Wanda Sykes & Ike Barinholtz on Mel Brooks

Mar 8, 2023

If you’d said to any Mel Brooks fan even three years ago that we’d finally be getting a long-awaited sequel to History of the World, Part I, the epic parody film that took audiences through all of human history, they’d likely have called you crazy. But, in 2023, that vision is finally a reality, and the much anticipated History of the World, Part II, has finally arrived, shepherded in by writers, stars, and executive producers Wanda Sykes and Ike Barinholtz.

The series continues the tradition begun by Brooks, framing each episode as a series of sketches covering the entire history of civilization — and then some. Certain sketches, like “The Civil War,” which sees Barinholtz as Union general Ulysses S. Grant, or “Shirley Chisholm,” which casts Sykes as the former presidential hopeful, stretch over a number of episodes, while certain one-offs cast celebrities for brief but hilarious appearances, including Josh Gad as Shakespeare leading a writer’s room, or fellow writer and executive producer Nick Kroll as Galileo, who turns from a philosopher to a TikTok influencer.

Collider was excited to sit down with Barinholtz and Sykes to discuss the series and how they got involved in a Mel Brooks project. During this interview, they also discussed how they chose what eras to parody on the show, their favorite characters to play, and the first Brooks film they ever saw.

Image via Hulu

RELATED: ‘History of the World: Part II’ Review: A Worthy Sequel 41 Years in the Making

Check out the interview in the player above, or read a transcript below, and check out History of the World, Part II, streaming only on Hulu.

COLLIDER: Obviously, Mel Brooks is such a massive influence on film and television, since the days of Sid Caesar. So for you guys, what was your first exposure to Mel Brooks, whether it was a movie or something on television?

IKE BARINHOLTZ: I watched History of the World…sorry, I watched Blazing Saddles when I was four.

WANDA SYKES: Yeah. Blazing Saddles, was that the first one?

BARINHOLTZ: Well, [The] Producers was first. But Blazing Saddles I saw first.

SYKES: Yeah. I’m going to say yeah, probably Blazing Saddles for me also.

BARINHOLTZ: Yeah. I was even a little kid, but still, I was like, “Oh, my God.” And it holds up.

It’s one of those things that when you see it as a kid, you don’t quite understand it, but then the older you get, the more you have an appreciation for it, for sure.

BARINHOLTZ: Yes, definitely.

SYKES: Right.

BARINHOLTZ: But it was a short jump from there to History of the World, Part I, which I watched, let me count it real quick…a hundred times growing up. So I was very happy when we got the chance to work on this.

SYKES: I’m not going to embarrass myself and say Your Show of Shows.

BARINHOLTZ: I used to see him in the Catskills.

SYKES: [laughter] Yeah, yeah.

I heard that this was an idea, [that] the television show was something that Mel had been holding onto for a while and then brought Nick and everybody else on. So can you guys give me a rundown, a little bit of how it came about, how you guys got involved?

SYKES: Well, Nick called me and I thought for sure it was a prank. I was like, “What? You want me to work with you on a Mel Brooks project? History of the World 2? Okay. Absolute yes, 100%.” And then we met with Ike and his partner David [Stassen], and it was like, “Absolutely, great match.”

BARINHOLTZ: When he called, he was giving me a sell. He was like, “It’s eight episodes. It’s from Mel, but we think we could do some stuff.” And I was like, “Just shut up. The answer is yes.”

“Do you want to work with me on a Mel…?” I don’t care who the Mel is, Mel Gibson…

SYKES: Torme.

BARINHOLTZ: Mel Torme, that’s it. There’s no… Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. That’s really a last name, it doesn’t count, but still. But it was the world’s easiest, “Yes.”

Image via Hulu

And as far as the sketches go, obviously there are some things in here that people have been waiting a long time to see. But in terms of everything else, because everything else is completely new and completely hysterical, what did the top-down of building that look like? How did you decide what was going to end up in this project?

BARINHOLTZ: Well, when we first all started talking about what the show could look like, we kept going back to the movie. We knew the movie had such a great structure where you have some of the longer pieces where you invest a little more time, i.e. Rome and the French Revolution. So we knew we wanted to do that. I knew I wanted to do a Civil War thing, and Wanda wanted to tell a Shirley Chisholm story, and Nick wanted to tell a story about a Russian Jew living in the shtetl. And so once we had those big cornerstone worlds, then the rest of it was just a lot of like, “Hey, what’s a funny thing?” Oh yeah, Amelia Earhart has opened her own bar for ladies only, or Alexander Graham Bell, right after he made the first phone call, he got the first crank.

So it was really, just once we knew what those bigger pieces were, we just had a really fun time for months. Just, “What do you got?” You know what I mean? Give me a period, give me a funny premise. Give me a character you want to play. And then once we shot it all…while we were shooting, and we started in our minds a little bit thinking, “Well, this would pair up very well with this, and this goes nicely with this. This can’t be with that.” So in post, we would have these long edit sessions where we were like, “This is the order of the show, and it’s not going to change.” And then 48 hours later, we’re like… totally new version with different pieces moving around. So it was definitely a group effort, but I think we got it there.

SYKES: And also like, the sketch from the movie of the, “I give you these 15—ah, 10 Commandments!” We said, let’s continue something from the Bible as far as to make it one of our tent poles, as we called them.

I obviously know there was a big writing team for this show, so was there anything that ended up on the cutting room floor that you guys thought might make it in, but then at the last minute you were like, “Oh no, this isn’t going to work.”?

BARINHOLTZ: There was so much stuff, but it was not…it was just time. And the only one…we went down the road on writing a big story about Cuba.

SYKES: Okay, yeah. Oh yeah.

BARINHOLTZ: Yeah. And then by the end we like—

SYKES: Nothing that we shot.

BARINHOLTZ: Nothing that we shot. Yeah. No, no, no. We ended up overwriting and shooting the perfect amount, I would say. But there are so many premises and periods and characters that we have more than enough for Season 2.

SYKES: Absolutely.

BARINHOLTZ: I mean, come on.

SYKES: Pages.

BARINHOLTZ: It writes itself.

Just do Part III. Yeah.

BARINHOLTZ: There you go.

Image via Hulu

You two [are] in a number of the sketches, not just the longer running ones, so were there any that you were particularly attached to? Was it Shirley Chisholm? Was it Ulysses S. Grant, or was it something else?

SYKES: Yeah. I’m very fond of Shirley Chisholm, and I’ve always wanted to play Shirley Chisholm. So getting to do this and then to do it in a format that I love, which is multi-cam…and I mean, come on, the wardrobe alone. Geez.

BARINHOLTZ: Oh my God. So good.

SYKES: Yeah. But yeah, that was just a real treat for me to be able to play that and have fun. And then with Marla Gibbs too. Geez.

BARINHOLTZ: Oh my God. Forget it. George Wallace?

SYKES: George Wallace, as George Wallace.

BARINHOLTZ: It’s crazy. I was very into playing Ulysses S. Grant. I’ve always said he is one of our hottest presidents. The only other character I remember being real…I mean, I was excited for a lot of them. When we started breaking the Beatles gospel, I had been watching the Beatles documentary and I was obsessed with them, with Ringo and the way he talks a lot. So that was a really fun one to do. Ringo, not one-to-one as Mark, I think.

One last question for the both of you: speaking of Ulysses S. Grant, neither of them are very desirable places to go to, but if you had to pick one, would you rather go to the Rock Ridge from Blazing Saddles or the Rock Ridge from Part II?

BARINHOLTZ: Oh boy. You’re either somewhere in the Yukon Territory, or in West Virginia. I think the Yukon. I think my chance is out west. Yeah. But yeah, I’m going to say that, but I’m sure there’s some fun pubs in West Virginia.

SYKES: Yeah, you guys partied down.

BARINHOLTZ: We had a great time, we had a great time.

SYKES: It was a party. Yeah, I’ll go there.

BARINHOLTZ: You say West Virginia. I’ll say the original, OG Rock Ridge. Either way, we’re having a drink.

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