Wanda Sykes and Ike Barinholtz were recruited by Kroll to create the series with Mel Brooks 42 years after Brooks’ ‘Part I’ film.
“Most good sequels take at least 40 years to make,” executive producer Nick Kroll said of his sequel to Mel Brooks’ 1981 classic History of the World, Part I. And indeed, 42 years later, Brooks, Kroll, Ike Barinholtz, Wanda Sykes, and David Stassen’s History of the World, Part II has come, containing a variety of sketches lampooning various periods of human history.
Brooks approached Kroll about resurrecting the project, which the performer described as “not only one of the highlights of my career but actually one of the pleasures of my life” at the show’s L.A. debut on Monday. To receive a call from your hero, not just a call, but a call asking, ‘Would you help me make this thing?’ I still can’t think of a better honor — or, to be honest, a bit terrifying thing to try not to muck up what he’s done.”
Brooks himself made a surprise appearance at the premiere, taking the stage to rousing acclaim at the Hollywood Legion Theater.
After looking for “people who have great relationships in comedy, who have a really distinct voice, and who will also be able to understand and honor what Mel Brooks has done,” Kroll enlisted Sykes (“someone I greatly admired”) and Barinholtz (“we needed a punching bag, so Ike won a fan contest”) as his partners.
When Sykes received the call from Kroll, she initially believed he was playing a joke on her, but “after I learned it was real, I was simply blown away, and more so because Mel knew of me and wanted me involved in the project.” “You know in cartoons when the cartoon figure rushes away and there’s just a cloud outline?” Barinholtz said of hearing the idea. That’s exactly what occurred. It’s the fastest yes in the world.”
“I think we’re at a stage right now when people are reexamining our history, and there are lots of various viewpoints on what makes up our history, and we’re of the opinion that it should all be made fun of,” Barinholtz said of the timing of Part II.
“If we can perform our jobs and laugh about it, maybe it won’t be so angsty.”
The sketches, which feature all-star appearances from Seth Rogen, Kumail Nanjiani, Jay Ellis, Josh Gad, Dove Cameron, Danny DeVito, Johnny Knoxville, Hannah Einbinder, Sam Richardson, and Tyler James Williams, were inspired by “a lot of calling of friends and emails and just trying to get people” during the pandemic, according to Kroll.
“The reality is, there’s no better way to get folks on the phone than to ask, ‘Do you want to be a part of a Mel Brooks project?'” he explained. “It certainly is the best door opener someone could ever want.” Others like “Johnny Knoxville and Sarah Silverman have reached out to us to say, ‘If there’s anything that comes up let me know,’ and of course, we’re going to find those opportunities because those people are some of the best, funniest people in the world,” he continued.
Justin Theroux was one huge name they wanted to acquire but couldn’t because of schedules, according to Barinholtz, who joked that he would appear in Part III as “a hot JFK.”
In the sketches, Kroll portrays Judas, joking, “I guess I really am a self-hating Jew, so I figured I’d play the ultimate adversary.”
“It simply felt like it was going to be a pretty humorous part to perform, between [sketch] ‘Curb Your Judaism’ and [sketch] ‘Curb Your Judaism’.” I felt that I was a fine guy to portray,” Kroll added, joking, “I think the kindest thing we did in this whole process was not bothered to ask Larry David to do this, it was the best thing we could do. But we got to work with J.B. Smoove, who is essential to Curb Your Enthusiasm, so that was a fantastic chance. And it’s been a blast doing the Beatles things as Judas.”