Minorities in cartoons: “Histeria!”

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This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is the Warner Bros. series “Histeria!

Background

“Histeria!” was created to satisfy the then-new “E/I” educational programming requirement for American TV stations. The E/I rule requires three hours a week of programming that’s educational or informative. The series ran from 1998 to 2001 on Kids’ WB.

The series presented historical facts delivered in a humorous, often irreverent fashion, similar to “Animaniacs”‘s educational segments. The same staff as that series largely produced “Histeria!.”

The show focused on a different historical era (or subject) in each episode, with a range of sketches about the subject. One recurring gag was seeing a historical figure annoyed to death by the show’s kid cast, similar to the Warners on “Animaniacs.”

The historical figures were usually parodies of various celebrities. For instance, Julius Caesar is a parody of Frank Sinatra. Confucius is a parody of the late John McLaughlin, host of PBS’ “The McLaughlin Group” roundtable show. One exception were two segments on Martin Luther King‘s famous “I Have a Dream” speech and Rosa Parks. While Parks’ segment was somewhat comedic, neither historical figure were celebrity parodies.

“Histeria!” also had a few references to previous WB productions. One song number has the show’s host, Father Time, watching “Animaniacs” on TV. Another episode has a segment on explorers, including British explorer George Bass, who circumnavigated Tasmania. Bass notes he’d have “landed on Tasmania, but there was something preventing me.” A shot of Tasmania’s beach through his telescope reveals the “something” being the Tasmanian Devil of “Looney Tunes” fame. The soundtrack even plays a portion of the theme song from “Taz-Mania!”

Cast

Besides Father Time, some of the more noteworthy characters include:

  • Big Fat Baby, Father Time’s Baby New Year-ish sidekick. His main role (besides displaying the year discussed on his “Baby New Year”-sash) is delivering toilet jokes regarding his diaper. (Yes, it’s a 90s TV cartoon.) Big Fat Baby is sometimes replaced or accompanied by his distaff counterpart, Big Fat Baby Girl, serving the same function. The two also have African-American counterparts.
  • Loud Kiddington, a kid who says all of his dialogue with a very loud voice.
  • Miss Information, a cheerful (if slightly ditzy) blonde woman who often leads tour groups through historical events.
  • Lydia Karaoke, a network censor for Kids’ WB, who often takes issue with some of the episodes’ content.
  • The World’s Oldest Woman, a woman who claims to be the world’s, well, oldest woman. Her theme song and personality is similar to “Animaniacs”‘s Slappy Squirrel.
  • Toast, a young teenager with a “surfer dude” personality/accent.
  • Pepper Mills, a 40s-dressed bobby soxer. Pepper is easily excited about meeting various historical figures, often screaming for them hysterically and wanting their autographs. A running gag is Pepper thinking a historical figure’s a certain celebrity. For instance, she once thought Vladimir Lenin was John Lennon.
  • Cho-Cho, a young girl of Asian descent. For whatever reason, the song “Chopsticks” plays in the background when she has dialogue.
  • Aka Pella: a young African-American girl who has a sassy voice and personality.

On TV/home video

Some episodes were available online for a time. However, they’ve since vanished from the Internet, save for YouTube uploads.

In 2016, the complete series was released to DVD as a box set.

Voice actors

Tress MacNeille voiced Cho-Cho. MacNeille’s a mainstay of many girls’ or women’s voices in modern animation, including on shows like “The Simpsons.”

Cree Summer voiced Aka Pella.

(Updated 11/20/16)


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