'The History of Comedy' Creators Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner Put the 'Funny' in Fundamentals With CNN Original Series

After its first season was met with critical acclaim and fervor from fans around the world, actor Sean Hayes and producer Todd Milliner return Sunday night with the second season of their CNN Original Series, The History of Comedy.

Exploring the underlying questions of what makes audiences laugh, the six-part docuseries finds Hayes and Milliner producing a time capsule illustrating comedy’s evolution and its effects on our social and political landscape throughout history. However, with a comedy scene so crowded today and adamant on pushing the envelope through every medium, the duo tells PopCulture.com exclusively they were surprised an in-depth look into something so beloved was never explored before.

“I was sitting down at CNN and just talking about things and just wondered, ‘Why hasn’t there been an exhaustive series that just focused on the history of comedy?’ And I was shocked that they wanted to do it and put it on air,” Milliner said. “We started our friendship, our partnership, and our company based in comedy, and we try to bring comedy across to every show we do by looking at the roots of what we believe in and informs everything we do every day.”

“That’s the main thing,” Hayes chimes in of the docuseries broken up by subject. “The informing about, ‘How did we get here?’ and ‘Where are we going?’ as far as comedy goes because it’s always fascinating to see the journey to past and present and future, to what makes us laugh.”

The season 2 premiere episode “Carnal Knowledge” explores one of the oldest form of comedy — sexual humor. With subject matter that pushes the limits of comfort and political correctness, the refreshing and peppy documentary keeps the funny in the fundamentals of all it explores.

“In true documentary style, when you’re showing clips, it always provides levity to whatever you’re talking about, so those clips [in our series] will always, always be funny — there’s a whole team that comes together who exhaustively search for the best clips to tell our story between each episode,” Hayes said.

“And when we started the whole process we talked about [the format] for a long time as if something that we can explore chronologically or thematically and we agreed thematically was a better way to tell the story,” Milliner added.

Milliner goes on to share how it’s interesting to see the evolution of comedy through various subjects, like women or race, or with this season’s episode, “In It Together,” exploring comedy teams and duos over the decades from the Marx Brothers to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, set to air Aug. 12.

One of Milliner’s favorite episodes this season — “Gone Too Soon,” set to air Aug. 5 — will explore the loss of comedic figures such as Phil Hartman and Chris Farley, and at times feels a bit heavy. But the co-creator and executive producer says each episode will grant the opportunity to laugh and “feel heart” as that’s the main “structure” of the show.

Though the series is just about to begin its second season this Sunday, Hayes says there’s always more to dive into as there’s just “so much to cover.”

“There’s always more we want to do, but the time allotted doesn’t always cover,” he said. “I always say we could use like, 5 more 10 more, or 20 more episodes of women [in comedy] too.”

Milliner adds that there’s a couple episodes this year that didn’t make it into first season that were just as important to explore, such as animation (“Drawn to Be Funny”) airing July 29, and sketch comedy (“Sketch & Improv”) airing July 22.

“I’m a huge fan,” Milliner said. “Sean and I are both Chicagoans that came out of a Second City and so, those are great [episodes]. And we weren’t even sure there was enough material for two seasons and now we think there’s enough for six.”


Milliner says that every year the two come up with new themes they’d love to explore, adding in the future he hopes to explore international humor and culture in foreign language speaking countries.

Season 2 of the CNN Original Series, The History of Comedy premieres Sunday, July 15 at 10 p.m. ET on CNN, and is executive produced by Hazy Mills Productions duo, Hayes and Milliner (Grimm, Hot in Cleveland and Hollywood Game Night).