A roundtable chat with the drunk historians of “Drunk History”
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.
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Weekly Web Series Review: Drunk History
Derek Waters’ “Drunk History” is one of the strangest, funniest, most absurd concepts in web series history. Playing on the inherent comedy of drunken incompetence and memory loss, each of the series’ six episodes takes a different comedic actor or writer, puts way too much booze in them, and then follows their muddled, profane accounts of important historical events. The episodes then cut between these slurred, rambling monologues and dramatic reenactments of the events, featuring famous actors such as Jack Black, Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel. The genius of these reenactments is how closely the actors follow the exact words of the inebriated nonsense that forms the basis of their script, lip-syncing the dialogue perfectly right down to the inadvertent sniffles and hiccups of the actual speaker.
The first episode features Mark Gagliardi recounting the story of Alexander Hamilton’s famous duel with Aaron Burr after drinking a bottle of Scotch. Though it is unclear how large the bottle was, it was clearly quite a bit of liquor, as he spends most of his segment reclined on a couch with a bucket nearby, just in case. Hamilton is played by a suitably innocent-looking Michael Cera in the reenactment, but the real show-stealer is Jake Johnson in a brilliantly shifty-eyed performance as the loathsome Aaron Burr. In episode 2, Eric Falconer takes on the famous story of Benjamin Franklin‘s discovery of electricity, expounding upon his theory that it was actually Franklin’s “bastard son,” William (Clark Duke), who actually flew the legendary kite with the key tied to it. This is also the series’ first instance of vomiting in the midst of the storytelling, but not its last, so be warned that the series is not for the weak-stomached. Jack Black portrays Franklin again in a special volume 2.5 episode, in which Falconer tells a hilarious tale of Franklin’s sexual deviance.
Episode 3 features Jen Kirkman‘s account of Oney Judge (Tymberlee Hill), a female slave of George Washington (Danny McBride) that is especially funny because of the way the actors incorporate Kirkman’s frequent hiccups into their performances. The fourth episode features J.D. Ryznar‘s unwise decision to drink vodka and beer together, which obviously leads to more vomiting, and his account of the U.S. president William Henry Harrison (Paul Schneider), who died after only 32 days in office. Jen Kirkman returns for episode 5, in which Don Cheadle gives a hilarious performance as Frederick Douglass; there is something especially funny about Kirkman’s slurred words coming out of this revered actor’s mouth. Finally, in episode 6, Duncan Trussell follows six beers with a half-bottle of absinthe, and more vomiting ensues. He also tells the story of Nikola Tesla (John C. Reilly) and his contentious relationship with Thomas Edison (the always intensely weird Crispin Glover).
These are the only official episodes of the series (plus a very special Christmas episode included below), so beware of the unofficial knockoffs, most of which are pretty terrible. In fact, the one I linked to there is pretty much the only one that’s watchable, and it’s still nowhere near as good as the real thing. In addition to the recognizable stars, look for Waters’ name and also that of series director Jeremy Konner to avoid being duped.
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