Drunk History is such a simple concept, but it’s a lot harder to put together an episode than you might think. As co-creator Derek Waters explains, the show’s narrators have to get drunk enough where they’re no longer actively trying to be funny, but not so drunk that they can’t tell a story at all. Factor in the sheer amount of stories told each season, and a desire to avoid anything too dark or disturbing, and the show’s working with a lot of restrictions. We recently talked to Waters about the third season of Drunk History, airing right now on Comedy Central every Tuesday night.
Paste: What can we expect from the new season?
Derek Waters: The new season will have new guest stars. I’m really excited about the people that we have, like Octavia Spencer, Parker Posey, Will Ferrell, Sam Rockwell, Dennis Quaid. Jenny Slate comes back as a narrator, and she’s one of my all-time favorites. Jen Kirkman comes back. We refer to her as the queen of Drunk History. She has a sneezing attack for about ten minutes that Jason Alexander will reenact, and that’s pretty cool. I always wanted the show to feel a little bit like community theater, like in the way that their hearts are in the right place. It’s not really that great, but they’re trying really hard. So there are things like where actors are playing clouds, or the universe, or a wolf in an episode. Fun stuff like that.
I learned how to wrestle. I’m excited for people to see me wrestle.
Paste: Are you doing a whole wrestling episode?
DW: You know how in between the stories I’ll do some kind of activity? I went to this wrestling school in New Jersey, and learned how to wrestle. Or I should say just got the shit beat out of me.
Paste: Historically if you go to a wrestling school and they don’t think you’re serious they’ll just break your leg on the first day to drive you away from the business. Did anybody try to break your legs?
DW: No-one tried to break my legs, which I’m really proud of. But I did get bodyslammed and two days later my appendix needed to be removed. I don’t know if that counts.
Paste: I hope you’re feeling better.
DW: I feel great. I didn’t need that thing.
Paste: When it comes to people like Octavia Spencer or Dennis Quaid, do they come to you, asking to be a part of the show, or do you reach out to them?
DW: I had heard that Dennis Quaid liked the show, but a lot of people say a lot of things. Whenever you hear something like that, it’s cool to hear, but you also want to think what would be the best thing to give them, and not to be like ‘they can play whatever.’ Give them something that’s great. So he’s in the Bugsy Siegel story, playing Lucky Luciano, which I thought was a pretty damn good role for him.
Octavia Spencer, I never heard that she knew of the show. We were just doing a story about Harriet Tubman, and just thought who we would cast in a Tubman movie. She was the first person to come to mind. We got really lucky when she said yes.
Paste: When it comes to the storytellers, the drinkers, do they pick their own events that they talk about, or do you try to match them up to things that would make sense for them to talk about?
DW: Most of them are my friends. If they’re not my friends I’ve met them and gotten to know what type of stories they like. We have 39 stories that we have to do to fit into each episode, they can’t just be a random thing, so I’ll send the narrators three or four choices of stories that we’re doing this season that I think they’ll like, and then tell them to pick one that most excites them, that they want to talk about. And if none of them do that for them I’ll send them more. Nothing’s worse than somebody getting drunk and talking about something they don’t want to talk about. I’ve never thought about that. I don’t think there’s ever been one person in the world, drunk, talking about something they don’t want to talk about.
Paste: Do you ever worry about your friends just getting too drunk when you’re shooting?
DW: Not my friends. They’ll be fine. (Laughs) No, it’s happened in the past where people have gotten too drunk, but I’ve somehow learned how to gauge the levels of how drunk someone is and how long they’re going to be okay to be telling the story. And I never want to get anybody blind drunk, laying on the ground, being sick. It’s just how someone can be in a state where they’re not trying to be funny, where they’re just trying to tell history, and it’s not boring.
Paste: Any historical events you’re saving for a special occasion, or for a specific person to talk about?
DW: Yeah, I just don’t want to give it away.
Paste: So obviously a lot of horrible things have happened in history over the years.
DW: Is that right?
Paste: There’s been some bad times. Right?
DW: Some. Not a lot, Garrett. Everything’s pretty fine. (Laughs)
Paste: Is there anything you thought about doing and then thought about it and decided you shouldn’t touch it?
DW: I like comedy so I’m a fan of dark, but I’m not a fan of sad or any kind of story where you’re like ‘why did I need to know that?’ I’m a fan of stories where you’re like ‘oh my God I never knew that, I’m glad I know that now!’ Instead of a story where somebody’s just a shitty person. I don’t want to ignore shitty things, but what’s the point? I want to find the stories that make you go like ‘yeah! That’s inspiring!’ You know? It’s not like I want to avoid it because I don’t think it’ll be funny, I just don’t think there’s a point to telling some stories. For this show.
Paste: Who would be your dream guest?
DW: My dream guest would be Eddie Vedder.
Paste: He’s done some comedy before.
DW: He was in Portlandia. I just love him and think it would be so cool to see him as a reenactor. And also Dustin Hoffman, because he’s Dustin Hoffman.
Paste: How long do you see the show going?
DW: The show or my liver?
Paste: What’ll give out first?
DW: I think history will win.
There’ll always be history, so I humbly think the show could go on forever. But also, with things that are good, you don’t want them to get old. The goal is to keep finding new jokes and finding more stories that make you wonder why you weren’t taught that in school.
Drunk History airs on Tuesday at 10:30 PM ET on Comedy Central.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections.