot of historical events. Maybe some future. It depends on how many years between when they do the next one.”
Tim Baltz: “Probably a lot more space stuff. And everything will be written by a chat bot. All artificial intelligence. They could probably plan it out now. They could predict everything.”
Zahn McClarnon: “I hope we can laugh at everything. That’s what I hope. I hope we can laugh at everything and people aren’t getting canceled or put down for their humor and doing their comedy. I hope we can laugh more.”
Ken Marino: “Well I hope to laugh about… No I’m not going to get political. (Laughs). What do we have to laugh about?? I don’t know. There’s not a lot to laugh about right now! (Laughs). So hopefully there will be a ton of stuff to laugh about. Then we’ll check in in 42 years and be like ‘Whew! That was crazy. Hey. It turned out to be pretty funny!’”
Reggie Watts: “Oh my gosh. Well there’ll be a lot of AI jokes, of course. People laughing “Oh you used to do your own dishes?”. Those types of things. I don’t know. It’s going to be really interesting. The next 10 years are going to be crazy. So 40 years? Whew! Stay tuned for it.”
Jay Ellis: “I feel like we’ve got to go through President Obama and the White House. I definitely figure we’ve got to see what happens in there. I would love to see – one of my favorite basketball players of all-time – the retelling of the behind the scenes of Lebron James breaking the scoring record.”