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History – as you’ve never seen it

Stewart Oksenhorn
Robert Wuhl performs his one-man show, "Assume the Position ... With Mr. Wuhl" at 7:30 p.m. today and 4 p.m. Friday at the St. Regis Aspen. (Courtesy U.S. Comedy Arts Festival)
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Leo Tolstoy wrote that history would be a wonderful thing – if it were only true. Robert Wuhl would revise that observation slightly: History would be a wonderful thing – if only it were a little funnier.His one-man show “Assume the Position … with Mr. Wuhl,” transforms Wuhl from the super sports agent he portrayed in HBO’s long-running series “Arli$$,” to a superstar of the classroom. Despite the ominous title, “Assume the Position” has Wuhl as the sort of history teacher every student always wished for: Irreverent, quirky and possessed of a sense of humor.”I take the position that history is pop culture, pop culture is history,” said Wuhl, a 54-year-old New Jersey native whose film credits include “Batman” and “Good Morning, Vietnam,” and who earned a pair of Emmys for his writing for “Arli$$.” So in Mr. Wuhl’s class, Freddie Mercury, the late lead singer of Queen, is as likely to be treated as a historical figure as Paul Revere, and Britney Spears is included alongside Christopher Columbus.Wuhl’s lecture has a theme apart from introducing little-known bits of the past. It’s as much about the history of knowledge as it is about history itself. “Assume the Position” explores how and why certain pieces of information became common wisdom. In a segment titled As American As Apple Pie, Wuhl dissects concepts we think of as new to reveal that they have been around forever. In the I S–t You Not segment, Wuhl presents bits of trivia on the origins of words. Among the topics that will be seen in a different light are Alfred Nobel, the Hundred Years War, America’s first transvestite governor and the racehorse Man O’ War.

“More important than knowing the facts, it’s: How did this happen? How does this stuff we learned in school, that we learned as gospel, become the facts as we know them?” Wuhl said. “Napoleon said history was a myth that everyone decided to believe.”Wuhl, a self-reported history buff, began “Assume the Position” as a personal experiment. He would stalk the campuses of the University of Southern California, luring students into the classroom during their lunch breaks with promises of free pizza. Often for as few as five people, and rarely for more than a dozen, Wuhl would assume the character of Mr. Wuhl, and present his take on history. Last year, the show traveled to New York University – which gave Wuhl a proper stage, rather than a lecture hall.”Assume the Position” debuts as a one-shot TV special on HBO April 1. Wuhl would like to see it become a series. He says the show, the world’s first “docucomediality,” is unlike anything else on TV.On its way from campus to cable, “Assume the Position” stops at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. Class begins at 7:30 p.m. today and 4 p.m. Friday at the St. Regis Aspen. Wuhl believes the show will travel well.

At USC, Wuhl noted, “10 or 12 was a big audience. If you can do it for 10 people, you can do it for a few more. But with this many people, it becomes a different thing.”To create the classroom atmosphere, the staging includes a blackboard and a few rows of desks. And just like in a regular classroom, there is the danger in “Assume the Position” that people might actually learn something.”Absolutely,” Wuhl said of the possibility of acquiring knowledge. “But you hate to say that.”Wuhl did assure, however, that other aspects of the classroom are not replicated. “I don’t make anyone stand in the corner of the classroom.””Assume the Position … with Mr. Wuhl” shows at 7:30 p.m. today and 4 p.m. Friday at the St. Regis.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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