They're Making a Sequel to One of Mel Brooks' Biggest Failures
“It’s good to be the king!”
At least, that’s what Mel Brooks’ bombastic King Louis XIV shouted to the masses in his comedy opus, History of the World, Part I. What he likely meant was, it was good to be Mel Brooks. Prior to the release of his latest movie, Brooks was the undisputed king of cinematic comedy, making major bank with classic comedies like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. But with History of the World, Part I, some of the gleam started to wear off Brooks's crown.
Which makes its sequel, History of the World Part II, all the more confounding. The movie, starring Brooks, Nick Kroll, Wanda Sykes, and Ike Barinholtz, is hitting Hulu this spring. Why now, forty years after the fact? And an even better question: Why a sequel to this movie, one of Mel’s biggest disappointments?
History of the World Part I had a lot going against it. Because of Brooks’s insistence on filming on elaborate sets in London, it required an enormous (at the time) budget of $11 million. Brooks biographer Patrick McGilligan notes that the movie’s script was made up of rehashed material, sketch ideas he’d previously spoofed on Sid Caesar shows or in his 2000 Year Old Man skits with Carl Reiner. By 1981, his cast of verifiably funny people -- Caesar, Howard Morris, Dom Deluise, Harvey Korman -- wasn’t exactly the hipped crowd in the disco. And despite the big budget, that same cast was grumbling because they weren’t being paid their going rate.
So it’s no big surprise that History was “a considerable disappointment” to studio 20th Century Fox, who’d expected another blockbuster, not one of Brooks’ lowest-grossing comedies to date. After a strong opening weekend, word got around and audiences stayed away. Critics took a bat to the film, poking Brooks for recycling not only his own gags but those of others as well. The New York Times’s Janet Maslin called it “crashingly unfunny.” The Los Angeles Times branded it a sorry self-indulgence. Roger Ebert was even less kind, calling it “a rambling, undisciplined, sometimes embarrassing failure.”
Maybe the presence of Kroll, Sykes, and Barinholtz can inject some laughs into what is essentially a series of historical comedy sketches, a concept that has been well explored via truly funny shows like Drunk History. But it sounds like we’ll get plenty of Mel as well. “I can’t wait to once more tell the real truth about all the phony baloney stories the world has been conned into believing are History!” he told Variety. Look, Brooks is a true comedy icon and we have our fingers crossed. But if the King couldn’t pull off this sketchy concept back in 1981, do we really think we’ll get the royal treatment this time around?