Nick Kroll on How You Make Mel Brooks Work in 2023
Here’s a Mel Brooks hot take: Despite Brooks’ own claims that films like Blazing Saddles could never be made today, very few scenes in any of his comedies would be out of bounds today. Forget controversy -- our major concern about the upcoming History of the World Part 2 is that the 96-year-old’s Borscht Belt humor might be too corny for today’s audiences. Which is why Brooks was smart to enlist a lot of younger comic minds for his sequel.
Nick Kroll is directing the 8-part Hulu series, and he claims he’s got this. “I don’t think it’s as tricky to navigate doing comedy right now as people would like to imagine,” Kroll said at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. “You just have to be funny.”
Well, it’s more than that. If you’re doing History of the World, you also have to bring that outrageous Brooks sensibility to the party. No prob, says Kroll. “Mel’s ultimate goal was always to poke fun at those in power, and how greedy and how stupid they were,” Kroll said. OK, that sounds relevant in 2023. Kroll used “Mel’s legacy at poking fun of those in power” as his comic throughline for Part 2.
As for going too far? Kroll thinks it’s possible to have Brooks’ cake and eat it too, as long as creators (including Wanda Sykes and Ike Barinholtz) are willing to put in the work. “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,” he says. Which means some gags end up on the cutting room floor, with Kroll using the safeword “that makes me feel a little itchy” as an internal cue to edit.
Will it all be too safe? The trailer is promisingly provocative, previewing gags about Harriet Tubman (after idiot Confederate soldiers ask her if she invented the bathtub, she asks “How did these dumbasses enslave us?”) and the whitewashing of Jesus. One measure of History of the World Part 2’s success will be its ability to offend at least some percentage of the audience (especially those in power).
If it fails, it won’t be for lack of killer comedy names, with a cast that includes Quinta Brunson, Ronny Chieng, Danny DeVito, Johnny Knoxville, Joe Lo Truglio, Jack McBrayer, Kumail Nanjiani, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, J.B. Smoove, and Taika Waititi. Frankly, we’re down for any movie that promises “Jack Black as Joseph Stalin.”