Dropping 'truth bombs' on history: Russell Kane discusses his new show 'Evil Genius'
Evil Genius with Russell Kane, a brand-new five-part series coming to Sky HISTORY, sees the award-winning writer, comedian and actor delve into the lives of polarising historical figures to ask if they are evil or a genius.
Russell Kane is joined by a whole host of celebrity guest panellists and expert historians to make a final decision. Throughout the show, he reveals his ‘truth bombs’ - astonishing, insightful and revelatory facts - that cause the guests and viewers to question everything they thought they knew about some of history’s most hallowed names. As Russell explains it, the show is ‘a funny, bouncy, controversial, shocking exploration of people from history.'
The series, which was inspired by the incredibly successful BBC Sounds podcast of the same name, airs Mondays at 9pm on Sky HISTORY.
Ahead of the series premiere, Sky HISTORY spoke to Russell to learn more about the show, its inspirations and just how much fun he had creating it.
Russell first started hosting the podcast in 2018 after becoming interested in how society reacted differently to controversies involving certain notable people. He said, ‘We go to art galleries and look at Picasso’s even though we know what we know about him, whereas when we learn other stuff about people from history, they get cancelled. So how great does the art have to be for the person not to be cancelled?’
It's this idea of cancel culture, rife in modern-day society, that is at the very heart of Evil Genius. While some commenters might criticise the ending of the episodes, that see the guests vote on whether to brand the episode’s subject as ‘Evil’ or ‘Genius’, Russell knows the format allows for a much more layered conversation to take place.
‘[Evil Genius] mocks the notion of [cancel culture] by having a big vote’, he explained. ‘I like to think that I’m shining a light on the absurdity of that simplicity. I’m obviously not suggesting someone is 100% evil or 100% genius, but by making people vote in that absurd binary way, it forces us to have a juicy, nuanced discussion for an hour.’
It was apparently an easy decision for Russell to repurpose the podcast for television. The updated format allows him to visit archives and places of historical significance before bringing back what he learned to his panel and the live studio audience. The other notable change is the introduction of an expert in the corner, what Russell described as the podcast’s ‘missing ingredient’. By having an expert that he can turn to for historical insight, Russell said it ‘let him off the lead, comedically’ and allowed him to focus more on ‘being funny…that’s my primary job’.
Each episode in the series looks at the life of a different person from history: Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Pablo Escobar, Coco Chanel and Richard Nixon. In order to decide who was going to be covered, Russell went through a very vigorous decision-making process. ‘Would my Mum recognise the name? They had to pass that brutal test.’
Throughout the show, Russell drops a succession of ‘truth bombs’ on his guests. These are heavily researched and verified facts that force people to see these figures in a new light. For example, it’s not well known that Albert Einstein might have plagiarised a lot of his work from his wife, while Pablo Escobar invested a lot of money into his home city to transform the lives of its inhabitants. Russell admitted that he ‘loves’ introducing these facts and never gets tired of watching his guests squirm and try to find the right way to react to these revelations, no matter how many shows he’s done.
He's also not too worried about being accused of dragging people down off their pedestals or lifting up controversial characters either. ‘I don’t think presenting a fact, that’s been checked to death, can be described as painting [someone in a positive light] or bashing [them]’, he spelled out. ‘It’s just a fact. I’m not the one who did it!’
But what if, in some future reincarnation of the show, Russell was the one who was put under the microscope? Does he think the panel would find him to be evil or a genius? Well, it turns out, the answer is quite simple, ‘I’m definitely a genius…I’ve not done anything evil enough. I’m quite boring.’
Evil Genius with Russell Kane airs Mondays at 9pm on Sky HISTORY.