History Of The World Part II: Mel Brooks Encouraged Nick Kroll & Ike Barinholtz To Get Dirty [Exclusive Interview]

"History of the World Part II" begins today, with the first two episodes arriving on Hulu (read our review here). Over 40 years after Mel Brooks parodied epics of the Roman and biblical kind in "History of the World Part I," the sequel series broadens the horizons of historical comedy in more ways than one. Not only does the series dive into even more time periods, including the unfolding of the Russian Revolution, the struggles of ending the Civil War, and the times of William Shakespeare, but it also gets considerably raunchier than its predecessor and digs into more contemporary pop culture styling while also staying true to Brooks' comedic spirit.

Leading up to today's debut of "History of the World Part II," we spoke with stars, writers, and executive producers Nick Kroll and Ike Barinholtz (as well as the showrunner and director) about working with Mel Brooks, parodying "Curb Your Enthusiasm" with some of the show's co-stars, and sitting on a horse while wearing a noose. Plus, there are some rumblings about an organization referred to as the "Jew-minati" and a totally, 100% legitimate idea about a non-comedic musical adaptation of the January 6th insurrection that isn't a joke at all. Okay, that one might be a joke.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

'Mel Brooks is such a massive part of so many of our comedic upbringings...'

It's been 40 years since "History of the World Part I." That's a long time to wait for a sequel. So how did this project come around to you guys after all this time?

Kroll: Well, Ike was in jail and continues to be.

Barinholtz: I'd show you my ankle bracelet, but it's too darn heavy.

Kroll: And that's the kind of fun that we would have on set!

[everyone laughs]

Kroll: But no, Mel Brooks and Searchlight came to me about the idea of doing the show of a "History of the World Part II," 40 years in the making. Of course, it was like a no-brainer for me. We brought in Wanda Sykes and Ike and his writing partner, Dave Stassen, to run the show. It's been this really beautiful process. Mel Brooks is such a massive part of so many of our comedic upbringings, so getting people to be involved in the show was one of the easier things we've ever had to do, just because so many people were excited to work with Mel. But also Ike has great relationships. Wanda, obviously, is one of the great comics of our time. I don't know if you know this, but I am part of the Illuminati, so I am able to use those relationships to leverage opportunities.

[laughs] Perfect.

Barinholtz: I'm part of the Lou Malnati's Chicago pizza family. I would send pizzas to people if they said no. Then they get the pizza, and they're like, "What time do you need me on set?"

[laughs] Even better.

Barinholtz: Right?

Yeah, that'll do it.

Kroll: And I'm part of the Jew-minati, which is a term that I can't believe –

Barinoltz: Have we never said that before? The Jew-minati?

Kroll: Jew-minati?

Barinholtz: We've never said that before?

Kroll: You know what? Let's bring in Kanye, because I think Kanye's got some –

Barinholtz: You can bring the puppet, come on.

[laughs] Perfect, amazing. 

'To get to talk to Mel, and pitch him jokes and storylines, and hear stories from him about the writer's room at 'Your Show of Shows,' it was just surreal'

So you mentioned everyone being excited to work with Mel Brooks. I feel like that had to be a bucket list item for both of you. He hasn't been nearly as active as he used to be. Did you ever even think that was possible? And what was it like working with him on this?

Barinholtz: I did not think it was possible just, because I just figured, "Yeah, I'm not going to get that chance. He's kind of doing other stuff now." So when Nick called me and told me, it was the fastest I've ever said yes. To get to talk to Mel, and pitch him jokes and storylines, and hear stories from him about the writers' room at "Your Show of Shows," it was just surreal. Every time I would get off a Zoom with him, or we'd talk to him, I would just shake my head. I'd go run in and tell my wife. I'd be like, "You're not going to believe it. Brooks just told me this incredible story about Neil Simon and Carl Reiner!" And she would look at me and say, "I'm on a call. I also have a job. It's not just about you, you selfish prick. And f*** off!"


Kroll: He was on with Mel Brooks because, frankly, they have a romantic relationship.

Barinholtz: That was a big hurdle for me to have to get over to work with Mel. But I did it. And that shows you how much he means to me personally.

And you're a true professional because of it.

Barinholtz: Yes, I am. Yes, I am.

One thing that was surprising to me was that "History of the World Part II" gets a little more raunchy than "History of the World Part I," but it's hilarious. Was there ever any concern about taking it a little too far?

Barinholtz: You know, Mel did say to us, actually early on, he said, "Don't be afraid to tell dirty jokes."

Kroll: Mm-hmm.

That's awesome.

Barinholtz: I feel like, just based on Nick and I and Wanda's humor, we're already predisposed to do that. But to get the extra blessing to go for it, really, I just thought was so nice, and it allowed us to really just be absolutely disgusting.

'I don't think you can really do a Mel Brooks project without some musical numbers'

Kroll: Yeah, and I think we did a table read of a bunch of material one day, and Mel talked to us afterwards, and he said two things. First, he said, "I like the songs." We have a bunch of songs in it, because I don't think you can really do a Mel Brooks project without some musical numbers.

Of course.

Kroll: And he said, "I like some of the reads," which I assume is a reference to Ike's work in the show. But the other thing he said was, "We're going to get some letters, and that's good." And I think he really was never one to shy away from any of — he really was encouraging us to take some risks, and that's because Mel has always done that in his work. He's always been provocative. And I think we're trying to pay homage to that, as well as just do the stuff that we naturally would do.


Barinholtz: And just a little fun footnote for that story. After that call, Mel reached out to me and said, "Yours were one of the reads I enjoyed."

Kroll: You say he made that clear?

Barinholtz: I said, "Oh, who were you talking about? Who didn't you like?" And he said, "I don't want to get into names, but just know that yours was amongst my favorite reads," I heard him say.

Kroll: And then he called me after that and said, "I know you're in deep with Ike. So I had to make him feel better."

Barinholtz: Funny thing, a little funny thing, and even Nick doesn't know, he called me after he called Nick, and was like, listen, "It's Nick's birthday, and I didn't get him a gift. So I wanted him to feel a little special today. But your s*** was great, and his maybe wasn't." And then he said, "I'm hanging up the phone right now, last call of the day."

Kroll: And you know that's true, because you can so hear Mel saying, "Your s*** was great." You know that's how he talks.

[laughs] For sure, sounds just like him.

'I think my favorite part of this bit is Judas is wearing Simple sneakers like Larry does'

Nick, the "Curb Your Judaism" bits are some of my favorites in the entire show. It had to be somewhat surreal doing a "Curb Your Enthusiasm" parody with JB Smoove and Richard Kind, right?

Kroll: Yeah, they're both two of my favorite comedic actors, and their work specifically on "Curb" is so perfect. So we had the idea to do it, and it was Judas as sort of a Larry [David] figure. And then it was like, "Oh, can we do this if we don't get JB?" The truth is, I don't think we could do the show without JB Smoove. He's so funny in everything he does. And it was surreal, especially because I was on "The League," which Jeff Schaffer created, and he's also very involved in writing and directing much of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Larry plays older Ruxin [in the finale]. It was a very weird thing that we were trying to do. I think my favorite part of this bit is Judas is wearing Simple sneakers like Larry does. You can barely see, but there's one shot where you see it. Because I'm wearing biblical robe, and then I'm like, "I want the Simple sneakers," and I got it.

I love that. Ike, now long did you have to be in a noose and on a horse for that "Civil War" segment?

Kroll: Great question!

Barinholtz: For a little too long to be comfortable. When we wrote that, and when we went down to do the location scout, I remember being like, "There's no way we were going to be able to fit five men on horseback with nooses around their neck. It's just not going to work." And our horse trainer was like, "No, we'll make it happen." And then sure enough, we're there that day, and these horses are right next to each other. There are some outtakes where I'm a little nervous about maybe the horse getting spooked, taking off, and my head just remaining on the noose.

Kroll: That would've been a good outtake though, you know, for the end of the show.

Barinholtz: The ultimate blooper! But no, we had a great team, and thankfully, no animals were injured in that, including the actors.

'But the reality is there's just this infinite amount of very stupid situations that we could put sketches in'

Now, the first season is just coming out, but just "Part I" had a teaser for "Part II," and without giving anything away, "Part II" does have a tease for "Part II," season 2. Do you guys have any ideas or hopes of historical settings or people you might want to tackle with a second season?

Barinholtz: The great thing about this is there's just 3,000 years of material that's just kind of sitting there.

Kroll: Yeah, that's when the Earth was created.

Barinholtz: Yeah, Nick's a biblical realist. We started going down the road on a really amazing Cuba story that we were very excited about. And that's something that I think would be very fun to explore again. But the reality is there's just this infinite amount of very stupid situations that we could put sketches in.

Kroll: You know, Ike was very central to the January 6th –

Barinholtz: I am the QAnon shaman. I've just shaved and gotten a haircut. No one even knew that.


Kroll: Right, and he keeps pitching a non-comedic historical reenacting of the storming of the Capitol. So we're trying to figure out if we can get him out of the project.

Barinholtz: It's non-comedic, but it is musical.

Kroll: Yes.

Barinholtz: Can you help me out with that? Do you know anyone that is looking to make a cool story that has actually has something to say?

Yeah, I feel like this sounds like something we could probably get Baz Luhrmann on. I think that bringing his touch into it would really be great. We could have a lot of people wearing bejeweled costumes and things like that.

Barinholtz: Yes. Oh, yes.

Kroll: That sounds like a great Mike Pence vehicle.

"History of the World Part II" premieres two episodes on Hulu today, March 6. After that, two new episodes will drop daily, with the finale arriving on March 9.