Nick Kroll wrote, executive produced, and stars in History of the World, Part II. The series serves as a sequel to the classic Mel Brooks film, History of the World, Part I, and features a variety of sketches that take viewers through different periods of human history. All episodes are now streaming on Hulu.
We discussed the joy and complications of the creative process, the incredible cast, favorite filming memories, introducing a new audience to Mel’s work, and more. Keep reading for everything he told me!
Can you tell me which part of the process was your favorite for this particular project?
Nick Kroll: Each part of the process has incredible joys and complications. I mean, it all starts with getting an incoming call that’s like, “Do you want to work with Mel Brooks on History of the World, Part II?” It’s a massive career highlight, just the idea that that call would come in. Then really building out the show and building the team with Wanda, Ike, and Dave and then bringing in our really insanely talented writing team. Anything is possible, sky’s the limit. Writing is fun and has its challenges because anything is possible and then once we had written it and started to cast it — it’s a sketch show, so it’s not like normal casting of a TV show where you build your cast, everyone signs on for the season or however many seasons and then you go make it. With sketches, every day is a new cast, or every week was.
So putting that puzzle together was really fun, but then complicated because someone was available and they’re only available this day and we have this location then or someone gets COVID — all those elements but almost every time something didn’t work out, whoever was able to come in was as good or better than what we could have ever imagined. So at every stage, it presented some challenges but also super gratifying elements.
Was there someone in the cast that you were either really excited to work with that you hadn’t before or just excited to see them take on their role? I know that’s hard, because everyone involved is great.
I mean, there’s so many but I think a few that stand out for me was like Marla Gibbs, having Marla Gibbs in “Shirley Chisholm” with Wanda, based on sort of those 70s sitcoms, those Norman Lear sitcoms, which Marla Gibbs was on in that same storyline. I just think about like, George Wallace, the comedian, brilliant Black comedian, playing the racist white Governor George Wallace always kind of really tickled me.
Jack Black as Stalin singing is so funny, but even then, people like Quinta Brunson popping in for a day or two just to play stories, and in the story of Jesus and Mary. Zazie Beetz and Jay Ellis’ Mary Magdalene and Jesus were such perfect casting and so game. Then, I mean, it’s just everywhere you look, you know, Johnny Knoxville, Danny DeVito, Pamela Adlon played my my wife, or Dove Cameron as Princess Anastasia, it’s just like, there’s just an insane sort of talent level and from all different kind of generations and comedy schools, comedy cliques. I think we did a good job of bringing all those people together under one roof.
Looking back on the experience, is there a favorite filming memory that sticks out?
The days we did that sort of The Beatles: Get Back documentary sort of parody homage around Jesus called, “The Last Supper Sessions,” and it’s me, Jay Ellis, Zazie Beetz, Richard Kind, J.B. Smoove, and Ike Barinholtz. We’re kind of playing Jesus and the apostles, but we’re also kind of playing The Beatles with John Lennon and Yoko, and John, Ringo, and George and it was just very loosely scripted, a lot of room to mess around. And my other stuff with J.B. Smoove in “Curb Your Judaism,” J.B. is just the funniest person, everything he says and does is hilarious, and so those particularly for me, as an actor, playing and there was just a lot of laughs throughout.
Which period of human history would you personally want to travel back to and why?
It’s weird because everything used to be gross. You’re like, “Oh, I’d love to live in the Renaissance,” and you’re like, “They never change their clothes, they have all this weird fungus,” you know what I mean? So you’re like, that doesn’t work. So you’re like, “Maybe the Bible,” then you’re like, “Everyone is dead by 24.” How about the ‘90s? Everything was a lot easier in the ‘90s, so let’s just put it there. We did a Berlin Wall, I mean, it would have been really interesting to be in Berlin around the fall of communism but then, I don’t know, it’s like the invention of fire.
We have a sketch with Mitra Jouhari, Ayden Mayeri, and Natalie Morales with the discovery of fire. I mean, truthfully, there’s a bunch of periods in the Kublai Khan and Marco Polo like, it would have been amazing to live in the Mongol Empire at the height of that or more Spain. More Spain would have been pretty cool, somewhere between the 700s and the 1400s in Spain. Muslims, Christians, and Jews all living pretty harmoniously, and art and science, they are flourishing. So maybe that’s where I’d go.
What are you most excited for fans to see from the series?
Well, I think combo of people who grew up with Mel Brooks and grew up with this movie, I hope and I’m excited, I think that we have delivered on a real continuation of what Mel had done in the movie and throughout his career. I hope and would be excited about the idea of fans who never knew Mel Brooks, who just watch a history sketch show, enjoy it, then maybe go back and watch or rewatch all of Mel’s movies and open up a new audience to what a genius he was and what a gift to American comedy.
Can you tell me about the significance of what that phone call, having Mel Brooks involved, and getting to continue the story means to you?
I mean, it’s really kind of beyond a highlight for me, it’s like beyond whatever I could have imagined. He’s such an important figure to my comedy, what I think is funny, and how I want to make things, so it felt surreal from the beginning and still does that I would be in a situation where I have become someone who not only got to know Mel Brooks a little bit but also to work with him. It’s something that I could never truly have imagined. Then once that sort of wears off, you’re like, “Alright, now I have to go make the thing,” there’s the pressure and the desire to honor his work, not only for him, but for the fans who have loved it and not ruin how people think about his work and what he did, and hopefully deliver on it for a new audience.