Let’s face it: History can often be slightly less than entertaining. Mass lists of dates, crusty old men and events that seem irrelevant to the “here and now” normally induce bouts of insufferable boredom when introduced in text. And no matter the adage about our eternal doom lest we learn from the past, history — at least at an academic level — is still a subject avoided at all costs.
“Mass Historia: 365 Days of Historical Facts and (Mostly) Fictions,” penned by Chris Regan, seeks to remedy this, attempting to bring knowledge and humor to the dusty archives of the past by adding fictional elements to its day-to-day account of historic events. Unfortunately, the book only achieves this to moderate success.
The lukewarm humor of “Mass Historia” runs contrary to Regan’s credentials as a comedy writer. Although he now works for the destined-to-fail sketch comedy “Frank TV,” Regan’s seven seasons as a writer for “The Daily Show” and contributions to Stewart’s “America (The Book)” suggest a higher level of comedy from this seasoned pro. But no, “Mass Historia” is only slightly funny, and its truly comical moments are very few and far between.
It’s not that the book isn’t amusing at times — because it certainly is when the author mocks historical figures like Benjamin Franklin, Joan of Arc and Rasputin. It’s just that the format of the book is fundamentally flawed. Because Regan’s fictional elements are sometimes, simply put, not funny, readers may be forced to flip ahead to discover something worthwhile. Eventually, you’re weeks away from the actual date, and you’re no longer surprised at the contents of the next several days.
The concept isn’t the only disappointing aspect of the book. Sometimes, the fictional supplements to the historical accounts just aren’t intelligently crafted. What Jell-O shots logically have to do with ancient Babylonians is anyone’s guess, but Regan attempts to craft a joke between these two to commemorate the anniversary of Alexander the Great’s death on June 13.
Despite its downfalls, “Mass Historia” does provide some genuinely humorous insight. March 31, for example, marks the birthdays of two famed “musicians,” Johann Sebastian Bach and Britney Spears’ ex, Kevin Federline. Regan, in comedic glory, attempts to craft parallels between the two, to comedic effect.
“Bach: Held the position as organist in Arnstadt, Germany, from 1703 to 1707. Federline: First held his organ while dancing on LFO tour in 1999,” the author writes.
Perhaps Regan’s crowning achievement in “Mass Historia” is in succinctly remembering J.R.R. Tolkien’s birth on January 3, 1882.
“J.R.R. Tolkien passes through a birth canal,” he writes. “Unlike the majority of his fans, it wasn’t his last time inside one.”
“Mass Historia” is far from a standard history textbook, but it doesn’t try to be — and thank goodness. But this book still leaves much to be desired when some of the supposed humor results in nothing better than boob and butt jokes. Regardless, the few intelligent bits of humor in Regan’s “Mass Historia” are enough to make this book, at the very least, a welcome addition to the coffee table book collection.
2 1/2 stars out of 5