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History of the Bored, Part II
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History of the Bored, Part II

A review of ‘History of the World, Part II.’

Mel Brooks has been one of my comedy heroes since childhood. The Producers, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Spaceballs were favorites of mine—the former remains so, the latter two I’ve come to agree with the critical consensus about them. Brooks is one of the greatest comic minds to ever exist, and has made some of the funniest comedies of all time. He’s also made some of the least funny. (Everything he’s done post-1977 is bad, and the lasting affection for some of his earlier comedies’ owes more to boomer and Gen X nostalgia-signaling than their own merit. Looking at you, Blazing Saddles.) Sadly, History of the World, Part II falls into the latter camp.

History of the World, Part II is the unexpected sequel to Brooks’ 1981 cult classic, History of the World, Part I. Part II is unexpected both because the “Part I” was a joking reference to Sir Walter Raleigh’s unfinished history series and because the original isn’t very funny. Bad pacing, stale humor, and an uninteresting plot combined for Brooks’ first out-and-out critical flop. History of the World, Part II is an improvement over its predecessor, though not much of one.

Most of the sketches contain a moment or two of genuine humor—an Abraham Lincoln who insists on using “score” in every number he mentions—but they’re surrounded by jokes that are either stale, gross, dumb or, somehow, all three. It’s rare that an entire sketch manages to be funny, though a handful are worth watching. Standouts include Kumail Nanjiani pitching the Kama Souptra, a combo sex guide and soup cookbook; soldiers about to storm Normandy throwing up for every conceivable reason other than nerves; and Rasputin’s murder reimagined as a series of Jackass stunts—with Johnny Knoxville as Rasputin, no less.

The best sketches all tend to be the shortest, and almost without fail the longer a skit is stretched, the more boring it is. The ongoing storylines to which we keep returning are dull, unfunny, and in the case of the Jesus storyline, heretical. (Heresy might be excused if it leads to a good joke—to repurpose a line from Seinfeld, I’m not offended as a Christian, I’m offended as a comedy lover!)

The show is filled with cameos and guest stars, while executive producers and writers Nick Kroll, Wanda Sykes, and Ike Barhinholtz serve as the regular cast members. Despite being the least famous of the trio, it’s Barinholtz who stands out as the best actor and funniest on-screen presence, while Kroll hams it up and Sykes is oddly wooden. (Barinholtz also delivers the funniest line in the show as an ice skating commentator reacting to Poland delivering a score of “F*** you” to the titular character in “Hitler on Ice”: “If you put concentration camps in peoples’ countries, you better be flawless on the ice.”)

History of the World, Part II is another example of the lesson the cast of Saturday Night Live learns, Sisyphus-like, on a weekly basis: Most people can’t do sketch comedy well. Even great comedians struggle with it, and the comedy landscape would probably be better off if they stopped trying. Tim Robinson, Keegan-Michael Key, and Jordan Peele might be the only three people alive right now who can write and execute consistently high-quality sketches. Everyone else needs to stop trying.

Brooks has earned his place in the pantheon of comedy greats. He can make as many missteps as he’d like at this point without tarnishing his legacy in the slightest. But if you want to experience the talent that won him such veneration, skip History of the World, Part II. Go watch The Producers again instead.

Alec Dent is a former culture editor and staff writer for The Dispatch.