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Series / Drunk History

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WARNING: The stories you are about to hear are 100% true.
The storytellers, however, are completely drunk.

Tonight on Drunk History...

Series creator Derek Waters finds comedians, gets them really shitfaced, and has them narrate historical events to the best of their abilities. Their narration is acted out, with the actors lip-synching all the dialogue, including mild slip-ups. The recreation is sometimes interrupted when the narrator needs to remember what they were saying, or puke, or lie on the ground.

Drunk History (2013-2019) started as a web series, then was picked up by Comedy Central in 2013. The Comedy Central episodes are typically three shorts long, with initial episodes taking place in a different city and the stories related to that city's history. Later-day episodes tend to be based around a common theme between the shorts apart from the geographic location.

Comedy Central's page for the show can be found here. Drunk History UK, an officially approved Foreign Remake (insofar as it features British comedians both drunkenly recounting and acting out British history), began airing on the UK and Ireland's Comedy Central in 2015, narrated by stand-up comedian and television host Jimmy Carr. The original series also aired in the UK as Drunk History USA. And yes, there are British viewers who thought the UK version was made first.

Drunk History provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Colin Hanks plays astronaut Gordon Cooper, who encounters a massive malfunction in his spacecraft and miraculously survives. Colin's father is Tom Hanks, who went through the same thing in Apollo 13.
  • Alcohol Hic: Happens from time to time with some of the narrators.
    • In the "Las Vegas" episode, the narrator, Paul F. Thomkins, gets a prolonged attack of hiccups in the middle of recounting a hypothetical conversation between Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra at the Moulin Rouge (the first attempt at a racially integrated Las Vegas casino). The re-enactment shows Sinatra getting the hiccups while Grant watches with increasing concern.
    • In the "Great Escapes" episode, narrator, Steve Berg, gets a case of the hiccups midway through his story, which, amusingly enough, he cures by taking another sip of beer.
    • In the episode about Chicago's Murderess's Row, Jane Levy hiccups after a few minutes while she and Mae Whitman cuddle each other.
  • Anachronism Stew: Almost inevitable given some of the actors get so drunk they don't know what year they are in, much less what year the story is set in. For example, the telling of the Robin Hood legend on Drunk History UK relates how Robin Hood gets back to his house only to find he's been evicted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, with 'all his...electronics...outside', with a shot of an 11th Century PlayStation on the grass outside.
  • Antagonist in Mourning: Despite killing him in their duel and ruining his political career in the process, Burr visits Hamilton's grave and lays a bouquet on it.
  • Artistic License History: The Show, helped by heapings of liquor.
  • As Himself: For a brief gag in the James Callender story, Taran Killam suggests that recurring Drunk History player Jack McBrayer was one of the suspects who killed Callender. Of course, McBrayer appears onscreen and lip-synchs to Ryan Gaul's impression of him.
  • Aside Glance: The actors will often look directly to the camera with a confused or WTF look on their face when an especially ridiculous thing is said by the narrators, or when their pet dog starts barking.
  • The Atoner: Mae Whitman recounts that Maurine Dallas Watkins felt incredibly guilty for getting two murderesses acquitted. She started working to campaign for women on juries and wrote Chicago about her experiences. Funnily enough, one of the murderesses attended the play.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Drunk people are easily distracted. Self-interruptions are often acted out in the recreation. Tommy Blacha once sounded like he was recounting Ralph Nader getting framed for salaciousness until the camera revealed he was talking to his own dog.
    Tommy Blacha: And then they got these weird, salacious, Barbara Eden types to approach [Ralph Nader] at the supermarket, y'know, "Say, Mister, wanna go for a ride? Y'wanna go for a ride in the car?" *cuts to the dog* We can go in the car. All around the neighbourhood.
  • Bathos: The main comedic conceit of the show, and a natural result of dramatic events narrated by the totes inebriated. Often created by talented players seriously acting the shit out of the stupid dialogue.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Most drunken interruptions are the narrator addressing the crew, and often the actor will deliver the line, then look confused at the words that just came out of their mouth.
  • Buffy Speak: Because it's hard to recite 19th-century dialogue when you're super drunk. Or even 20th-century dialogue.
    Harry Houdini, pretending to be a spiritualist: "Oh, so your uncle who had a mustache," or, "You're so-and-so who had this and that, whatever," those people [that he defrauded] would be like, *gasp*, "He knows exactly what I'm talking about."
  • Captain Obvious: Kyle Kinane would like you to know that Siberia is a real place.
  • Christmas Episode:
    • The Christmas episode is a recital of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas by Allan McLeod with half a bottle of whiskey in him.
    • The TV series had one in 2017 featuring Washington crossing the Delaware, the Roosevelt kids causing the ban on Christmas trees to be lifted, and the publishing of A Christmas Carol.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Rich Fulcher is by far the most unhinged person to ever appear on the show, channeling his drunkenness into screamed gibberish and complete left turns in conversation, rather than giggling and falling out of his chair.
    Rich Fulcher: [Chessmaster Bobby] Fischer was huge, and he became a Cold War hero, and he felt like... [guttural noises] Tell me more, you sucking pig! Suck!! SUCK!!! [spits drink back into glass] ... That's it.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: If they can't even formulate Buffy Speak, just substitute "fuck" and "shit". Every other word out of Crissle West's mouth as she tells the story of Harriet Tubman's spy career is bleeped out.
  • Colorblind Casting:
    • It avoids the Race Lift trope for the subjects of the current story, but everyone else is fair game. It's a Running Joke that Adolf Hitler is always played by somebody he'd be offended by for racial reasons.
    • Carrying forward the Colorblind Casting from Hamilton, the role of Hamilton for his eponymous episode was played by Alia Shawkat, who is of Iraqi descent, and Aaron Burr is played by Puerto Rican Aubrey Plaza.
  • *Cough* Snark *Cough*: While talking about Al Capone's medical history in the Chicago episode:
    Narrator: *cough*Syphilis*cough*
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: In the Buster Keaton story, the creation of film studio United Artists is covered by having Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D. W. Griffith having a conversation about what films they could make on their own. Then Griffith — fresh off of the insanely racist The Birth of a Nation — suggests that along with comedies, they could also make great films about the KKK and white supremacy. The others on the couch stare at Griffith, each other, then walk out, while Griffith keeps rambling. (Griffith was, in reality, eventually fired for being an unprofitable filmmaker.)
  • Dramatic Thunder: Dramatic thunder and lightning accompany the mixing of the first batch of Coca-Cola in the Atlanta episode.
  • Edutainment Show: The show does take its historical lessons fairly seriously, although there are occasional liberties.
  • Establishing Series Moment: From the original short, which concerns Mark Gagliardi recounting Alexander Hamilton's duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton proceeds to confront Burr near the start of the story... only when he approaches him, he finds himself unable to talk as Mark Gagliardi pauses the story to lie down on the couch, asking Derek Waters for a bucket.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: At the end of the story of Edgar Allan Poe's feud with Rufus F**kin' Griswold, the storyteller gets to Griswold Dying Alone with Poe's picture hanging there, still played by the actor...
    "...watching him, like, 'Look at you, man. Where are you now? Look at Griswold, all you people out there. I don't care what you do. What'd you do? Guess what? No one's gonna remember it. Your, your silly attempt to disguise a *bleep* history show, and, like, people getting drunk. It's failure. No one cares. No one's buying it, man. Forget it. We're all getting sucked into the void.'" [Poe walks offset past the sound crew]
  • Funny Background Event: In the Boston episode, as a resident is waxing poetic in a thick Bostonian accent about how significant the city is to American history and culture, a fight breaks out in the background. He looks briefly, laughs, and continues.
  • Fun with Subtitles: If the narrator says something funny while setting the time and place of the action, like "Siberia (which is a real place, by the way)" or "It's, like, two or three in the morning", this will often be echoed by the on-screen dateline caption. Likewise with the arrival in a story of someone like "F***in' President Lincoln". A narrator's slurred speech is also given a subtitle card, like "The Lakotah Indrians".
  • Halloween Episode: The TV series had one that covered the Salem Witch Trials and a supposed resulting curse, the establishment of modern Halloween as a harmless party holiday (as opposed to reckless vandalism), and Vlad the Impaler.
  • Historical Gender Flip: Alia Shawkat as Alexander Hamilton and Aubrey Plaza as Aaron Burr in the Hamilton episode, although both characters are still depicted as male.
  • The Hyena: Both times that Crissle West was on to narrate her stories, she would inevitably break into raucous cackling, causing Derek to laugh along with her and comment that she has the best laugh he'd ever heard.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: As the opening title, the actor credits, and the increasing amount of screen time before the stories start will remind you, this is Derek Waters' show.
  • Incoming Ham:
    Crissle West: I got a good fifteen minutes left in me before the liquor takes over and God only knows what I'll say.
  • Large Ham:
    • Laura Steinel flails about and nearly drops a lamp on herself during her narration on NASA astronaut Gordon Cooper.
    • You can clearly tell the actors are having a blast while filming the historic scenes.
  • Money to Burn: Al Capone is depicted doing this in the Chicago episode.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Maurine Dallas Watkins has this response when her fluffy sensational journalism led to two definitely-guilty murderesses getting acquitted and an innocent woman being convicted. (The show gets it wrong about the said woman being executed; a woman defense lawyer took the convicted one's case and got the charges dismissed.)
  • Period Piece, Modern Language: Contemporary actors and comedians get shitfaced and narrate historical events. These narrations are then acted and filmed in full historical regalia with the actors lipsyncing to the humorous drunken monologues.
  • Politically Correct History:
    • Averted. Narrators don't shy away from discussing the darker parts of their stories. Many of them recount these terrible truths in a matter-of-fact manner, simply because they're true.
    • After Amber Ruffin concludes a story on Carrie A. Nation, who helped to spearhead women's suffrage, Derek trolls, "I've always been able to vote." Amber laughs and replies, "I'm black. I haven't been able to vote twice."
  • Quote Mine: Mostly done out of necessity, as rambling clips from late in the recording are inserted to fill the gaps in the narrative. Also Played for Laughs in some cases, such as when BJ Porter's comments about being dizzy and disoriented are used to showcase William Jennings Bryan's sudden embarrassment during the Scopes Monkey Trial.
  • Running Gag: Any story narrated by Mark Gagliardi will eventually have Mark lying down on the ground while he tells it. Even when he challenges himself to stay seated.
  • The Schlub Pub Seduction Deduction: In the story of Ralph Nader vs the automobile industry, the industry tries to discredit him by sending some attractive women to lure him into a compromising situation. Perhaps because it's based on a true story, he does immediately realize there's something suspicious going on when his nerdy self suddenly attracts such attention.
  • Shaped Like Itself:
    • The story of the Hearst kidnapping includes the detail that Patty Hearst's captors "put her in this closet that's, like, the size of a closet".
    • Porter Wagoner hires Dolly Parton to be the girl singer on his show because "[she's] a girl."
  • Similar to the Show: The US show is sponsored by Kentucky Fried Chicken, so a segment was filmed for commercial breaks about the history of Colonel Sanders.
  • Single Tear: Aaron Burr sheds one at Hamilton's grave.
  • The Stinger: Every episode has one, either showing bloopers from the re-enactments, or additional reactions from the narrators.
    Kyle Kinane: Puking on Drunk History is like crying on Barbara Walters.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Frequently when the narrators try to wax philosophical while drunk.
  • String Theory:
    • The FBI agent's office in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Theft segment of the Boston episode.
    • Ralph Nader's office in the story of Nader's investigation into automobile safety.
  • Stylistic Suck:
    • Since the dialogue is "written" extemporaneously by someone three sheets to the wind, it sucks. But it's on purpose so it's ok.
    • Played for Laughs with set pieces as well. In an episode about an Old West shootout, a scene involving a horse getting shot is played out using a giant stuffed horse; in another about an arsonist, model houses are shown being torched — with a hand holding a lighter in the frame. The scene of Kris Kristophersson landing his helicopter on Johnny Cash's lawn uses a Forced Perspective shot of a toy helicopter being lowered to the grass in front of the house.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Before his duel with Burr, Hamilton wrote several letters proclaiming his intention to throw his duel with Burr, further disgracing Burr when they are released after he killed Hamilton in the duel.
  • The Unpronounceable: A lot of mileage is got out of the fact that the narrator can't pronounce the name of an institute that investigates supernatural phenomena in the retelling of the Cottingdale Fairies story on Drunk History UK. Even more mileage is had by getting the actor to patiently wait each time for the narrator's efforts, looking a bit frustrated/bored.
  • Verbal Backspace: Narrators will often realize they got something wrong and correct it, while the re-enactment plays out both versions one after the other. For instance, the story of Alexander Graham Bell and the invention of the telephone has a moment where Bell's accomplice calls Bell (accomplice picks up a mobile phone) — no, wait, the phone hasn't been invented yet (accomplice swaps phone for a telegraph machine). Sometimes, if a subtitle is involved in the verbal backspace, the subtitle itself will backspace to match.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Derek and Paget Brewster. Whenever Paget does a segment the two of them clearly love messing with each other.
  • Vocal Dissonance: The Nashville episode features Casey Wilson as Dolly Parton gamely lip-synching to a male (and of course very drunk) narrator's attempt to sing "I Will Always Love You".
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Happens every so often. Duncan Trussell misses the toilet.
  • Vox Pops: In episodes that focus on a particular city, the three stories are interspersed with brief interviews with locals talking about their views of the city and its place in history. While drunk, naturally.
  • Wham Line: A minor one in the "Boston" episode:
    Chris Romano: [with heavy slurring] Hello. My name's Chris Romano, and we're gonna talk about Johnny Cool, who happened... to be the most famous arsist in the history of the... o' Massachusetts.
    Derek Waters: And who was he? To you?
    Chris Romano: He's my dad. [chuckles]
  • Wham Shot: The immediate sign that the "Bass Reeves" segment is going to be rough? Mark Gagliardi drops his glass as he does the intro, and doesn't even react.
  • World of Ham: It's really obvious that the actors are having a lot of fun reenacting the drunk dialogue, given their over-top expressions and acting.