Derek Waters has made a career out of being a damn good drinking buddy.
The filmmaker, who, with Jeremy Konner, created Comedy Central’s wildly popular Drunk History series, has spent the past five years embodying TV’s version of “the kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with” by hosting a show that asks comedians to recount an event in history entirely sh*t-faced and high-profile actors to then reenact and lip-sync those inebriated re-tellings.
It sounds like a pretty fun job, a dream job even, and it is for Waters. He filmed the first episode of the show, which started as a Funny or Die web series, in his backyard with pals Michael Cera and Jake Johnson. He gets to have a glass of bourbon – his go-to drink – with his professionally funny friends, and share incredibly fascinating stories with them. Really, not a bad day’s work.
But while getting celebrities drunk on TV is the hook to bring in viewers, it’s the highly refined, subversive storytelling Waters and his crew are doing that’s truly inventive.
Of course, you probably didn’t come here for that. You came to hear which comedian is the most fun to have a beer with or who can hold their liquor best. I get it. Waters does too.
We chatted with the guy about a little of both – his tricks for recognizing specific “stages of drunk” and how he took the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade and made it funny; the worst cocktail he’s ever had courtesy of Dan Harmon, and how the Trump presidency is just a reminder of why our history is so important.
In keeping with the theme of the show, I have to ask, have you had any drinks before this interview?
You know, when God decided to have my mom and dad have a kid, He said, “I want people to think he’s stoned and drunk for the rest of his life.” When I was young, I sounded like my mom. I remember praying to God for a deeper voice. I just didn’t know he was going to go this deep.
At this point, how much of your life is lived intoxicated?
This season took 63 weeks to make. I would say three months of that is drinking. Not every day, but that’s when we do the narrations. They take about three months. I scope out the schedule where it’ll be three [narrations] in a row.
You gotta give your body time to recuperate.
I know. My body’s been very nice to me.
The show’s made a point of highlighting history we don’t know, does that continue this season?
Definitely. Since the beginning, the main goal has been, what are stories that make me go “Why weren’t we taught that in school?” Those are things that get me really excited, and this season it was still that goal of finding stories like that. However, we also did really fun stuff. It’s been five seasons so we let the show expand. Let it have fun and break rules. The premise stays the same, but I wanted to do a drunk, unsolved, mysteries parody, and so we did an episode called “Drunk Mystery” and all three stories are about mysteries, which I really love.
I feel like this could be a spin-off.
I can’t say that without sounding like a dick, but I would do “Drunk Mystery” every day. That’s all I want to do, is do a show where you can do those really bad reenactments. Like that show, Snapped.
How do you go about pairing the narrator with the story, because I look at some of these comedians thinking, “Not all of them look like they’d be history buffs.”
Yeah I love that it feels like that, because these comedians are people that I love, and that I’ve talked to about what types of stories that are very important to them. Now, I already know what stories we’re going to do, I’ll send them two or three with the same type of tone [as what they’re interested in] and then they can choose. But then on the flip-side it’s like Questlove, and wanting to do the birth of hip-hop. That’s a no-brainer.
I humbly say “There’s nothing that happens in the show that hasn’t been thought out.” It’s not like “Oh, I think Tiffany Haddish would be funny doing that, because she’d be funny at saying anything,” which is true. She’d be funny saying anything, but when we pitched her [a heroine story for the season premiere] she really liked it, and got obsessed with trying to find more information. That’s what I love; these people aren’t just trying to be on TV. They really do love history.