Unless you live in Bumblefuck, Nowhere, you couldn't have gone through 2007 without being asked, "Did you see that Drunk History video?" Directed by Jeremy Konner and starring Michael Cera, the show's co-creator Derek Waters, and a then-relatively unknown Jake Johnson (New Girl), the video, titled "Drunk History Vol. 1," told the story of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton's rivalry. But it didn't go viral because the story was that damn riveting—it went viral because the storyteller was wasted off his ass.
Seeing the response to the first video, which has gotten over six million views and counting, Waters and Konner, with the backing of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's Gary Sanchez Productions filmed several more, including a Christmas special starring King of the Internet, Ryan Gosling. The success of the series led its creators to contemplate expanding it into a full-fledged television show. Despite some initial reluctance, like how the hell they'd turn a solid five minutes into a compelling 30-minute episode, Waters and Konner eventually took their idea to Comedy Central, where it's now set to premiere on the network tomorrow at 10 p.m.
Complex got the chance to speak to Derek Waters and Jeremy Konner about how they got the idea for the show, whether or not you can get by in history class watching an episode of the series, and the drunken shenanigans that ensue during filming.
As told to Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
On the origin of Drunk History:
Derek Waters: The idea came from being with a friend, Jake Johnson, who was telling me a story about the great Otis Redding, who passed away. He was trying to convince me that Otis Redding knew he was going to die in a plane crash before he got on it. The story was so fucking confusing but he was so passionate about it, and I really like passionate people who have trouble explaining what they're passionate about. I thought people get drunk and talk about music all the time, but I bet people don’t get drunk and talk about historical moments. I thought I could make something that tends to be boring more interesting.
Jeremy Konner: Derek said, "What if we shoot drunk people and we reenact it?" because Jake had told him that story, and I thought, "That is fucking hilarious, let’s do it!" We really didn't have any expectations going into it. We went over to our friend Mark Gagliardi’s house. We weren't even expecting him to talk about Alexander Hamilton, but we sat down with him, he had had a few drinks, and he talked for about three hours. It consisted entirely of rants about meritocracy.
At first, we sat there trying to figure out what he was talking about, but we guessed Alexander Hamilton was all about meritocracy. Then, he literally went over to the couch, closed his eyes, and told this story about the duel and it was incredible! It was the most riveting tale and we were laughing hysterically. We got out of there and said, "This is funny. This is real funny."
On the accuracy of the storytelling:
Waters: They’re all accurate. They’re all stories that we’ve researched and if there are false statements in there, we make it obvious that they're false. And the people who tell the stories are all good friends who have some knowledge on the topic and I tell them when we're coming over.
We like to keep our filming as real and true to our style of comedy as possible, too. There is an Alamo story in our season finale, and there are no special effects. It’s just us with guns chasing each other around. It feels like we're still making movies in the backyard with our friends, it’s just that now more people can see it. I don’t think that world should ever change. Like, Michael Cera is wearing Vans playing Alexander Hamilton on a YouTube video. In the Boston episode, right before Winona Ryder gets hung in the 1800s, a car drives by. I never want to delete that stuff because I don't want it to be taken too seriously.
On bringing the series to Comedy Central:
Waters: I approached the network. For a little while, Drunk History had been something that people were saying I should turn into a TV show, but there really wasn’t one there. I’m a comedy snob and I never want anything that I do to get old. I thought, "Yeah, it’s a five-minute idea. How are you going to make that last?" I spent a long time of figuring it out with Jeremy. We came up with ways to broaden it to make it more like a sort of travel show. Actually, I shouldn’t say that, it isn’t a travel show, but we do go to different locations in each episode. Also, we've broadened our scope of history into everything from stories about Lincoln to Patty Hearst. We pitched that to Comedy Central, who ended up being really great and kept it to how we wanted it.
Konner: I have the same fear about it getting old, but I am very optimistic because we're working very hard to find incredible stories. We find stories within stories you already know, like the Watergate scandal. Like, did you know the deputy director of the FBI was actually Deep Throat?
On the episode Konner is most excited for:
Konner: Detroit is my favorite right now. The first story is about the Kellogg brothers and the feud over who invented the cereal and who got the money. Owen Wilson stars, and it’s just incredible. The next one is the story of Ralph Nader taking down GM. I think he’s done so many good things, but all that's ever talked about is how he fucked up the election. He’s the reason why there are seat-belts in cars and he’s the reason why there’s OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration), the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the Safe Water Drinking Act, and the Freedom of Information Act. We dove into that with Jason Schwartzman.
I used to do magic as a kid, which is really embarrassing, so for the last one, it’s the story of Harry Houdini and his relationship with Sir Arthur Cohen Doyle. That's with Alfred Molina. Everyone in that episode is mind blowing!
On how Waters and Konner started working together:
Konner: Derek and I started working together many years ago. We were friends and then I was editing a TV pilot for HBO that Bob Odenkirk directed called Derek and Simon, starring Eric Watt and Simon Helberg. Simon is how I met Derek. He's on that show The Big Bang Theory and I went to high school with him. Derek and I started making shorts together for his live show, LOL, at the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre on Saturday nights. There, he would show films and we would make some for that show, and one day, we ended up making Drunk History.
Waters: Jeremy was friends with Simon, and Simon and I were in a sketch group together. I remember one of the shorts Jeremy and I made was about having a Charlie McCarthy doll that came to life. There were also ones that I can’t talk about because they were too weird. [Laughs.] But yeah, we were never really trying to sell anything, not making things more than for fun, and we ended up with this thing.
On getting celebrities to participate on the show:
Waters: Michael Cera and most of the ones we used in the shorts on YouTube or Funny or Die are friends. But now, with the bigger show, it varies from people I know to people who just had interest in Drunk History. We just offered them the part and they wanted to take it.
On drunken shenanigans during filming:
Waters: Things have never gone wrong in the sense that I could never speak to the person again because of it. Things have gone wrong in the sense that we couldn't use the footage. [Laughs.]
Konner: One of the fun things about drunk people is that they are unpredictable. We have that throughout the season, where people just go completely nuts. When we brought back Mark Gagliardi, half-way though one of his stories, he ended up lying on the ground. I don’t know what he did or if he was allergic to something, but he just started sneezing. He didn’t even look up. He just sneezed for five minutes trying to tell the story as he was sneezing. It makes for some really funny reenactments.
On their favorite historical moment of all time:
Waters: There are too many choices! I'll just say the first time I listened to Pearl Jam.
Konner: The invention of Indian gaming and the Foxwood’s Resort Casino. It's a good story if you ever get a chance to read it. It has a whole Boogie Nights, Goodfellas vibe.