You may remember Robert Wuhl as the lovably conniving sports agent Arliss Michaels on HBO's long-running series, Arli$$. Or you may recall him from the first Batman movie. Or perhaps you watched two of the sitcoms he wrote for in the 1980s, Police Squad! and Sledge Hammer! Or maybe you remember him from the classic 1980 teen comedy Hollywood Knights.
Whatever the case, you'll want to check out Wuhl's novel new comedy special, Assume the Position with Mr. Wuhl.
In the show, Wuhl nurtures his natural love of history to create a new kind of comedy special where he examines "the stories that made up America and the stories that America made up." The show deviates from the standard formula for stand-up because Wuhl performs the entire "set" in a classroom of New York City college students.
TV.com spoke to Wuhl about his new show, which premieres Saturday, April 1, on HBO.
TV.com: Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. In a nutshell can you tell me what the show is about?
Robert Wuhl: I gave a lecture for a bunch of NYU college students, and I gave my spin on history--that history is pop culture. I just showed them how, throughout the years, history is storytelling, and it comes down to who's telling the story. I talk about stories we take for granted as being true, that are totally not true, but they've shaped our historical perspective because they were the pop culture of their day.
TV.com: How did you land on the idea of historical comedy? Did current events make you start thinking about history?
Wuhl: No, I just like history, I like storytelling, I like the characters, and I like human behavior. Plus, I like to see the students' faces.
TV.com: How did you come across the idea of doing it in a classroom?
Wuhl: I thought it up with HBO. I said "If I can pull this off it will be entertaining and informative." I would workshop it at UCLA and USC for a handful of students, I would give them free pizza during lunch hour, so they'd listen to me. So I was doing it in front of four students, five students, 10 students--actually if I had 10 students that was a good crowd. And it started to work, it started to take shape.
TV.com: Did the current political climate cause you to think about history any more?
Wuhl: No, things are always the same, except we're at war now, that's the only difference.
TV.com: The title is a double entendre. Is it referencing the fact that people are always being forced to "assume the position" by the powers that be?
Wuhl: Right, but also what I do in the show is I assume different positions, I assume certain positions about historical events, and I assume the overall position that history is pop culture.
TV.com Was acting as a teacher more rewarding as stand-up?
Wuhl: Oh yeah, it was a lot more fun! Yeah, the kids can get really into it if they trust you. It takes awhile.
TV.com: Do they grade you easier because you've been on TV?
Wuhl: No, no they don't. Not at all!
TV.com: Is this step toward a more raconteur style of comedy something you'd like to do more of or is it a one-off?
Wuhl: Yeah, I would like to do more of these. I feel like it plays to a huge cross-section. I did it live at the Aspen Comedy Festival, I expected maybe a couple hundred people, but 750 people showed up, packed the place, I got a standing ovation led by Norman Lear! He wants me to take it to Broadway, so we'll see what happens. But, yes, I'd like to do more of that. 'Cause there is a lot of history!
TV.com: So do you now think you'll turn this into a one-man show?
Wuhl: That's what it was [at Aspen]. It was the first time I had done it onstage. I had always done it in classrooms. Then I was doing it onstage suddenly, so I made an aisle down the front so I could walk through the audience, because I like to talk to them that way. But it went great. Everything has been going well with the show, and it's being very well reviewed.
TV.com: How is it being back at HBO, do you miss Arli$$?
Wuhl: Yes, it's like anything, you miss the people you work with. You miss the creative projects. It's still great at HBO, same as always. You know, they give me work, so that's great!
TV.com: You were a writer on two of the funniest shows from the '80s--Police Squad! and Sledge Hammer!
Wuhl: I did one episode of Sledge Hammer!, and Police Squad! only lasted for six episodes, so that was that. But we had a great time on that show.
TV.com: Why are shows funnier when they end in exclamation points?
Wuhl: I dunno. It depends on what angle you're trying to push. Did Police Squad! also have an exclamation point at the end?
TV.com: According to our Web site, yes! Do you have any idea of what you're going to do next?
Wuhl: I have no idea what's next, but I am looking forward to it.
TV.com: Thanks for talking to us, Robert. Best of luck with continued success.