“I lost my elbow,” Seth Rogen, scanning the retro laboratory in this historic Pasadena basement for a spare body part. “Oh, there it is!”
Action is called on the Drunk History set, and Rogen transforms into Victor Frankenstein, tossing appendages onto a gurney. “He took body parts — arm! elbow! knee! nose! head!— and put them together in his own special way,” the actor lip-synchs to the piped-in rantings of a drunken narrator, and a horrific monster (Will Ferrell!) is jolted to life by jumper cables. The narrator’s speech culminates with the triumphantly ludicrous punchline: “Now give me some mother-f—ing pancakes!” (“That’s your Macbeth line,” co-creator/host Derek Waters tells Rogen.) The monster blinks, mouths “Master? Creator?,” rises from the table, and stiffly wanders off while the crew tries not to laugh. “He’s probably starving,” quips Ferrell when the cameras stop rolling.
Drunk History is hoping you’re hungry — er, thirsty for its most ambitious toast-and-talk yet. The inventive, off-kilter comedy, which features inebriated retellings of historical moments, begins season 6 with a special episode (airing Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central) that focuses solely on how English author (and sci-fi pioneer) Mary Shelley joined a few famous writers on a sex-and-drug-fueled vacation, had a vivid dream, and spun a tale that became the gothic horror novel Frankenstein. Comedian Rich Fulcher spills the story (and liquor) fireside à la Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and the reenactments — which were shot on black-and-white 35mm film — are celebrity-soaked: Besides Ferrell and Rogen, there’s Evan Rachel Wood as Shelley and Elijah Wood as husband Percy Bysshe Shelley. (Plus, Jack McBrayer as Lord Byron!)
“I’ve always wanted to something with people around a campfire; that’s how stories were told through history,” says Waters, who directed the episode. “There was something meta in telling this story about someone telling a story, and having that reenacted. Having three things happening at once — I just thought that was really going to be fun.”
Brace for literal shocks among other surprises. “You don’t automatically associate something so terrifying and gory with a female, so that was really cool to me,” says Evan Rachel Wood. “It’s an off-the-wall story I had no idea happened. And Mary Shelley is a total badass.” Adds Rogen: “One wouldn’t assume one of the most resonant novels was conceived of on a hallucinogenic getaway. But, I dunno, I’ve had a few hallucinogenic getaways that have yielded some pretty strong ideas.”
Filming these reenactments is also trippy. “It’s highly technical and it requires a lot of timing, and they do really long takes,” says Rogen, who uses the words “brilliant” and “innovative” to describe the concept of the show. “The drunker the narrator, the harder it is, because you’re mouthing along with incoherent slurs and turns of phrase that make no sense.” Offers the Westworld star: “It’s like extreme dub-smashing — with a set and other actors. It’s an amazing acting exercise.” And monster laughs lie in the overserved absurd. “The most amusing thing is when an actor says the most ridiculous lines in the most sincere way,” says Waters, “as if they’re acting out a Shakespeare play.” As we like it.