‘History Of The World: Part II’ Was Better When It Was Called ‘Drunk History’
After a few months of Borscht Belt hype, Hulu finally dropped two episodes of History of the World: Part II on Monday. Compared to Mel Brooks’s last comedy, 1995’s Dracula: Dead and Loving It, it’s a triumph! Otherwise, History is just what you might expect — genial, mildly amusing, and largely toothless.
In some small ways, History: Part II goes further than Brooks’s earlier films ever did. For example, Ike Barinholtz’s Ulysses S. Grant drops a few F-bombs when denied his favorite hooch. But a Civil War history lesson littered with the occasional eff can’t muster shock laughs anymore. Profanity isn’t edgy in 2023, and with no element of surprise — say, in the way that Blazing Saddles used racial epithets to make 1974 audiences sit up in their seats — it’s not especially funny, either. Back then, a bunch of cowboys passing gas around a campfire was a scatological riot, mainly because no one had ever seen explosive farts on the big screen. In the second episode of History: Part II, a squadron of D-Day soldiers gets seasick and pukes all over the boat. That’s the entire joke, and you might find yourself scrolling your phone until the interminable yakfest is finally over.
Considering that “Jewish advisor” Brooks is more of an inspiration for this series than its creator, it’s surprising how dated the jokes are. Wanda Sykes’s contribution about Shirley Chisholm is a parody of The Jeffersons, a sitcom from 1975. The Kubla Khan/Marco Polo section turns out to be a Punk’d spoof, something that Saturday Night Live tackled … in 2003. You’re twenty years late on this one, History.
Watching History of the World: Part II is a weird deja vu comedy experience, imbued with the eerie feeling that we’ve seen this all before, except funnier. That’s because we have and it was called Drunk History. Like the new Hulu show, Drunk History used an all-star line-up of comedians to provide a funny history lesson. But Drunk had a better premise (sloshed comics give us the tipsy but mostly real lowdown on significant world events) and better jokes.
How about Abe Lincoln, for example? In History: Part 2, his comic character is defined by two traits — a desire to shield his son from combat (shades of Dan Quayle and Bill Clinton, in case this show needed more dated references) and an unusually tall posture that has him slamming into door frames and light fixtures. Pain is funny!
Derek Waters’s Drunk History, on the other hand, tackled Lincoln’s story a number of times, each one miles more clever than what’s currently running on Hulu. The inebriated narrators' inability to speak coherently provides more authentic laughs than anything Nick Kroll and company dream up — and what the heck, we learn a few things about actual history as well.
Look, Mel Brooks is a national treasure. If we get one last chance to trot him out to take a bow, we’re here for it. But if it’s actual laughs you’re after, Drunk History (also on your Hulu subscription!) drinks History of the World: Part II right under the table.