funny is money

Going Big and Dumb With the Cast of History of the World, Part II

Photo: Tommaso Boddi/Variety via Getty Images

Christopher Thornton was really putting in the work for History of the World, Part II. He’d been cast as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and he wanted to make sure he was bringing his A game, Jeremy Strong style. “At home, I was watching every FDR speech and trying to match his vocal pattern,” he said on the History of the World, Part II red carpet. “But when you get on set, you realize very quickly that it’s a send-up of the whole thing.”

Mel Brooks is reported to have once said, “Wit is shit. Funny is money.” Meaning that when bringing Brooks’s Borscht Belt style back to life in the Hulu sequel series, it was time to go very big and very dumb.

“Comedy in the last generation has become smaller in terms of the way people play it. It’s more subtle,” EP Ike Barinholtz said. “You need to jump in and embrace that big, fun tone. I always would say to our guests, ‘You don’t want to be the one person on this show playing small, so make sure you really give us what you’ve got.’”

Tim Baltz, who plays a Union soldier in the recurring Civil War sketches, found the experience very liberating: “It’s a certain freedom, being able to go as hard as you want, and people will tell you, ‘Hey great, even bigger.’ Or ‘Just a touch smaller.’” And playing dumb? What a gift. “For some people, playing dumb is a challenge,” he said. “Maybe it says something about me that I don’t find it a challenge.”

Writing a bigger, almost vaudevillian show was a hoot for showrunner David Stassen. “Ike and I had been writing pilots and TV shows that we wanted to be in the Zeitgeist. Especially 2016 on, you wanted to say something about the country,” he said. “This was such a relief, going ‘We just have to be funny.’ We’d ask, ‘What would Mel do?’ He’d add a million jokes, he’d do slapstick, he’d add a funny sign. It was a great relief to work in a different comedic mindset.”

For both Brian Huskey and Ken Marino, Gene Wilder was their acting inspo for the show. “Gene Wilder is so profoundly truthful. Genuine and honest even when he’s at his most insane,” Huskey said. “He could have been an amazing serious actor, but he wasn’t.” Marino saw Wilder’s performances in Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein as proof that you don’t have to go completely bonkers to pull off slapstick. “You can get big and sketchy,” he said, “but I think the best performances in a Mel Brooks movie — Gene Wilder in Blazing Saddles, Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein, or even Mel Brooks in High Anxiety — he plays it straight. He does get big from time to time, but there’s a truthfulness to it that I love. The situation is ridiculous.” The situations get ridiculous when History of the World, Part II comes to Hulu on March 6.

Getting Schticky With the History of the World, Part II Cast