How Nick Kroll Carries Forward Mel Brooks’ Comedy Style in Hulu’s “History of the World, Part II”

“I told him that I had an idea for a remake of The Producers,” comedian Nick Kroll reminisced about his first time meeting his hero, Mel Brooks. On March 6th, 40 years of waiting is over when History of the World, Part II expands Brooks’ comedic spin on great moments in history as a Hulu original series. Nick Kroll stars in the show in addition to executive producing, and he was the lone participant to promote the show at a recent TCA press tour. Nick had recently graduated college and was early in his comedy career when he met Mel Brooks backstage at an awards show. Having pitched a new take on a Mel Brooks classic, the master of comedy told his young idol to “‘Do your own thing, do your own work.’"

(Stewart Cook/Hulu)

(Stewart Cook/Hulu)

Nick Kroll took Mel Brooks’ advice, setting off on his own comedy career with highlights that include creating, producing, and starring in shows like Kroll Show, The League, and Big Mouth. “Twenty years later, Mel and Kevin [Salter] and Searchlight came to me and said, ‘Do you want to go make History of the World, Part II?’ History of the World, Part I is like one of three VHS’ that we had in our house. I knew the whole movie by heart. And so just the idea that Mel knew who I was and trusted me to do this is truly one of the highlights of my career. And then the process was then find the team to do it with. I went to Wanda Sykes, who I've known socially for a long time and think is one of the great comedy minds of our time, and she was on board, also a huge Mel Brooks fan. And then Ike Barinholtz and his partner, Dave Stassen felt like obvious choices who could both write on the show and, in Ike's case, star in it. And then it sort of unfolded from there of creating the team. And everybody involved is just a massive Mel Brooks fan.”

History of the World, Part II isn’t just a fan-made project. “Mel has been involved throughout the process as a writer and producer,” Nick Kroll explained. “I remember very early meetings with Mel, and he was like, ‘I got jokes.’ He had bits ready to go… He's like, ‘I have an idea. Civil War, you know, Robert E. Lee. They're at the signing at Appomattox. Robert E. Lee has got his sword. He signs at Appomattox. He turns around. He's got his sword, and he knocks all of his guys in the balls.’” Jack McBrayer of 30 Rock fame portrays the general in the fully realized sketch. “He's 96. His comedy mind is still so sharp. He's still so funny… He narrates the entire show. I had the privilege and deep fear of directing Mel doing voiceover. And there's nothing better than hearing Mel Brooks say, ‘Oh, good idea.’ There is nothing more crushing than pitching Mel a joke and being like, ‘No, I'm not saying that. That's bad.’ But just the idea that Mel Brooks directly tells you that your idea sucks is one of the great privileges of my life.”

A lot has changed about the world since Mel Brooks broke out as one of the greatest comedy minds of all time with films like The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and many more. “What was so exciting about doing the show and continuing Mel's legacy was that Mel's ultimate goal was always to poke fun at those in power and how greedy and stupid they were. And so doing a show about history now, at a time when we are reexamining the past, how things went down, it became, for me, a very easy throughline to just continue Mel's legacy of poking fun at those in power. And that really became our guiding light to continue making the show.” Asked if the world is too sensitive to embrace this type of humor in a modern project, Nick Kroll had some thoughts. “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… We're still saying and doing pretty wild things. It just requires a little more thought.”

With Jewish communities around the world constantly under different forms of attack, History of the World, Part II carries forward Mel Brooks’ tradition of enlightening the public in hilarious ways. “Jews have been making jokes for, I guess we're going on about 2,000 years now, and in various times that have been incredibly difficult. So it's ingrained inside of the process. As someone who grew up in love with Mel Brooks, nobody is a bigger influence on me and my comedy career and my point of view than Mel Brooks. So I hope that we are continuing on in his tradition. You know, he was making The Producers in the '60s, he was making a musical about Adolf Hitler twenty years after the Holocaust. So we continue on in that tradition of trying to find humor in tricky times as every group does. Jews are not alone in that. The rhythms that Mel uses have been just massive for me, whether you're looking at The 2000 Year Old Man and to what we were trying to do with Oh, Hello. We met Mel right after Oh, Hello, and he's like, ‘You guys, your rhythms are great.’ And I'm like, ‘They're stolen from you.’ All of what we're doing today in comedy on some level is referenced or stolen from Mel Brooks, as Mel took from his forbearers and as we will continue to do in various ways. I don't think it's as tricky to navigate doing comedy right now as people would like to imagine. You just have to be funny, and then it's okay.”

You can watch Nick Kroll and a cast of recognizable faces “be funny” in Hulu’s History of the World, Part II premiering Monday, March 6th.

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Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).