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Learning experience

Funnyman Robert Wuhl has played a lot of roles in his nearly three decades in show business.

He’s been a stand-up comedian. He’s starred in a critically acclaimed HBO comedy series (“Arli$$”). He’s even managed to write, direct and produce a few tidbits for television and nail more than a few movie roles (“Bull Durham,” “Batman”).

But only just recently did he take on one of his toughest gigs: college professor. Not surprisingly, he filmed it for cable.

“Assume the Position with Mr. Wuhl,” a combination history lesson and one-man comedy, premiered its pilot episode in April on HBO to rave reviews. Wuhl, who freely admits he’s a trivia junkie, combines world history and irreverent, clear-eyed skepticism with his signature sharp delivery to a room of New York University students.

The result is the kind of class you wish you’d had in high school.

Wuhl, who’s in San Francisco this weekend for two shows at Cobb’s Comedy Club, says “Assume the Position” evolved from a conversation with a friend about how to make history more entertaining.

“It was supposed to be a 10-minute experiment,” Wuhl says. “I said I don’t know where it’s going, but I know I’ve got to work it out.”

He developed a script with writers Rebecca Reynolds and Allan Stephen focusing on how pop culture shaped most of what we take as common knowledge about history, and how much of what we learned in school is wrong.

For example, Wuhl points out in “Assume the Position” that Paul Revere wasn’t the real hero of the legendary midnight ride but fellow rider Israel Bissell. But because Revere had a catchier name, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow left Bissell out of his epic poem.

“History is really about who’s telling the story,” Wuhl explains. “And, really, history is a series of stories. If you have Bill O’Reilly and Al Franken see the same thing we’ll have two different stories. In a strange way, I’m looking at American history from all sides.”

Wuhl says he’s excited to be working on stage in San Francisco, where he hasn’t visited in years, but he’s equally enthused at the prospect that “Assume the Position” may be picked up by HBO as a full series.

“For seven years, I didn’t do any performing because ‘Arli$$’ took over my life. I missed the filmmaking every week, and I could tell every day,” he says. “I’m enjoying it more with this thing because it’s closer to me. … This is the side that the people who don’t know me don’t see.”

SF Examiner
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