Award-winning comedian Russell Kane tells us about his brand new Sky HISTORY series that examines history’s heroes, villains and everyone in between!
By Charlotte Briggs, Staff Writer
“When this idea’s come out of my own weird head, I just don’t want to stop talking about it!” Kane enthuses when asked about his upcoming TV series. And we couldn’t agree more, as we eagerly wait for Evil Genius With Russell Kane to hit screens this month.
The premise of the show is simple. Kane takes an icon from history – the good, bad and ugly – then discusses, debates and denounces their lives using first-hand evidence, archives and academic experts. Finally, the ultimate question is put to the celebrity panel: “Are they Evil or Genius?”
Born from his chart-smashing BBC Sounds podcast Evil Genius, this series will see Kane joined by a rotation of guests including Judi Love, Ellie Taylor, Alex Brooker and Jon Richardson, who examine Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Coco Chanel, Richard Nixon and Pablo Escobar. There’s also a “boffin” on hand to offer their own specialist opinions, while the panellists are challenged to rethink the legacies of some of history’s most hallowed names.
After all the astonishing facts and damning “truth-bombs” have been presented, the celebrities must weigh up the evidence and decide where each figure now stands in a historical context. And some of their answers might just surprise you… Don’t miss the five-episode series which begins at 9pm on Monday 20 November on Sky HISTORY HD (CH 131) – and all Virgin TV viewers who watch on TiVo, V6 or TV360 can see the first episode at no extra cost on Virgin TV Showcase (CH 100).
We sat down with Kane and asked him to share his thoughts on the show’s most shocking revelations, who he thinks would’ve made the best stand-up comedian and which famous figures he wants to delve into next.
What sets this new series apart from your Evil Genius podcast?
In Evil Genius we take people from history, have a debate, let off fact bombs and then a panel has a bang-bang vote if they’re “Evil” or “Genius”. In audio format that’s already rich enough. But on screen, it means that I can go to Blenheim Palace to see where Churchill was born. I can go to a university where they lecture Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity. We’re visual creatures. If we can show people something, it’s very powerful.
Do you have to be a history buff to tune in?
No. I’m not a history graduate but I like stories. In my opinion, a biography is just a story that happened for real. And this series is a nuanced, juicy debate about the biographies of five polarising figures with lots of belly laughs. I’m great in a pub quiz now because after so many episodes of Evil Genius, I know everything about the likes of Boudica, Geoffrey Chaucer, Richard Pryor and Diego Maradona. And I hate football!
Who was your favourite historical figure to examine?
Einstein. His name is literally a synonym for genius. He solved how we think about the universe. It doesn’t get much bigger than that! But he also had an affair with and later married his cousin. His famous equation E=mc2 was used to create the Atomic Bomb. That was one of the biggest arguments we had during Einstein – he was bright enough to know where that formula could possibly lead, so should he have wiped the board clean and not told anyone? But sometimes the genius can itself be evil either accidentally or in a sideways way.
What was the most shocking revelation you unearthed?
Well, Einstein had great ideas. His Theory Of Relativity was groundbreaking and showed that you can’t go faster than the speed of light and we’d age slower in space than on Earth. The problem is you have to explain that with mathematics. Guess what Einstein couldn’t do? He got the brilliant scientist and his first wife, Mileva Marić, to help him prove the concept with mathematics. He plagiarised and stole his wife’s work! We should all be talking about this woman and a professor I worked with is campaigning for Marić to be recognised posthumously.
Did your opinion change of anyone else in an unexpected way?
I was already questioning the greatness of Churchill. That’s not a new debate. But I came to appreciate his genius a bit more. When people think of Churchill, they think of him moving soldiers on the map and defeating Germany. What he was actually good at was keeping everyone on side behind the scenes. He was a genius in diplomacy and statecraft. The problem he had though was that he liked war.
Of the figures you cover in this series, how would you rank Churchill, Chanel, Einstein, Escobar and Nixon from genius to evil?
Even though I’ve said all that stuff about him, Einstein’s got to be at the top as a true genius. Next, I’d say Chanel. She was a physical feminist who changed women’s bodily autonomy and the fashion industry with her designs. Followed by Churchill for his sheer genius of diplomacy. Then Nixon who talked about green stuff first but was a lying, conniving racist. Finally, Escobar. The stuff he did is on serial killer territory.
Who would you like to debate about next?
For the next series I’d love to talk about Margaret Thatcher and Mahatma Gandhi. They’re two of my favourite subjects. In the series I try and confuse and confound the panel in opposite directions and both Thatcher and Gandhi are such interesting and complex characters. For example, I’m conflicted in my own personal politics because I’ve also benefitted from Thatcherism. So, the fact that I’m confused myself means I know that Thatcher would make a great episode.
Finally, who do you think would have made the best stand-up comedian?
Churchill. He was very funny, witty and didn’t care what others thought. He would’ve made a good comic.
When can I watch Evil Genius With Russell Kane on TV?
The five-part series Evil Genius With Russell Kane starts at 9pm on Monday 20 November on Sky HISTORY HD (CH 131), with episodes available weekly in On Demand. Plus, if you’re a TiVo, V6 or Virgin TV360 customer you can catch the first episode on Virgin TV Showcase (CH 100) at no extra cost, from 9pm on Monday 20 November.
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