I went to college. I was in a sorority and hung out with fraternity brothers and athletes. I’ve been to over 35 weddings. I’ve tailgated before professional sporting events. I spend 6 hours some Sundays at a bar watching football. I’ve helped many people celebrate their 21st birthday. I’ve gone out on New Year’s Eve. I’ve gone wine tasting in Napa Valley.
In other words, I have spent some time around intoxicated folks.
Now hanging out with people that are drunk when you are also drinking and/or intoxicated is usually pretty fun; sure there might be some misunderstandings and drama, hijinks may ensue and none of you may have a clear understanding of what actually happened the night before, but at least you are all on the same page. Hanging out with sloshed people when you are stone cold sober is a horse of a different color. News flash – drunk people can be really, really annoying, especially when you can’t participate in the festivities for pesky reasons like you’re pregnant, on antibiotics or have other grown up responsibilities. They talk too much and don’t make a ton of sense, get overly emotional (that would be me), act inappropriately and just generally can be difficult and irrational.
But if you know how to handle it right and channel their tendencies, drunk people can be endlessly entertaining. The comedy for the most part is unintentional on their part, but with the right attitude and seizing the right opportunities being the sober person in a sea of booze hounds can be awesome.
The people behind the new Comedy Central show Drunk History obviously know this. Based on a web series that appeared on the site Funny or Die, the program has a simple yet brilliant premise – ask drunk people to tell you about an important historical figures or events and then do recreations based on their versions of history with famous comedians. For example, one narrator may slam six vodka cranberries and then explain Ben Franklin’s kite experiment while Jack Black (in the role of Franklin) reenacts the rambling and usually inaccurate explanation of what occurs. The results are absolutely hilarious; while watching the web episodes and the episode of the new series, I was laughing a lot. It was all so ridiculous and yet so familiar; if you have ever listened to a friend who has one too many try and tell you a story, you know how amusing an unreliable narrator can be. This is that times a thousand.
The web series episodes are approximately five minutes long and they wisely decided to keep the short length for the new Comedy Central series. The short length helps keep the viewers’ attention – a rambling storyteller is only funny for so long before it becomes more annoying than amusing – and is probably a necessity given the premise of the show, as people who are trashed are not necessarily known for their attention span. The clock is also ticking on how long a person under the influence can semi-coherently ramble before they pass out or just people too much of a mess. You don’t want to cross over from funny to pitiful. The new episodes of Drunk History therefore “explain” three historical moments per episode; in the episode that I previewed, they covered the Lincoln assassination (John Wilkes Booth was played by Adam Scott), Watergate (Nixon was portrayed by Bob Odenkirk) and Elvis meeting Nixon (Jack Black as Elvis, with my dear pal Dave Grohl in a bit part). Every bit was tremendously comical and I found myself second guessing myself as to the historical accuracy of some of the tales. Some parts of their recounting are obviously wrong, but other parts made me think “wait, what DID happen?” When watching the web series, I was embarrassed that the always funny (and highly intoxicated) Jen Kirkman knew more about Oney Judge than I did; I actually didn’t know anything about Judge, which is a condemnation of my history teachers (or I just wasn’t paying attention – that is known to happen).
The historically questionable narrators are great, but the way that the actors reenact the drunk versions of history are what really make the show. The actors all mouth the dialogue that the tanked narrator provides, no matter how ridiculous and the actors’ commitment to playing it straight adds an additional layer of lunacy to the proceedings. They got some really outstanding people for the web series – John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Michael Cera, Danny McBride, Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, Ryan Gosling (!) – and I look forward to see who they line up for the Comedy Central show. Kristin Wiig is to appear as Patty Hearst in an upcoming episode, which I am looking forward to.
I’m not actually 100% sure that these people are necessarily drunk; if you told me that this was all an elaborate ruse, I wouldn’t be surprised. But it wouldn’t really matter – they all play a drunk very convincingly and the result is so funny that it doesn’t matter to me if these tales are in fact the organic ramblings of a drunken mind or a performance piece that was prewritten. If it is all fake, I give credit for their commitment – in the web series, one narrator gets spectacularly sick. If he’s faking or just made himself do that without being intoxicated, that’s impressive.
I highly recommend checking out Drunk History – the web series episodes are all available on YouTube and Funny or Die and Comedy Central has made an episode of their new series available on-line. I don’t know if I will eventually get tired of the premise – probably unlikely as I am a fan of history and alcohol – but last night was the hardest that I have laughed at a new series in a long time. It’s suck a clever idea that I am really bummed out that I didn’t think of it.
Cheers to the people behind Drunk History – learning about the past has never been quite so enjoyable!
Drunk History debuts on Comedy Central on Tuesday July 9th at 10 pm (ET). Set your DVRs!