A roundtable chat with the drunk historians of “Drunk History”

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It’s hard not to kind of love the very simplicity of the concept behind Comedy Central’s “Drunk History.” Every episode features three absolutely true episodes from U.S. history as recounted by a really and truly very drunk person, and then reenacted by a cast of often famed and always 100% sober actors who are nevertheless mouthing dialogue direct from the drunken booze-addled narrator’s mouth. Yes, it’s a one-joke premise, but it’s a very good joke and somewhat educational besides.

As both a tried and true geek and Bullz-Eye’s official cocktail guy, it made total sense for me to meet with some of the creators and cast of “Drunk History” at Comic-Con last July. Each episode of the show, which returns to Comedy Central September 1st, is based in a different U.S. city, featuring important political, social and pop cultural stories from that particular city’s storied past. This year’s list includes Miami and two of this writer’s favorite drunk places, Las Vegas and New Orleans.

I was fortunate to meet with the show’s creators who first launched the series as a set of “Funny or Die” web videos. That would be actor and comic Derrick Waters – who appears in segments as a sort of drinking chaperone for the featured drunk historian, as well as in all of the reenactments – and producer Jeremy Konnor. Also along for the ride were performers Taran Killam of “SNL” fame, and the voluble actress Paget Brewster (“Community,” “Criminal Minds”), who holds the rare honor of being both a reenactor and a drunk historian. She and her cohorts had plenty to say on the topic of mixing history with booze.

On the challenges of being a drunken storyteller, from three-time drunk Historian Paget Brewster.

PB: You really are that drunk and you have to be. The law – I don’t know what law this is! – is that you have to blow the breathalyzer. You have to be legally drunk. You’re not thinking like, “Oh, how can I make this funny?”…You’re so gone. You really are impaired.

[That’s why] you have to study to be able to get to the beginning, the middle and the end. And you’d better be able to get to the end because the crew is not drunk, and you know what’s not fun? Being sober around a drunk idiot that won’t finish her story so you can go home.

On the preferred alcohol used during the making of “Drunk History.”

Derrick Waters: Every season it changes… Last year it was Jameson, this year it’s Bulleit whiskey. [The storytellers] get whatever they want, and it’s at their house so they’re safe. But I’m still waiting for someone to bring in Mad Dog 20/20… The worst smell in the world is in that bottle.

On how much drinking-buddy-in-chief Derrick Waters actually imbibes as he accompanies the storytellers of “Drunk History.”

DW: I drink with them, but when they’re at a certain point where I feel they’re comfortable and I don’t need to be drinking with them, then I can switch [to ginger ale or another lookalike nonalcoholic beverage].

Jeremy Konnor: A lot of times, people want to go hard with you and are like, “Let’s keep drinking!” and [it] gets to a point where “We’re losing Derrick; we gotta switch to iced tea.”

On the issue of possible alcohol-fueled belligerence during storytelling and the long-term impacts of spending time with drunk historians.

PB: This last time, the worst part was I got into – because Derrick is drinking, too. He’s drunk, too. We got into a fight. Not a fistfight, but we got into it. I was so mortified. “Oh, my God, did we really have a fight?” I was too scared to call him.

DW: Paget has this thing where she thinks I was mad at her. I heard about this. She said that she thought I was mad at her for a long time. Then I called her randomly, and she said, “I thought you were mad at me.” That’s why alcohol’s a poison, kids!

I put in my contract this year that they would pay for my mental health to go to therapy for a reason. That’s nothing sad, it’s that you know what you’re getting into. Alcohol makes people do different things. [The storytellers] are doing a job, I’m not going to be like, “Oh, I take offense to them saying those curse words at me.” I heal it out in therapy.

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On more specific occupational habits of being a professional drunk historian enabler.

DW: I’ve gained a lot of weight. It’s not funny. My appendix was taken out, but I don’t know if that had [anything to do with it], but I would like it [to be true.]…The doctor said it had nothing to do with alcohol. It’s just a random thing that happens. Also, two days prior, we were in New Jersey for our episode and I was learning how to pro-wrestle which I don’t think helps any appendix.

Bullz-Eye: Sounds a little bit like the Houdini story.

DW: Yeah! Except I’m alive! Or am I?!

On the distinction between participating as a drunken history storyteller and a reenacter.

PB: You actually do have to do a lot of research and memorization and prepping because you know you’re gonna be drunk and you’re going to say things incorrectly. We do actually do a lot of work pitching the story to the producer over and over again, saying, “Is this okay? Does this story have a beginning, a middle and an end? And are we good memorizing dates?” You can’t cheat and read it. You want as much information as possible.

Reenacting, the trick there is syncing up. Taran [Killam]’s incredible at it and has done three stories reenacting. I think I had two lines as Grover Cleveland’s mother-in-law and I was petrified of it! I was really nervous, I thought I wouldn’t sync up, and I would ruin this shot and other people had lines and they were really good… So, I guess I prefer being drunk!

Taran Killam: Reenacting is real fun. You drink after the work is done. It’s great. It’s fun. Both Derrick and Jeremy are real laid-back guys, so it’s a really fun environment… The costumes are a little thrown-together. The wigs are always a little askew. So the pressure’s off and it’s really just about having fun.

On why it seems like the earlier seasons of “Drunk History” continued more episodes of people getting sick.

DW: Everyone’s drinking the same amount, but I don’t like puking. Like, who does? Season 1 there were a couple of things, but if it happens, you gotta document it.

JK: We’re actually making them taper off instead of sort of just keep going, even though it’s 4:30 in the morning and we’re done with the story.

  

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