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…

Kingdom-of-Heaven

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

@ComedyCentral’s Drunk History: Late to the Party

Some basic housekeeping to get out of the way first: this my 100th post on this blog! Woo! History Mine has been a thing for nearly two years, and while I have occasionally neglected to put in a weekly update, I haven’t gotten bored and jacked it in either. So that’s nice…

Secondly, I was introduced to Drunk History last night.

History, comedy and alcohol seem to be such close bedfellows that this can’t just be coincidence. Take, for example, History Showoff, which takes a bunch of historians and turns them into entertainment. While I haven’t yet attended one, I suspect drinks are in high demand. Probably gin.

Drunk History is another twist on the same idea. This time they got comedians rat-arsed and made them recite history. And it was a goldmine!

Half-remembered history is brilliant. Especially with the sub-title corrections. Can we get more in the way of passive-aggressive subtitles please? I think they’d really enrich our media-consuming experience.

That said, I did actually learn some things from these. Maybe not stuff I’d be willing to repeat as fact, but certainly some details that round out my own understanding of history.

Drunk History hanging

Maybe it’s the fact that history is one of the most inherently human of all fields of study. Ridiculous, stupid, things have happened throughout history. Mainly because our leaders behaved as though they were drunk; ego-maniacally shambling from one crisis to the next, all the while having to deal with the embarrassing limitations of being themselves.

So yes, I would recommend you check it out! This has, however, been going on for a while: Here’s one from 2007. So, I’ve really missed the boat on this one. You probably already knew about it. And for that, I salute you.

Why poop is the medium for historical comedy

Plebs on the Roman toilet

I don’t want to beat around the bush here (you never know what might be in there) so I’ll just say it; shit is funny. It’s an awkward subject, and rife with tension. Nothing makes for a good punchline like a bit of tension.

But it’s not just that there’s tension, there’s also a lot of weirdness in our toilet habits. Yes, generally, but also historically. The Romans, for all their lauded sanitation, mainly preferred communal toilets, and wiped with a sponge on a stick. Some scholars reckon you could pay extra to get the first use.

Henry VIII had his ‘Groom of the Stool’, a desirable rank, where a member of the gentry could enjoy unparalleled access to the monarch… but also had to clean up afterwards. It is also hinted at that this may be where all those ‘privy councils’ spring from.
Plebs Toilet Rome

Author and Horrible Histories researcher Greg Jenner had this to say: ‘Freud said faeces was funny because it is a childhood obsession, we go through a phase of being hung up on shitting as toddlers. But shit is also a useful metaphor for the distinction between modernity and history – our age is shitless, theirs was shit everywhere. So it’s not just funny in of itself (which it is), but also it serves to heighten the historicity of the setting.’

Finally, and most importantly, crap is a common denominator. Everybody poops. And it’s hard to take someone too seriously when you know they are slaves to the toilet, just like everyone else.

A Quiet Word With: The Enigmatic Australians Behind @WtfRenaissance

The acerbic wits behind WTF Renaissance are not the first people to notice how ridiculous Renaissance paintings were. But they are possibly the first people to highlight that ridiculousness by contrasting pictures with droll C21st captions in a very successful Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook trio that has spawned many imitators, but no equals. For this reason, we thought it was high time that History Mine had a chat with the mysterious individuals.

History Mine: Who are you?
WTF Renaissance: The artist(s) choose/s to remain anonymous to protect her/his/their privacy.

HM: What inspired you to create the blog in the first place?
WTFR: A terrible combination of art school, comedy writing and having not much else on. Plus, these paintings are ridiculous.

HM: Do you come across renaissance paintings a lot in your daily life?
WTFR: Only when we Google search them every day.

HM: Does the painting inspire the caption, or the reverse?
WTFR: Both. Sometimes we’ve got some Taylor Swift gear that will not quit. Other times, someone in a painting has weird eyes and we want to talk about that.

HM: What is it about the pictures that makes them comic gold?
WTFR: Our fully sick captions. Actually, we don’t know. But if we don’t laugh while we’re writing them, they don’t get posted. There are a lot that didn’t make the cut.

HM: Will you ever run out of weird renaissance paintings?
WTFR: Never. Sometimes we use non-renaissance paintings and people lose their minds. Their insane comments are far funnier than anything we could ever write.

Everything else will remain a mystery. If you’ve enjoyed this interview, be sure to check out WTF Renaissance on Twitter, WTF Renaissance on Tumblr, and WTF Renaissance on Facebook. You might also enjoy some of our other off-beat interviews.