It’s a common refrain: Mel Brooks, the comedy mastermind behind “The Producers” and “Space Balls,” could never make a Mel Brooks movie in today’s climate. Well, Mel Brooks made a Mel Brooks series, Hulu’s “History of the World, Part II,” in this very climate.
Nick Kroll, who is a main executive producer, star, and director on the upcoming eight-episode sequel to 1981’s “History of the World, Part I,” told TV critics that the times-have-changed notion is overblown. “I don’t think it’s as tricky to navigate doing comedy right now as people would like to imagine,” Kroll said at Saturday’s Television Critics Association winter press tour. “You just have to be funny.”
Fortunately for Kroll, he and Brooks are very funny. As are the dozens of other comedians and comedic actors who jumped at the chance to work with Brooks, their shared comedy hero. And while you sure can’t use some words these days that were available for “Blazing Saddles,” it’s still open season on Brooks’ regular targets.
“Mel’s ultimate goal was always to poke fun at those in power, and how greedy and how stupid they were,” Kroll said. “So, doing a show about history now at a time when we are reexamining the what the past was [and] how things went down, it became — for me — a very easy through line to continue Mel’s legacy at poking fun of those in power. And that really became our guiding light.”
That doesn’t mean the cutting-room floor (or at least, the writers room’s floor) wasn’t littered with stuff that went perhaps a bit too far for 2023. “For sure,” there was some of that, Kroll said. There are also measures available to avoid both being overtly offensive and stifling comedic creativity. “Whatever room we’re in, you just try to create a space that’s open and honest,” Kroll said. So he creates a “safe word,” like: “Ah, that makes me feel a little itchy,” he recalled.
“And then you examine it, and you figure out: Is it the joke that you’re telling? Is it the words that you’re using? Is it the target?” Kroll continued. “I personally think right now in comedy you can still say and do insane things — you just have to be a little more thoughtful about how and why you’re saying them.”
Brooks, Wanda Sykes, and Ike Barinholtz also star on, write on, and executive produce “History of the World, Part II.” David Stassen is showrunner.
Here’s just some of the murderer’s row of guest stars: Pamela Adlon, Tim Baltz, Zazie Beetz, Jillian Bell, Quinta Brunson, Dove Cameron, D’Arcy Carden, Ronny Chieng, Rob Corddry, Danny DeVito, David Duchovny, Hannah Einbinder, Jay Ellis, Josh Gad, Kimiko Glenn, Brandon Kyle Goodman, Jake Johnson, Richard Kind, Johnny Knoxville, Lauren Lapkus, Jenifer Lewis, Poppy Liu, Joe Lo Truglio, Jason Mantzoukas, Ken Marino, Jack McBrayer, Zahn McClarnon, Charles Melton, Kumail Nanjiani, Brock O’Hurn, Andrew Rannells, Emily Ratajkowski, Sam Richardson, Nick Robinson, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, Timothy Simons, J.B. Smoove, David Wain, Taika Waititi, Reggie Watts, and Tyler James Williams. There’s also Jack Black as Joseph Stalin, Kroll joyously revealed at TCA.
Hulu’s “History of the World, Part II,” premieres Monday, March 6 with two episodes. Two new episodes will then drop daily, with the finale premiering on Thursday, March 9.