Not everyone cast on the History Channel’s new late-night comedy series, The Crossroads of History on Night Class, is as on the nose as the hilarious Josh Fadem portraying a bumbling young wannabe painter named Adolf Hitler.
But just about every comedic actor stepping back in time for the TV segments does commit him- and herself to the buffoonery of the enterprise.
“Isn’t (Fadem) genius at it? Not to pat ourselves on the back, but I think our casting has been spot-on,” said Elizabeth Shapiro, the writer, creator and occasional co-star of The Crossroads of History, in an interview with The Comic’s Comic earlier this week. “Part of that is I have some insanely talented friends, and they’ve been awesome to be a part of it.”
Shapiro appeared alongside Paul Scheer in the series debut as the art-school judges who reject Hitler and set him on his path toward megalomania, World War II and the Holocaust. Last Thursday’s episode featured Brian Baumgartner as President Abraham Lincoln’s alcoholic bodyguard who picks the wrong time to leave his post and the wrong person to meet at the bar.
This week’s episode focuses on the moment when Christopher Columbus crashed his ship, The Santa Maria, in 1492 near what is now Haiti. Oscar Nunez, Lou Diamond Phillips, Carlos Alazraqui and Michael Mando star in that.
“I was a humanities major in college, so I definitely studied a lot of history there,” Shapiro told me. “And I’m a huge Monty Python fan. The idea of mixing history and comedy has always been appealing to me. I wouldn’t say I’m a history buff per se. Comedy for me is a way to process things that I find really upsetting. Actually, I’d say that’s probably the same for most comedians. So when I look back at history, there’s all these crazy things that have happened. I think putting a comedic slant on them is hopefully a way for me to say something smart and funny.”
Most people may think of history as some abstract event or series of events that have no relevance now. But Shapiro said, “Actually, we’re living the consequences of history right now. It is actively fucking up our lives. So to go back to the crossroads when we went left when we should have gone right, or thank God we went left when we could have gone right.” Those are the moments Shapiro mines for comedy.
And sadly, or perhaps fortunately for comedy, that often means digging up the dumbest moments. She used to think the world always moved forward, always got better. But after further inspection, she said, “sadly that’s not the case.”
“Never underestimate the power of one moron to fuck everything up for everybody,” Shapiro said.
Take the art school that rejected Hitler. “Who were these people who rejected him?” Shapiro asked. In the moment, she figures, you often don’t realize you’re potentially altering events across the world. “That moment must have been so mundane!” Rejecting Hitler’s art school application twice. They didn’t know his backup plan would be so horrible for so many millions of people.
But Shapiro told me she didn’t necessarily seek out the most egregious examples of moronic decision-making. And she doesn’t always play one of those morons. Or, well. “My moron to not-moron…no, actually I play a moron most of the time,” she said.
She said you can look forward to other episodes that explore Leonardo da Vinci’s last sitting session with the Mona Lisa, and the successful women’s suffrage movement in 1920.
And Shapiro explained how one other episode explores the birth of modern surgery, and the French King Louis XIV’s role in allowing doctors to cut into human bodies in the late 1600s. “He should be known for an anal fistula that changed the world,” Shapiro said, quickly adding: “I urge you not to Google image ‘anal fistula.'”
The Crossroads of History segments air Thursday nights at 11:30 p.m. ET/PT on History.