Inside Drunk History's hilarious drunken origins with Jack Black and Michael Cera
Earlier this month, a brilliant cast including Evan Rachel Wood, Seth Rogen, Jack McBrayer, Colin Hanks, Lyric Lewis, Martin Starr, and others celebrated Drunk History‘s Emmy nominations by putting together their very first live reading at The Montalbán.
The vivacious affair was even more momentous because it celebrated the show’s first story-within-a-story episode. Without spoiling what is sure to be a treat, the episode in question “Are You Afraid of the Drunk?” revolves around famed writer Mary Shelley and the events leading to Frankenstein’s creation.
Creators Derek Waters and Jeremy Konner couldn’t have been more excited by the opportunity to host the live reading (particularly with Evan Rachel Wood’s remarkable performance) and were happy to talk to us about how proud they are of the Drunk History series on Comedy Central. The show recently received Emmy nominations for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series, and Outstanding Picture Editing for Variety Programming.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, how did you guys come up with the idea for Drunk History?
DEREK WATERS: I was with a friend named Jake Johnson. He’s from New Girl and a lot of other things. And Jake and I had been drinking and the great Otis Redding came up and we were talking about Otis. And Jake was trying to convince me that Otis knew he was going to die in a plane that unfortunately crashed, and he was telling me the story like, “Otis looked at his wife and he was like, ‘Take care of yourself, baby.’ And she’s like, ‘I will Otis, you take care'” — he was doing their voices and saying like, “‘Otis has gotta go,’ she’s like, ‘I’ll see you when you get back.’ ‘No, Otis has got to go.'” And I was just like, picturing Otis Redding behind my friend, just like looking at me, shaking his head like, “This never happened.” And I thought, well, that would be fun to reenact, but what if it did happen? What’s something that you can prove did or didn’t happen? And so I thought history would be really fun — like a Drunk History Channel was the original idea.
JEREMY KONNER: It was 2007 now. I want to die when I say that. Derek had a live show at UCB. And it was just a one-off, funny thing that we decided to do for his midnight show. He was like, “Let’s get a friend drunk and film it and re-enact what they say,” and we recorded Mark Gagliardi and I never could have imagined it would have been as funny as it was. And at the time, we filmed it with Michael Cera. When we filmed it, Superbad hadn’t come out yet. And then when we put it up, it was the No. 1 thing on YouTube — back when it had a homepage. We were the No. 1 video that came out and it was like … it immediately became a thing. And then we started doing it at Comedy Central. And now, it is our year at the Emmys.
When did you guys figure out this could be an actual thing and not just a one-off?
WATERS: I [initially] said no. It happened a lot because we started in 2007 and I was like, “How is it going to work?” It’s a drunk person and then someone’s moving their lips, like it’s gonna get old. But then I thought if it’s [based off of] things where each story is about a city or a different type of world, then there’s a through-line and it should be stories that you’re like, “I didn’t know this happened” to give it a little more texture. That’s how it came [to be], but I can’t believe it. Six seasons!
KONNER: I was working for Jack Black at the time. I was his assistant. And we made the thing and it had a huge reaction. And we never in a million years would have thought we were doing a series of these. But then he saw it and he was like, “Dude … I want to do one of those.” So, all of a sudden, we were tasked with this mission to find Jack Black a story for him to re-enact. And we found a friend of ours who is obsessed with Benjamin Franklin. We were like, “Oh, this is good. This will be perfect for Jack.” That was the thing that changed the trajectory of our show.
What was your reaction when you guys scored your first Emmy nomination?
WATERS: I thought they were joking and I couldn’t believe it because it’s not like I don’t love this thing more than anything, but I don’t think about like, “We’ve got to do an episode that’s gonna make us win an award!” I’m just like, “I want to tell good stories and re-enact them and tell them the best [way] we can.” But getting nominated is just like, wow, it’s a sign that people are enjoying this. And whether we win or not, it’s just nice that people are going “keep going.” That feels good.
What is your favorite episode?
WATERS: My all-time favorite is Claudette Colvin, who did what Rosa Parks did a year before. Who was 14-years-old and stood up for herself. And I wanted to make that story not like, “Oh, forget Rosa Parks.” It’s like, “No, it’s God bless Rosa Parks, but let’s also remember where it came from. You know, this heart of this little girl and I don’t know, that gives me shivers of just like, “We’re gonna be able to tell this story like on this show?”
KONNER: Well this is, I would say, our most special episode. We really hadn’t ever done anything quite like this. Evan Rachel Wood is a phenom. Is that a word?
KONNER: We also just love this story because we get to play with a story within a story. It’s like a drunk history within a drunk history. There are the most brilliant minds in the world getting drunk and telling stories. And then we get to also play with fiction. Which we’ve never been able to do.
And for my last question, are you able to tease any ideas for any future Drunk History episodes?
WATERS: Nothing specific, but I think just the stories that make me go, “Why weren’t we taught that in school?” Those are the ones I always search for.
KONNER: Are you kidding me? [Laughs] I have a billion I want to talk about! But all [I] can say is we’re trying to one-up ourselves. Trying to change it up even more, trying to do something — things we’d never done before. And be inventive.