A Very Intoxicating Oral History of ‘Drunk History’
History is written by the winners. Well, for the vast majority of humankind that’s been the case, but for six glorious years on Comedy Central, history found a new voice: the drunks. Sure, that voice may have been slurred, occasionally confused and often interrupted by burps, hiccups, sneezes and the occasional bout of vomiting, yet it still provided an accurate, wholly effective lesson about our past. It was called, of course, Drunk History.
After a six-episode web series became a viral hit, Drunk History the television series premiered on Comedy Central on July 9, 2013. Over its six seasons, it told dozens of stories about American history. Some tales were well-known, while others legitimately gave voice to the voiceless and recounted the stories we all should have learned about in school. And for all the hilarity and irreverence involved, they were also meticulously fact-checked so that they were legitimately educational as well. Almost as a bonus then, they were accompanied by hysterical reenactments by some of the biggest stars in comedy — many of whom have reunited here to celebrate the show on its 10th anniversary.
So plop down at the figurative bar and have an equally figurative cocktail with series co-creators Derek Waters and Jeremy Konner as well as their star-studded cast of drunkards and reenactors — including the likes of Michael Cera, Colin Hanks, Jesse Plemons, Tony Hale, Patton Oswalt, Jason Ritter, Chris Parnell, Jake Johnson and Steven Weber — as they take a stroll down Drunk History memory lane, as fuzzy and hazy as some of those memories may be.
Prehistoric ‘Drunk History’
Derek Waters, Host and Co-creator of Drunk History: Jake Johnson was the inspiration for Drunk History, as, back in 2007, he drunkenly told me a story about how Otis Redding knew he was going to die before he got on the plane that unfortunately crashed.
Jake Johnson, Drunk History Guest Reenactor and Host of the Upcoming Podcast We’re Here to Help with Gareth Reynolds and Jake Johnson: It all started in my apartment on Rowena and Hyperion in beautiful Los Angeles — the ugly green building if you know the area. Derek Waters came to my house one night, and we got drunk. I remember that we played one-on-one quarters, but he claims we did not. While getting very inebriated, we started going back and forth with stories.
I had a story a friend had told me about Otis Redding. One night when his wife was driving him to the airport, he got out of the car, kissed her and started getting on the plane. Then he stopped, got off, went to the car and said, “Promise me, no matter what, you’ll be good.” She said, “What are you talking about, Otis?” He said, “Just promise me.” She said, “I’ll be good.” They gave each other a kiss, he got on the plane and died.
It took me about 45 minutes to tell that story. I was doing the characters — I had fully committed to everybody. I was also emotional, as a good storyteller will get at the sad parts.
Waters: It took Jake about three hours to tell this very short story, and when he was telling it, I was like, “There’s no way this happened.” I kept picturing Otis Redding behind Jake Johnson, shaking his head.
Johnson: The next day, Derek called me in the morning and said, “Hey man, can I come over tomorrow with Jeremy Konner and some friends and can we get you drunk and film you telling that Otis Redding story? I want to make a video of actors reenacting it, then Otis Redding appears and goes, ‘Shut the fuck up! None of that happened!’”
I said “no.” I was an aspiring commercial actor at the time, and I couldn’t have my commercial agent seeing me drunk. He said, “Alright, alright,” and went to another one of our friends, Mark Gagliardi.
Waters: The show wouldn’t have happened without Mike Gagliardi. He was the first narrator, and he set the structure of how a Drunk History story was told.
Eric Edelstein, Drunk History Narrator, Guest Reenactor and Guest Host: I always say that Jeremy and Derek should buy Mark Gagliardi a house, because had anyone else been the first narrator, it may not have blown up in quite the same way.
Mark Gagliardi, Drunk History Narrator: Derek came to me in 2007, inspired by a drunk conversation he’d had with Jake Johnson to create this show. He called me up and was like, “Hey man, I know you’re a big history buff. You know how the History Channel does those documentaries where a historian will talk and actors will reenact what they’re doing? I want to shoot one of those things, and I want you to be the historian.” I said, “That sounds like a great idea.” Then he said, “But I want you to be really drunk when you do it.”
I thought that was hilarious. I said, “That’s awesome. I love everything about this, when do you want to do it?” He was like, “I’m gonna come over to your place. We’ll bring a camera. I’ll get you drunk, and you just tell a story. Pick a historical story, and we’ll go from there. Whichever story you want to pick.”
I started scouring for interesting stories, and at that time, the Ron Chernow book about Alexander Hamilton had just come out and the episode of The American Experience on PBS that week was the story of Alexander Hamilton. The thing that I latched onto was the notion that Hamilton knew that he was likely to die in this duel, but his sense of honor wouldn’t allow him to decline. He knew he wasn’t going to shoot to kill, but he also knew that he had to go through with this duel for the sake of honor. In so doing, he was choosing honor over life — that seemed like such a dramatic human moment. Having that as the lynchpin, I decided that was the story I wanted to focus on.
Jeremy Konner, Co-creator of Drunk History: Drunk History was this idea Derek came to me with. We had often made short films together and this was one where I loved the idea, but it was all dependent on who this drunk person is going to be and whether that’s funny. For that first one, it was just me and Derek. I had the camera, I’m doing the sound and I’m doing the lights. And we’re sitting around Mark Gagliardi who spoke for like, four hours about meritocracy. It really seemed like this was a bad idea and that nothing was going to come out of it. Then, suddenly, at two in the morning, Mark just flopped down on his couch and told the story of the famous duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Derek and I were in tears, holding it together crying and laughing the whole time.
Gagliardi: I felt compelled to lay down and tell the story because sitting upright wasn’t working for me. It was a lot of fun. After I finished, Derek and Jeremy made sure I was taken care of and left, then I proceeded to throw up in the middle of the couch. Then, subsequently, in the middle of the bed. My girlfriend at the time was very upset with me because we had to sleep on sleeping bags on the floor.
Johnson: After they filmed Mark Gagliardi, Derek called and said, “Hey man, will you come back and play Aaron Burr in this short we’re gonna do in Ashley Johnson’s backyard with you, Ashley, Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi. I said, “Sure, of course.”
Michael Cera, Drunk History Guest Reenactor: I was very good friends with Derek Waters and Jeremy Konner. Derek had had that idea and was talking about it for a couple of months. It felt exciting, and we were supportive of it. It was sort of what everyone was doing in those days. Everyone was making little comedy videos and putting them on YouTube and showing them live. It felt like a no-brainer. We were all going to go out and have a fun day together and do this.
Gagliardi: I was struck by how funny it was. I loved how straight Michael and Jake and Ashley played it. Michael Cera never let on that he was in a comedy, even when he, as Alexander Hamilton, pulled out a cellphone to call his family. Even when he fell over dead at the end, revealing Revolutionary clothes from the waist up and shorts and Vans from the waist down.
There were also things in that first one that I didn’t remember, like saying, “Grab the bucket, it’s under the fridge,” and me asking, “Can you see my belly?” So, when I saw it, I was both very embarrassed and very proud. That first Drunk History was just a weird, lightning-in-a-bottle moment.
Konner: That first one was our constitution. Everything since has led back to that one.
Johnson: It was the first thing that I’d been a part of, or any of us had been a part of, that went viral. Then Derek and Jeremy’s careers changed.
Waters: I showed it about every other month at UCB, and I sent the DVD out to The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live and Conan, hoping it’d get a monthly sketch. None of that happened, so I was like, “Ugh, fuckin’ internet, I guess I’ll try it.” I put it on the internet December 23, 2007.
Konner: We didn’t think we’d put it out into the world ever. But then Superbad came out and everyone was talking about Michael Cera, so we thought, “Let’s put it out on this crazy internet thing.” This was back in the day when there was a homepage on YouTube, where every user saw the exact same homepage. We became the number one video in the country or the world or whatever for the first week, and it was off to the races.
Cera: I don’t want to overly take responsibility for it, but I might have been the person who sort of emailed some YouTube administrator and put it on their radar. Because I’d been on Arrested Development, I kind of cut through and reached them. Then they featured it on the front page of YouTube.
Konner: We never thought we’d make a second Drunk History. But back then I was Jack Black’s assistant, and one day Jack came up to me and was like, “Dude! I wanna make one of those!” Then we had a mission. We had to. Jack Black wants to do a Drunk History, we gotta make one happen.
Gagliardi: After Michael Cera did the first one and Jack Black did the second one, Drunk History became a club and everyone wanted to do it.
Jason Ritter, Drunk History Guest Reenactor: Jeremy Konner and I met in kindergarten. We wanted to be stuntmen together, he broke my arm, I’ve just known him forever. When he and Derek were doing the web series, they needed places to shoot the reenactments, so a lot of those were shot at my mom’s house. I thought it was such an incredible idea that they’d come up with, and it was so fun to watch it blow up. Pretty early on, they threw me in, and over the years, they kept on letting me come play with them.
I remember one time at my mom’s house, this friend of my sister’s had stayed over and he was a heavy stoner. He’d gone to the bathroom when he woke up and bumped his head and was wandering around the house. He didn’t know we were filming, and he just saw Will Ferrell pass by dressed as Abraham Lincoln. He thought he was having a full-blown concussion.
Konner: After that, we were making a series that was blowing up on YouTube, but then Funny or Die started taking it off of YouTube and putting it on their front page as if they had made it. We wanted to shut that down, but it was getting millions of views and we figured, “Why not just let this happen?” Eventually, we did make our Christmas special with Funny or Die in 2011 with Ryan Gosling, Jim Carrey and Eva Mendes. That was our first real working experience with Funny or Die. After that, we went with Funny or Die and Gary Sanchez Productions to Comedy Central.
Waters: A TV show never crossed my mind at that time. Drunk History felt like a sketch — five minutes, that’s it. I didn’t want it to get old. I’m a comedy snob, and I think once you’ve gone too far, the whole thing is done.
But then the Drunk History with Will Ferrell and Don Cheadle won the Best Short at Sundance in 2010, and I started attempting to sell shows hoping one would go. None were going, and I started thinking about Drunk History as a series. I was inspired by Stephen Fry in America, where he goes around and educates himself. So I started to think, if each episode was about a place, that could work for Drunk History.
Saddling Up to Comedy Central
Owen Burke, Executive Producer on Drunk History: I work at Gary Sanchez Productions, which is Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s production company. Derek and Jeremy came to us to see if we wanted to help them turn Drunk History into a TV show.
Waters: We took it to FX, took it to HBO, took it to the History Channel. The History Channel’s response was, “We love it! But do they have to be drunk?” Comedy Central was the only place that was like, “You already know how to do this, and we love it.” They really believed in it.
The show was originally going to be called Drunk History Across America, and the voiceover was me saying, “At 30 years old, I realized I don’t know anything about my country, so I’ve rented a bus and I’m going across America to find out what happened and I’m going to learn it from the best storytellers ever.” But Comedy Central gave a great note saying, “It shouldn’t be your journey. It should be about everyone’s journey.”
Comedy Central then had us do a presentation. Usually those are like, 10 minutes, but we took that little bit of money and asked a lot of favors and did the whole pilot. That was the Boston episode. The original pilot was three stories, and we saw it as local history, a personal story and then a big historical piece. The pilot had that format, but it would have been too hard to do that every episode.
Anyway, Comedy Central loved the pilot. The only thing that was weird is that, after we shot it, they wanted us to change the title because they were afraid of losing advertisers. Alcohol advertisers don’t ever use the “D” word — they don’t believe anyone can get drunk from their products. There were a few alternate titles that will make you shit your pants, like History on the Rocks and Party Time History, but I stuck to my guns and having the YouTube shorts already in existence made it an easy pitch to be like, “We already have a following with this name.”
After that, they bought an eight-episode first season. They were so good to us, and after that first season, they really let us do what we wanted. That’s a credit to Kent Alterman, the president of Comedy Central, trusting his shows. Drunk History really wouldn’t have worked anywhere else.
Putting the ‘Drunk’ in ‘Drunk History’
Waters: The process evolved over time, but to make a Drunk History story work, three main things needed to happen: the research, the narration and the reenactment. We had researchers going through all these history books and finding stories that make you go, “Why weren’t we taught this in school?” The show truly would have been nothing without these researchers. The researchers would spend two or three months finding these stories.
Meanwhile I’d meet with up-and-coming comedians and talk to them about what show’s they’re watching and things they were excited about. I wanted to find stories that made sense to something they were going through or something they were interested in. I humbly say that I was good at finding the right story for the right person.
Then I would send each narrator three stories and say, “Pick one.” Now, the show isn’t on anymore, so I can tell you that two of them I knew they wouldn’t do and one of them I really wanted them to do. But I also told them, if you don’t like any of these, we’ll find others. There’s nothing worse than somebody saying they love it when they don’t.
After that, they’d have two or three weeks to study this research packet. The day before filming, producer Greg Tuculescu would do a sober run-through with them. Not trying to be funny, just letting us know they had the story with a clear beginning, middle and end. The next day, we’d go to their house or an Airbnb and film the narration.
JD Ryznar, Drunk History Narrator: For the first two I did, they shot it in my house. That was cool because this professional camera crew is coming to your house to film you and you’re getting drunk, so you feel like a god-king. They encouraged you to have one drink before they started, just to get in a good space, but they didn’t want you getting too drunk. Then, when you were just tipsy, they wanted you to go through the whole story so they could make sure they had it all.
They’d also make sure you said certain things for transitional purposes. After that, you’d film a segment with Derek where you were goofing around and drinking and then you’d drink more. By the time you shot the second one, you were good and drunk. You were just doing your best to get through the story. We usually did it all the way through three times. Derek would usually do the first two, then the producers came in. I would always tease them about that, “Oh, Derek can’t take it anymore?” I remember one time I yelled at Derek for being a terrible host. After that, they gave me the breathalyzer, and I was barely even drunk.
Waters: There are people who pulled knives out on me, but I’m not going to bring up their names. Swords, too. There were several times where it started as Drunk History and ended as a COPS episode.
After the first season, we told them, “Do not drink before I get there.” Because I’d show up, and they’d already be drunk. We needed them to actually tell the story, and it wouldn’t work if they were totally drunk the moment I walked in the door. It happened so many times where they just couldn’t get through the story. One day I should do a Drunk History coffee table book of apology emails of people saying, “I’m sorry I didn’t do the story.” For the second season, I asked Comedy Central to pay for my therapy. I felt so bad because I was making a TV show about giving people poison; then they felt bad about it. It helped to tell myself, “They’re choosing to do this,” but it still felt bad to leave someone while they’re saying, “You hate me!”
The first question I always get from people is, “Are they really drunk?” Of course they are. It’d be so easy to tell if they weren’t. The only thing worse than being around a drunk person is being around someone pretending to be drunk.
How much I drank while I was with them depended on the person. I never wanted someone to feel exploited. I wanted them to feel like we were doing this together. There were definitely some people I should not have gone toe-to-toe with — Dan Harmon was one. That was not a good choice by me.
The facts they were giving also had to be accurate. There’d be no purpose to the show if not. It had to be a history show.
Edelstein: When people ask me, “Was Drunk History really true?” I always tell them, “There’s nothing more annoying then when you’re blackout drunk and a producer comes in and says, ‘Actually, it’s 1864.’”
Waters: Altogether, the narration might take six or seven hours to do.
Edelstein: Along with Derek and Jeremy, the editors were the real heroes of Drunk History, because people aren’t seeing me weeping during my narration, or me trying to get my dogs on camera for two hours, or me screaming to Derek about Neil Young. When they see it, they see a pretty coherent story.
Waters: We shot the reenactments all in one day, which is how we got all these people and only paid them scale. It wasn’t about money. It was about doing something they hadn’t done and having fun and being around a work environment that is creative, healthy and fun. People just genuinely wanted to do it.
Owen Burke: In a way, Drunk History gave people that Hollywood promise of being able to wear cowboy outfits and sitting on thrones and wild, exotic locations and rich, complex stories that are important. Actors love to come and play those stories. Actors wanted to do it because they’d hear from other actors, “This is so fun!”
Mort Burke, Drunk History Cast Reenactor and Star of the New Special Spiritually Filthy: It was always fun to see who was going to be the “celebre-star,” who’s going to come in today. Drunk History was also such a unique experience that it was interesting to see these very celebrated people back on their heels — not nervous, but doing something new they didn’t have a lot of experience in. Everybody was also really kind. I mean, it’s such a stupid idea that it’d be weird for someone to come in and have an ego about it.
Chris Parnell, Drunk History Guest Reenactor: It’s definitely not something I was used to. It was a very interesting challenge to get all these pauses and inflections just right. It was also freeing in a way, too, to not have to use my own voice on camera.
Paget Brewster, Drunk History Narrator and Guest Reenactor: It’s a high-stakes form of acting because you don’t want to screw up the take for everyone else because you didn’t practice enough. It’s a very particular skill set and the regular reenactors on Drunk History were the best at it.
JT Palmer, Drunk History Cast Reenactor: They would give us the audio track we were going to reenact that day, and to get the rhythm down, I would listen to it in my car over and over and over again. Luckily for us, when you get to set, they keep playing it on a loop so you’ll definitely get the timing down. Everybody had their own method for lip-syncing. Some would just mouth the words; some would say them out loud. It was whatever best suited you. For me, I was the quiet person just pantomiming it.
Tony Hale, Drunk History Guest Reenactor: It kind of felt like you were doing a music video, because you had the track playing and you could just act stupid. It was just playtime. It was almost like children’s theater. It was no pressure and just fun.
Jesse Plemons, Drunk History Guest Reenactor: I was amazed by how much they were able to get done in a day. You’re literally doing everything in one day. You’re doing your fitting in the morning. You’re trying on wigs. And by the end of the day, you’ve done it all. Plus, there are some pretty intricate shots they pull off, too. It was such a well-oiled machine.
Falling in Horse Manure and ‘The Edelstein Rule’
Waters: For the first season we did four stories a night, and each narrator told two stories. It was the worst idea in the world.
Brewster: The first Drunk History I did was definitely the hardest because, back then, they wanted us to do two stories, and being a teacher’s pet, I was fully hammered at one in the afternoon. I did the Kellogg brothers from two in the afternoon until about nine, then I did a history of H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer, until about four in the morning. I have not had red wine since. I was ill for days afterwards because I felt it was my responsibility to remain over the legal limit at all times while telling a Drunk History.
Unfortunately, H.H. Holmes didn’t air because, besides killing tons of tourists at the Chicago World’s Fair, he killed little children and the history is so dark that you couldn’t make it funny. Though I was glad to be a part of the process of figuring out what stories do and don’t work. And now I drink white wine.
Konner: There is a world where a certain narrator would have done that story differently. H.H. Holmes is a horrifying story, but some of the horror borders on camp with trap doors and things like that. I think we were just not prepared for how much Paget expounded upon the ways he would torture people. She comes from Criminal Minds. Nobody in Hollywood knows more about sadistic, horrifying murders than Paget Brewster.
Gagliardi: I’m a huge Teddy Roosevelt fan, and when I told the Rough Riders story in Season One, Derek had to keep steering me back to the Rough Riders. “But don’t you understand? He was President Batman!” I kept yelling at him. Derek was like, “Yeah, man, I know, he’s President Batman. Let’s talk about the Rough Riders.”
Bennie Arthur, Drunk History Cast Reenactor: One of my favorite memories was from the Rough Riders segment. I was playing a Rough Rider, and me and Craig Cackowski died together and had to fall down. We both fell down and Craig said, “Bennie, did you fall down in shit?” I looked below me, and sure enough, I’d dropped in a pile of horseshit. I felt so bad going to wardrobe and saying, “I’m sorry, I fell in horseshit.”
Konner: One thing that happened a lot in the early days was that people would get drunk really fast and then we’d never get the full story. We’d be like, “Okay, now let’s get to Lincoln’s assassination,” and they’d say “Okay, so Lincoln was born…” “No, no, no! We’ve got when Lincoln was born.” Then they’d go, “Okay, so Lincoln grew up…” “No, just the assassination. He’s in the theater!” There was a lot of that.
Lyric Lewis, Drunk History narrator: I don’t know how my grandma got word that I was doing Drunk History, but that one she watched with my mom and afterwards she goes “Oh, child, I could tell you was hurting. That one seemed like you was hurting real bad.” Cool. I’m glad you watched me on TV just obliterated.
Lucius Dillon, Drunk History Narrator: Drunk History was the first time I ever blacked out in my life — of course, it had to be on national television. They shot the first one I did at my apartment. They told me that the crew was going to get there around five, and they said, “Maybe have a drink around four.” I misheard that. I heard, “Start drinking around four.” I was drinking straight bourbon, and when they arrived, I kept going. Then they set up, and Derek came in. I showed him around my apartment, and we did all this introductory shit. Then we sat down, and he said, “Tell me a story.”
I was excited. It was my first time on television and adrenaline makes you sober, but once the story began, my adrenaline went away and half a bottle of bourbon hit me. I was a wreck. I had to go outside. The medic had to give me oxygen — I was the first one on Drunk History to ever have to be on oxygen.
I told the story with the oxygen tubes in my nose, laying on the couch while delivering this story about Houdini. I didn’t even know they were filming. Later on, I came back to life and was like, “I’m sorry guys, do you want me to get started?” They were like, “We already got it. Do you want to finish that magic trick you started?” I was like, “I did a magic trick?”
The funny thing was, I had this tube in my nose most of the time, but they had to cut around that. Derek explained to me later, “We had to cut that out. You looked creepy.” Apparently I looked like a cancer patient that they got drunk to tell a story about Houdini.
That shoot went on for hours and hours, until like 3 a.m. After that, Derek decided to tell people don’t start drinking beforehand.
Edelstein: I knew Derek and Jeremy and Jake and Mark and all those guys, but I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to get drunk. Then Derek and Jeremy said, “We’re gonna do Elvis. We know how much you love Elvis.” They knew how to dangle that hook in the water, because I didn’t want anyone else talking about Elvis. I knew the story of him getting his federal narcotics badge and I wanted to tell it.
Jake Johnson told me, “You should even yourself out. Just have a little bit of an edible so the booze doesn’t quite get on top of you.” I took an edible — this is before edibles were really regulated — and about 20 minutes before they knocked on my door I felt myself getting out of my mind. Then Derek and Jeremy showed up at my door and I was so paranoid that I was like, “So you’re going to do this reality show to make fun of me, huh?” I was just awful.
Then, the second time I did it, I did the Kris Kristofferson one, and they wanted me to do two in one night. I did Kris, and we nailed it. In fact, I had a lot left in the tank. Then I snuck off — because you’re drunk and you’re a child — and had a friend sneak me a joint. I was so out of my mind that I completely let down the Navajo code talkers. There’s a reason why there’s not an episode with Eric Edelstein talking about the Navajo code talkers.
After that, they put in something called “The Edelstein Rule,” where they sent an email to every Drunk History narrator and said, “No weed.”
Claudette Colvin, Charles Sumner and Edgar Allan Poe
Waters: In Season Two, Amber Ruffin did Claudette Colvin. Claudette Colvin was the best story we ever found. It’s the story about a 14-year-old girl in Montgomery, Alabama who refused to go to the back of the bus a year before Rosa Parks. She was the idea that created the Rosa Parks movement, but because she was dark-skinned and pregnant out of wedlock, the NAACP didn’t think that she would be a good look. I didn’t want it to be “forget Rosa Parks,” but the more I learned about this girl, it became, “Still God bless Rosa Parks, but let’s remember who inspired it.”
Patton Oswalt, Drunk History Guest Reenactor: I was a fan from the YouTube days and when they asked me to be in the Charles Sumner one, I jumped at the chance. The Charles Sumner one was fantastic because it was so overly dramatic. I get beaten on the floor, and I’m still fighting against slavery. It was all a big, gothic drama.
Plemons: Edgar Allan Poe was the first one I did. I was so excited to do it, but it’s such an unusual experience and format that I got way too into thinking about Edgar Allan Poe rather than just doing what you need to do, which is to listen to the narration over and over again. I loved that first one, but I did a bunch of unnecessary things to prepare for it. It did not help at all.
Konner: A lot of the time people would come in over educated on a topic. They’d come in and say, “I read three books on this,” and we’d go, “Oh no,” because it’d be really hard to get the story we needed to get. When I did my own narration in Season Three, I swore I would take all the advice we give. I wouldn’t read three books and watch every documentary. I’d just focus on the one story. But I fucked it up. I got super into it, and when I did mine, I couldn’t get past the first act of the story. Mine was about the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and I spent like an hour on what happens to the human body when it doesn’t get water. I couldn’t help it.
Throwing One Back with Lin-Manuel Miranda
Gagliardi: In 2015, I was in New York, and I ran into my friend Allison Bibicoff, who was standing in line to meet the cast of Hamilton. I decided to wait with her and out came Lin-Manuel Miranda. I introduced myself, and when I said my name, he said, “You’re Mark Gagliardi!?” I said “Yeah,” and he said, “Dude, I loved your Drunk History about Hamilton. I’d started on Hamilton when I saw your Drunk History.” We shot the breeze for a minute, and he snapped a photo and tweeted it, which still, to this day, is the coolest tweet that I’ve ever seen.
To be clear, I have no idea how far along he was in writing Hamilton when he saw my Drunk History. Like I said, that Chernow book had come out, and Alexander Hamilton was in the zeitgeist. I did, however, tell all my musical theater nerd friends about my Lin-Manuel encounter, and within three days, I had a friend come back to me and say, “Dude, is it true that you inspired the musical Hamilton?” It became this game of telephone. All he’d said was, “I saw this as I’d just begun working on Hamilton.”
Konner: I went to go see Hamilton, and a friend of mine had taken me backstage. I met Lin, and I was like, “Hi, I’m Jeremy Konner,” and he was like, “Oh my God, Drunk History! Dude, I’m obsessed with you!” Then he volunteered: “I wanna do one. I wanna do a Drunk History.”
At first, we were thinking we didn’t want to do Hamilton again and surely he’s out-Hamilton’d too. But as we started talking to him, we got obsessed with the idea that this could be “the deleted scenes” of Hamilton. So we ended up doing stories that are mostly not in the play. It was other parts of the story.
Gagliardi: When they filmed the Lin-Manuel Miranda episode, Derek asked me if I would surprise Lin-Manuel. It all came full circle, with him getting drunk and telling the story of Hamilton from his home. Derek invited me to surprise him there. I was chilling out in his house, hiding in a closet full of books while he and Derek were taking a walk. When they got home I said, “Surprise!” and gave him a big hug. Then we sat on the couch and spent the next 20 minutes talking about Hercules Mulligan. It was a delightful experience all around.
Mr. Rogers, Lawnchair Larry and Frankenstein’s Monster
Waters: In Season Five, we got Colin Hanks to play Mr. Rogers before Tom Hanks did!
Colin Hanks, Drunk History Guest Reenactor: That was pretty funny. When the announcement was made, Derek and Jeremy texted me right away and were like, “Dude, he’s getting lazy!” It was very funny timing.
Konner: I loved that Colin was posting pictures of him and his father saying that he did it first. It was so funny.
Waters: The next season we got Colin to play Lawnchair Larry, this guy who tied all these weather balloons to a lawn chair and flew. I told Colin, “I wonder if your dad’s gonna do this one?”
Hanks: When I did Lawnchair Larry, I had to do a scene where I was playing a kid version of him. I was in the middle of my last season of Life in Pieces and I told them, “Guys, I have a beard that I can’t shave.” Derek just goes, “It doesn’t matter. That’s fine.” He wrote “I’m 13 years old” on a name tag and slapped it on me. That’s what I loved about the show.
I always had a blast on Drunk History. It was so much fun. Any time they asked me to do another one, I just said “Yes!” It got to where I didn’t even ask what the story was.
Waters: In Season Six, we did an episode around a campfire called “Are You Afraid of the Drunk?” with Will Ferrell playing Frankenstein’s monster. That one was shot on film, and we only told one story and it was the only story where it took two days to reenact it.
Maria Blasucci, Drunk History Cast Reenactor: The Frankenstein one we did with Jack McBrayer, Evan Rachel Wood and Elijah Wood was a really fun shoot. We did that in Pasadena at this old apartment building that looked like an old hotel done up like a haunted house. It also had really great costumes. I loved episodes where we went all-out with the costumes.
Waters: We were nominated for 17 Emmys, and we won one and that was for costumes. Costume designer Christina Mongini was incredible.
By Season Six, we were at a point where we could take more risks. “Are You Afraid of the Drunk?” was a good example of how Drunk History evolved over the seasons. In the beginning, it had to be stories you already knew, and you could find the joke by knowing where the mistake was. Then, as the show evolved, the stories had to drive it instead of the premise, because the premise is always the same.
Craig Cackowski, Drunk History Cast Reenactor: I did all my costume fittings just four days before the lockdown started in L.A. Then the lockdown happened, and I kept getting updates from Derek, “We’re postponed two weeks,” “We’re postponed two months,” “We’re canceled.” That was such a downer.
Waters: We got the news in July 2020. It was heartbreaking when I found out. Because we had it. It was almost done. Season Seven was going to be our last season. I was prepared to cut the budget and do it in our backyards. Or even just do five episodes. But no, none of it. It was frustrating, but I’d be blind if I wasn’t thankful for all of it. It was an unfortunate moment, but it doesn’t take away all the goodness it brought me and a lot of other people.
Owen Burke: Drunk History got canceled at such an odd time. It was a strong show for the network, and we just got burned by the timing of COVID. That, and then a new regime coming into Viacom and steering the network in a different direction.
Konner: Let me say this about our cancellation: Of course, I’m so sad and heartbroken over it. This was my baby, and I’ve never worked harder on anything. That being said, I sometimes think, “Thank God we got out without incident.” No one ever went to the hospital. Nobody got hurt. We were playing with fire.
A Sobering Legacy
Steven Weber, Drunk History Guest Reenactor: Drunk History took real, important subjects and managed not to lampoon the history itself. They took a different approach to disseminating information. It was funny because people view being drunk and availing themselves of some oblivion as being a bad thing, but here was something making it funny and useful and oddly relatable. And it was genuinely funny.
Parnell: There was so much to learn from Drunk History. Probably the big takeaway was the degree to which that history is written by the winners. So you got to hear these alternate versions of widely accepted stories. It was very educational.
Mort Burke: I thought Drunk History did a beautiful job of telling stories about women in history and what we call “minorities” in history and the real challenges of those experiences. Like, we did an episode about disability rights, and the star was this young lady who had Down syndrome and she was so good. That’s not an opportunity we give to people very often. That day was so special because we had all these people with what we call “disabilities,” and it was really powerful. Not to get too highfalutin, but that was one of the times when Drunk History wasn’t just educational, but spiritually educational.
Cackowski: One of my favorite things about Drunk History was that we told stories of people who often get left out of history. We were telling a lot of stories about people of color and gay icons. I played upwards of 150 different roles on the show, which meant that I played a lot of racists, a lot of homophobes, a lot of sexists. I was the epitome of white men throughout history.
Daryl Johnson, Drunk History Narrator: You learn a lot of shit watching Drunk History. I thought that was the best part of it because you’re being educated and entertained at the same time. God knows, education is such a fear right now. Maybe that’s why the show got canceled. They felt like it was too much CRT. They had too many episodes where I was telling white people that they was trash. They were like, “We gotta cancel this show!”
Edelstein: Drunk History was willing to speak truth to power and tell the stories that need to be told. People might say it’s “woke,” but this is history. You can’t argue with history. That’s definitely a debate we’re having in America right now: “What do we want to do with our uncomfortable history?” I think Derek and Jeremy figured out the most brilliant way to do it is to bathe it in booze and make it funny, then we can learn from it.
Owen Burke: Drunk History created its own genre of comedy that you see everywhere now. You saw it in Ant-Man and in other things where people tell a story in a silly way and they’re being reenacted.
Konner: It’s incredible to think about the cultural impact Drunk History has had. It started off as this simple idea where we’re going to get someone drunk and have them narrate a historical event. But it has now become not only something people are copying once in a while, but it’s become a part of the cultural lexicon. I’ll turn on MSNBC and see Lawrence O’Donnell say, “What is this, an episode of Drunk History?” It’s part of the zeitgeist, and that’s wild.
Gagliardi: One of my proudest Drunk History memories is when I met a history teacher, and he said to me, “Drunk History tells it more straight than a lot of the history books do. I’m a history teacher, and I’ve learned things from Drunk History that I never knew and I now use that show as a teaching tool in my classroom.” I hope he teaches at least high school level, and not fifth graders. That said, I was honored.
Hale: Even after six seasons, you always felt like it was an act of love. Everybody was scraping to put it together, and everybody was putting their best foot forward because they just loved working there. It felt like putting on a show in a community theater in that everyone was there because they loved the project and people just wanted to be a part of it. It felt free, and like what our business should be.
Steve Berg, Drunk History Narrator and Guest Reenactor: Any time you got to just hang out with your friends for work, that’s when you’re like “The dream happened.” That’s what Drunk History was like every time.
Joe Lo Truglio, Drunk History Guest Reenactor: Clearly everyone was giddy with how silly these retellings were. You kind of got swept up in the best kind of way. It’s a show that’s still looked upon with such respect and reverence by so many funny people. It’s like the comedy Law & Order, everyone in comedy was in Drunk History.
Martin Starr, Drunk History Guest Reenactor: I did a Drunk History almost every season, and I got better at it over time. I love Drunk History and remain a huge fan. I hope it comes back in some capacity.
One Last Call?
Waters: We actually did a seventh season. It’s still halfway finished. All the narrations are finished, all we’ve got to do is reenact it. There are 16 episodes just waiting there. Hopefully someone out there reading this wants to buy it, because I’m ready.
Cackowski: Somewhere at Comedy Central there’s a vault, I don’t know if it’s a literal vault, but there are 30 stories ready to go. I hope, in some way, they see the light of day.
Gagliardi: The story part is done! You could do it during the strike even! It doesn’t need writers!
Edelstein: Hopefully we’re able to get that last season made. I mean, when you do a Drunk History, you’re college-level drunk, and it’s so wrong to put those guys through that and never air those episodes. They told amazing stories, too. Patton Oswalt got so hammered.
Oswalt: I still hope that season happens because I narrated the tale of the world’s two biggest balls of string, and in order to do that, I drank a full bottle of Auchentoshan and half a bottle of Lagavulin. It was the worst hangover I’ve ever had. If that was all in vain, then that is a life badly lived.