Drunk History: TV Review

You haven’t had this much silly fun over a simple idea in a long time.

Derek Waters' web series, where celebrities act out a drunk narrator's retelling of historical events, makes its Comedy Central debut on Tuesday.

The web series Drunk History has been around for roughly six years now, delighting people who know when a truly great idea has been executed to near perfection. In this instance, it was really hard to go wrong: Get someone drunk -- no, really drunk -- and have them recount a moment in history. Something very big -- an event that’s probably quite familiar in the history books. Next, film said drunk person reciting this history as best he or she can remember. And then have celebrities act out the roles, complete with slurring voices, weird detours and hysterical visual emphasis on the words you’re hearing.

No doubt Derek Waters (co-creator, host) and Jeremy Konner (co-creator, director) knew all too well that done right this bit of absurd theater would appeal to the kind of person who delights in bacchanalian excess and ridiculous humor.

They were right. And after a lengthy stint on Funny or Die, Drunk History is now a full-blown show on Comedy Central, premiering Tuesday at 10 p.m. Jamming in several sketches not only proves that Drunk History appeals to pretty much every funny actor in Hollywood, but that the material is limitless. Comedy Central has signed on for eight episodes in this first season and right out of the gate, the show looks to be a success.

The first show centers on a trio of sketches looking at Washington D.C. First up, drunk narrator Matt Gourley (most of the inebriated storytellers won’t be immediately recognizable, but the A-list talent acting out their stories sure are). In any case, Gourley starts talking about Watergate. He’s been drinking for a very long time that day (pretty much the modus operandi of the show).

The first sketch gives us Nathan Fielder as Bob Woodward, Fred Willard as Deep Throat, Jack McBrayer as H.R. Haldeman and Bob Odenkirk as President Nixon. As Gourley is telling the story, slurs and asides in abundance, Willard proves to be a pro at nailing all these details. 

And when Gourley feels sick and vomits -- yes, he really does -- the portrayal of that in the fictional meeting between Woodward and Deep Throat is a lovely little touch. Lovely as in comically ridiculous. The beauty of the show, if you haven’t seen the online versions yet, is that the actors can truly mimic the vocal intonations of the drunk storyteller. Odenkirk as Nixon is something special, as you might guess.

The second sketch features John Wilkes Booth (Adam Scott, who looks like he was born to do this) and Edwin Booth (Will Forte), battling brothers whose competition -- and John Wilkes’ losing end of it -- results in J.W. Booth deciding to be a radical and shoot Abraham Lincoln (played hilariously, albeit briefly, by Stephen Merchant).

The final sketch sees Jack Black as Elvis Presley meeting Richard Nixon (Odenkirk, again) along with Foo Fighters singer Dave Grohl as one of Presley’s Mafia buddies.

Now, this is the kind of nonsense that someone like Black can really excel at, but there are countless little moments in these drunk vignettes when other actors end up stealing a scene (or at least that quick moment), because they completely nail the slurred speech or just improvise. When a drunk narrator apologizes to the crew for messing up the story, or when said drunk narrator laughs in the wrong scene or breaks out of the narrator role to just talk, this leaves the actors having to go along with it.

Again, you haven’t had this much silly fun over a simple idea in a long time. Comedy Central has been able to take a can’t-miss idea and move it from short online sketches to a series of sketches that fill a half hour of television with a unified theme and increased production value, while bringing the brilliant idea to a wider audience.

You don’t have to be drunk to watch Drunk History, but it certainly helps if you know how drunk people act when they are trying to keep it together. And sure, maybe a glass of something special on your end can’t hurt, either.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine