Why spoof history > real (fake) history

I think we can all agree with one self-evident truth: history would be better if there were more jokes in it. I’m not saying it’s not funny. Just that the bits that we tend to remember are the scandals, diseases, wars, civil wars, religious wars and general persecution of the powerless by the powerful. Hardly a recipe for frivolity.

So if you can’t laugh with history, why not laugh at history? Films like Life of Brian, Blazing Saddles, and Robin Hood: Men In Tights are cult classics.While their telling of history may not be a 100% realistic version of events, films never are. What’s more, they have stood the test of time well when compared to spoofs of other genres, like horror.

Moreover, the fact that they are not trying to tell a ‘history’ story gives them extra reason to ground themselves in the reality. To tell a good joke, you have to have a convincing stooge. The realism has to be there before you can add comedy to the mix.

Most serious historical films are, well, dark. Seriously dark. For some reason I keep thinking of Kingdom of Heaven, so let’s take that as an example. Balian’s wife has committed suicide before the start of the film after miscarrying their child. Her body is buried without ceremony, but after the priest (in the extended cut he is Balian’s brother) has stolen jewellery from her and ordered her head to be cut off. Balian then murders the guy in a fit of rage. Then finds out that he was a bastard of not-quite-rape. Then his newfound father is killed. So far we’re only about half an hour in…


I realise that Life of Brian ends on the cross, and Men in Tights starts in a Middle Eastern dungeon, but in both situations there is a lot of levity. The past wasn’t a bad time. Sure it didn’t have our fantastic modern amenities, but neither did it have our modern worries. Good times were there to be had. So let’s focus on them for once…

Life of Brian

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