The creators of History of The World, Part II kept recent events out of the comedy sequel as a way to honor Mel Brooks.
The new Hulu project is a TV follow up to Brooks’ 1981 movie History of the World, Part I. An all-star cast appears in the follow up which airs eight episodes across a week online. Brooks, 96, isn’t sitting this one out either, as he returns to narrate, and produced it alongside comedians Nick Kroll, Wanda Sykes and Ike Barinholtz.
The likes of Jesus, Shakespeare, Hitler, Sigmund Freud and Shirley Chisholm are played up in the comedy show. There’s a ton of surprise sketches and cameos throughout, and Newsweek spoke to the creators and some of the cast to find out more.
96 Years Young
96-year-old Mel Brooks writes, produces and prduces the sequel “History of the World, Part II,” on Hulu. Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic / Hulu
Despite being well into his nineties, World War II veteran, EGOT winner (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards) and beloved legend Brooks is still active in TV and film.
“What does he have in the morning? Is it tomato juice? What’s the key, Mel?” Pamela Adlon asked, equally as astounded by Brooks’ longevity. She told Newsweek she credits his influence with helping shape her career in comedies and voiceovers in the likes of King of the Hill and Recess. Adlon stars in multiple episodes as a Jewish activist hellbent on influencing the Russian Revolution.
“His level of comedy; 2000 Year Old Man, High Fidelity, Young Frankenstein and History of the World, Part I, I don’t remember the first time I ever saw them because I’ve always known them. It’s a part of my psyche, my DNA. It’s just a part of me.”
Fans of his will love Brooks’ cameos in History of the World, Part II, but the team behind the new show had him available as a continuing resource to match the tone of the original.
“It’s just a beyond crazy situation to have been able to have this opportunity, and Mel has been so generous,” director Alice Mathias told Newsweek. “I was of course over the moon excited when I first got the offer for the job, but then very shortly thereafter, I was like, ‘is this a good idea?’ We’re not going to do a good job of doing Mel Brooks, he’s the legend. How are we going to live up to this? But he has just been so supportive along the way.”
Pamela Adlon, Zazie Beetz and Quinta Brunson all star in sketches in the new Hulu series “History of the World, Part II.” Greg Gayne / Aaron Epstein/Hulu
Mathias, who directed a number of episodes in History of the World, Part II, says she would constantly refer back to older Brooks projects to include Easter Eggs and “flourishes” from his previous work.
Comedian Josh Gad (Frozen) also grew up as a fervent fan of Brooks’ work, and he tried to emulate one of Brooks’ famous collaborators for his performance.
“It was a joy playing the wordsmith, William Shakespeare. There’s an element to the Shakespeare on the page that I sort of tried to channel my inner-Gene Wilder, where it’s just this sort of an insane, frantic energy,” Gad told Newsweek.
“At this point in my life, having grown up with the Mel Brooks classics, and now 40 years on doing the sequel to one of the most beloved of those classes, that was the real thrill. It didn’t matter what they offered me I was gonna do it. But it was a joy to get to play such a beloved character for such a beloved filmmaker.”
Current Events and Religion in Comedy
A lot as happened in the world since Brooks’ original comedy History of the World, Part I was released. With over 40 years of history to potentially include, the team behind the sequel decided to largely stay away from recent events.
“We have a short Berlin Wall sketch, but besides that we have Shirley Chisholm (based in the ’70s) and then we go back to the ’40s,” History of the World, Part II showrunner David Stassen told Newsweek. “I don’t know if we made a conscious choice. It just felt like we wanted to honor kind of the Mel Brooks style of the film, and his tone in general. We didn’t decide, ‘oh we can’t touch modern history’ or ‘it’s too much of a hot button topic.’ It was just what sparked us as we were developing ideas in the writer’s room.”
There are pop culture references made within some of the sketches, which we won’t spoil here. One of them features Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene in a reimagined setting that music lovers will recognize.
Whilst in the past, movies like Monty Python’s Life of Brian were slammed for mocking religion and Christianity, actress Zazie Beetz (Atlanta), who plays Mary Magdalene, doesn’t expect such a backlash this time.
“Religion has shaped our culture profoundly and immensely. I think because I grew up in a country that is largely Christian, and I guess any religious shoulder brushing I’ve had in my family is Christian, so I think I have the right to make fun, I guess, because that is what is culturally in my culture,” Beetz told Newsweek. She added, “I wouldn’t do that with another religion.”
Jay Ellis plays Jesus in “History of the World, Part II” while executive producer Nick Kroll plays Judas and many more characters. Tyler Golden/Hulu
Jay Ellis (Insecure) is tasked with playing Jesus, but he admits he didn’t have the heart to tell his family about his role.
“I have not told my family because I do not want them to disown me. They’re all very big fans of JC so I didn’t want to disappoint. They’ll find out on March 6,7,8 and 9 like everyone else,” Ellis told Newsweek. “I don’t think anyone is expecting the Jesus that I get to play, but I’m excited about it.”
With so many topics covered throughout the eight episodes of History of the World, Part II, audiences are bound to actually learn things within the comedy. “It’s the kale in the chocolate ice cream,” as Adlon puts it.
There are so many recognizable faces popping up to surprise viewers throughout the entire season; too many to list within this article even.
The team behind the show, Mathias and Stassen share their favorite bits of casting from Part II with Newsweek.
“Jack Black as Stalin,” Mathias fondly stated. “Just him singing in that was was it for me. It’s an unshakable image, I love it so much. It’s a tricky person to cast and we were just so lucky that he was willing to do it.”
Director Alice Mathias (R) says one of her favorite cameos in “History of the World, Part II” is Taika Waititi (L) as Sigmund Ffeud. Aaron Epstein / Tyler Golden/Hulu
“I love our three star executive producers (Kroll, Sykes and Barinholtz),” Stassen said. “Tim Simon as the complaining Abraham Lincoln just killed me, and I love Josh Gad as Shakespeare.”
“I would add Taika Waititi as Sigmund Freud. He’s so electric and funny in that role.”
Newsweek wanted to know what other historical roles the cast might choose if there was a History of the World, Part III. Ellis chose Mayor Eric Adams, Beetz chose Josephine Baker, while Gad…
“I’d like to play a young Seth Rogen,” Gad said. “Even though I’m older, I feel like I’d like to play a younger de-aged Seth Rogen.”
History of the World, Part II premiered on Hulu on Monday, March 6 with two episodes. Two new episodes will drop daily, with the finale on Thursday, March 9.