“Some of the best ideas come out of having a couple of drinks,” says Drunk History’s Derek Waters. Devised by Waters and Jeremy Konner, the idea was born in a Los Angeles comedy club. “It was a show we did at the Upright Citizens Brigade back in 2007,” Waters told the Comedy Central panel at Deadline’s The Contenders Emmys event Sunday. “We thought it would be funny to get someone drunk, that knows a lot about history, then have someone lip-synch to it. Because history is so interesting but it’s rarely told in an interesting and fun way. It was just a one-time thing, and we did the story of Alexander Hamilton.”
The idea immediately gained traction as a web series on the Funny or Die site. The concept behind the new format was simple but hilarious: get an esteemed historian or authority blindingly drunk and then record them explaining — or trying to explain — the details of a famous historical incident. The resulting, often rambling monologue would then be turned into a script, with A-list actors and comedians coming in to perform it, word for (slurred) word.
Commissioned for a fifth season in January, Drunk History has covered a lot of territory in the ten years since. Season 1 saw Jenny Slate narrating the invention of Coca-Cola; in Season 2, Johnny Knoxville played Johnny Cash; Season 3 featured an appearance from Ryan Philippe in a mini-biography of movie-star canine Rin Tin Tin; while a highlight of the fourth season — which aired last September — was, once again, the story of Alexander Hamilton, this time told by Lin-Manuel Miranda himself. Konner explained the sketch’s genesis: “In the case of Hamilton,” he recalled. “I’d gone to see Lin in Hamilton and went backstage. He came up and said, ‘That was my two-and-a-half-hour-long audition for you guys.’ Which is the greatest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
For Waters, the aim of Drunk History is amusement and education — and is aimed primarily at an audience that isn’t expecting to experience those two things at the same time. “Our goal is to find these stories that make us go, ‘Why weren’t we taught this in class?’” said Waters. “Jeremy and I have this vision that it would so great for someone in college to watch it and be like, ‘Oh, ha-ha-ha, they’re so drunk!’ Then they’ll think, ‘Oh shit, I just learned something.’ That’s what we try to get you to do — laugh and then also, humbly, learn something.”