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Drunk History: History Through Beer Goggles

08 November 2013

Unless you were “that kid” in school, history class was probably one of the low points of your academic career: an experience so mind-numbingly boring as to almost— almost— be entertaining.

If you’re regretting not paying more attention back then, fear not: You can catch up on all the key characters and definitive turning points that made our world what it is with Comedy Central’s new show, "Drunk History."

Your authorities? Comedians in that particular expansive and pedagogical mood that comes after a couple of bottles of wine or four, five, maybe six cocktails.

The Concept

"Drunk History" was originally created by Derek Waters and Jeremy Konner in 2007 as a Web series for the Funny or Die! website. As soused narrators recall (to varying success) some historical event, well-known Hollywood actors and comics portray them in over-the-top reenactments, complete with miming the wasted lecturer’s slurred, loopy speech. After a string of inaccuracies and awkward pauses (wherein the storyteller attempts to take control of his or her memory and stomach), the episodes typically concluded with sloppy apologies, passing out, or worse.

In its online incarnation, "Drunk History" told stories about the relationship between Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln (played by Don Cheadle and Will Ferrell, respectively) and the competing innovations of Nikola Tesla (John C. Reilly) and Thomas Edison (Crispin Glover). A memorable holiday special saw Allan McLeod recite, a half-bottle of whiskey deep, a start-and-stop version of “The Night Before Christmas” as Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes and Jim Carrey bring it to life.

The TV Version

The first season of Comedy Central episodes, gave a confused explanation of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination (with Stephen Merchant as Lincoln, Adam Scott as John Wilkes Booth and Will Forte as his brother, Edwin) and an account of the historic meeting between Richard Nixon (Bob Odenkirk) and Elvis Presley (Jack Black). Other stars include Dave Grohl, Fred Willard, Kristen Wiig and Owen Wilson.

The TV version consists of half-hour episodes, each composed of several vignettes. The discrete little shorts of the online "Drunk History" impressed initially with their combination of A-list stars and inebriated storytelling. The network recently announced it will carry another season, beginning in 2014.

There’s something to be said for the reliable entertainment of someone three (or five) sheets to the wind attempting to pull together a coherent narrative. Basic material won’t be hard to come by. There certainly are no shortages of historical figures and dramas to dissect. With season one already concluded, you will have to figure out what a DVR is and record reruns, or wait until the new season premiers.

These days, memes on the Web can catch fire and invade traditional platforms like TV and film, even as the big and small screens inspire countless commentaries and fanboy geek-outs online. Whether or not "Drunk History" ends up as stale and flat as last night’s leftover beer, its migration to Comedy Central certainly reflects the dynamism of modern media entertainment.