On Friday, ATX Television Festival audiences were treated to a sneak peak of the new season of Comedy Central’s "Drunk History," accompanied by an, ahem, spirited conversation with show creator Derek Waters, and actors Jack McBrayer and Steve Berg. Here are a few things we learned about the best intoxicated educational show on television.
Expect to see some familiar faces in the upcoming season. The show’s fifth season starts on June 19 and Waters said there will be more genre parody episodes like last season’s "Drunk Mystery" episode this go round. Topics will include a segment on John Lennon and Yoko Ono and a segment about John Muir, the father of the National Park System. Guest stars for season five include Jack Black, Seth Rogen and Weird Al Yankovic.
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The speech might be slurred, but the stories are accurate. The show’s producers and researchers carefully vet the historical material that makes it into each episode and all of the stories are drawn from at least two or three sources. Each narrator is sent a packet of materials to study ahead of time, and sometimes they do their own additional research.
Since the show moved to TV, no one has vomited on set. The narrators do several takes of each story, first sober, then after a few drinks, then quite intoxicated, but they are carefully monitored. There’s a medic on set and they take breathalyzer tests as they go along. Waters also gives his narrators an electrolyte solution to drink along the way. (Back in the show’s webisode days, there was the occasional upchuck)
(l to r) Jack Brayer, Steve Berg and Derek Waters on the 'Drunk History' panel at ATX Television Festival. Courtesy of ATX Television Festival.
They don’t have a big budget and they don’t really want one. The narrations are shot and edited first, then each reenactment is shot in a single day. The actors are given an iPad with the narrators telling the story that they study to learn their parts. "It’s easy and fun and silly, like being a kid," said Brayer, who once portrayed Abraham Lincoln on the show.
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They embrace the low budget aesthetic, using models and dummies liberally. "I don't think the show would be good with a lot of money," Waters said. "If it doesn't look homemade and a little off it would be just a history show."
Waters’ dream guest is documentarian Ken Burns. "Secretly it’s a history show," Waters said. "Drinking is the only reason it's on a comedy network. I would like Ken Burns to get drunk with me."
The perfect "Drunk History" intoxicant is bourbon. According to Waters, wine makes you sleepy, beer makes you whine about your lost loves. "Bourbon does what the show needs, which is making you think you're smarter than everyone else," he said.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to add information about the show’s early days.