How’s this for making history? Now that Ike Barinholtz, Nick Kroll and Wanda Sykes have successfully overseen the four-decades-in-the-making sequel History of the World, Part II — a revival of Mel Brooks’s 1981 sketch comedy film — the trio is ready to reveal exclusively to Yahoo Entertainment that they’re reviving another vintage Brooks-ian comedy: 1974’s Blazing Saddles.
“It’s done, sold and shot,” teases Barinholtz of their take on one of the most controversial comedies ever made. “It comes out on Hulu on April 14!”
Watch our interview with the cast and creators of History of the World, Part II on YouTube
OK, OK… so maybe we’re jumping the gun a little bit. Blazing Saddles II: Return to Rock Ridge isn’t that far along in production. In fact, it’ll almost certainly never, ever get made. For the record, though, Sykes thinks that she and her History collaborators are the right people to make it happen should any streaming service ever be bold enough to bring Blazing Saddles back.
“That would be a ton of fun,” the actress and comedian — who executive produced, wrote and stars in the eight-episode History of the World sequel alongside Barinholtz and Kroll — says. “We should bring that up to Mel!”
“We’re gonna see him later tonight,” Barinholtz adds. “Let’s give him a few drinks and get him all liquored up.”
Not for nothing, but the trio even have their roles in the sequel series already assigned. Sykes would take over from Cleavon Little as Rock Ridge enforcer, Sheriff Bart; Kroll would be Gene Wilder’s drunken gunslinger, the Waco Kid; and Barinholtz would step into Harvey Korman’s black suit as scheming attorney general, Hedley — not Hedy! — Lamarr.
Written by Brooks and a team of writers that included the late, great Richard Pryor, Blazing Saddles remains the 96-year-old director’s biggest box-office hit, and picked up three Oscar nominations to boot. A ribald and irreverent satire of classic Hollywood Westerns and then-contemporary race relations, the movie was already controversial when it premiered in theaters in 1974. In fact, Brooks has said over the years that Warner Bros. didn’t want to release the film at all. Nearly four decades later, Blazing Saddles is regularly cited — often by the filmmaker himself — as a movie that could never get made by a major American studio.
“I don’t know that you could do it today,” agrees History of the World, Part II cast member, Jay Ellis. “It seems like it would be a pretty tough one to pull off.”
That said, the Insecure star claims he’d at least consider playing Sheriff Bart if the History creative team was behind it. “If there’s a studio out there who would green-light that, I would do it,” Ellis says, laughing. “Because we’re all jumping in the fire together; we’re literally all blazing together for that one! This is such a collaborative group so if there’s every an opportunity to go make something that would probably be on people’s radar and drive them a little crazy, 100%, I would jump in there and go do it.”
It’s worth noting that a TV version of Blazing Saddles does already exist. In 1975, CBS aired the pilot for Black Bart — one of the working titles for the film — that starred Louis Gossett Jr. in Little’s role. While it only aired once on network television, the episode is readily available on YouTube and was also released as a DVD bonus feature. (At one point, it was rumored that CBS produced multiple Black Bart episodes, but that has since been debunked.)
And by the way, Sykes is willing to share the part of Sheriff Bart with Ellis if they do ever get a Blazing Saddles reboot off the ground. “Both of them would be good Barts,” Barinholtz says. “Maybe that’s the thing,” Kroll adds in a real-time “Eureka!” moment. “It’s two sheriffs sharing one [job]. And they’re running the NYPD!”
While that kind of creative tinkering might sound sacrilegious to old school Brooks fans, it’s also necessary when updating some of the more of-their-time comedies to the present day. History of the World, Part II notably makes some alterations to its predecessor, particularly in the way the female characters are depicted. While the 1981 original is filled with hilarious actresses — from Madeline Kahn to Pamela Stephenson — they’re also made the targets of lewd and crude jokes more frequently than their male counterparts. The sequel, on the other hand, strives to be an equal opportunity offender.
“Our task is to kind of reconcile the things we love about Mel’s movies with a modern sensibility,” confirms History director Alice Mathias. “That applies not only to our cultural landscape and tastes, but also what’s funny and what’s been done already. We basically turned back towards his films, and dialed in on the features of his filmmaking that are so special — like all the slapstick physical comedy — and go, ‘How can we make it feel fresh and relevant?'”
As one of the many funny women featured in History of the World, Part II, Zazie Beetz appreciated that the show’s creative team made an effort to spread the cruder jokes out between genders this time around. “Obviously, it was a different time when that film came out,” says the Atlanta star, who plays Mary Magdalene opposite Ellis’s Jesus of Nazareth. “We have grown in our humor. As a woman, it’s nice to not have highly sexualized humor exclusively thrown at you. But those were the times, I suppose!” And now, those times are literally History.
History of the World, Part II premieres Mar. 6 on Hulu.