The genre of historical nonfiction used to be relegated and associated almost exclusively with nerds and dads, but that changed in 2013 when edu-tainment series Drunk History arrived on Comedy Central.
Drunk History follows the same structure for each of its episodes: A renowned comedian, podcaster, or actor comes on the show, gets drunk, and explains a historical event. At the same time, we cut back and forth between the narrator and a fully reenacted drama, often starring even more famous actors who lip-sync the words of the drunk narrator.
The show honestly manages to make history interesting, but is Drunk History scripted or staged?
Is 'Drunk History' scripted?
While standard history books usually rely on a removed, clinical perspective to analyze the past, Drunk History turns that paradigm on its head by bringing back the oral tradition. Through the inebriated retellings, Drunk History allows for real emotions about the events to seep in.
The show has educated audiences on a wide range of subjects, from Harriet Tubman's exploits as a Union Army spy (where Octavia Spencer plays Harriet and The Read's Crissle West narrates) and the invention of birth control (narrated by Alison Rich, with Amber Tamblyn as Margaret Sanger), and has even delved into the lesser-known history of figures like Grandmaster Flash (brought to life by none other than Method Man).
And while the show is undoubtedly educational, it's only natural for viewers to ask themselves how these extremely intoxicated guests know so much about their historical topics, and never seem to get any facts wrong.
But according to Derek Waters, the show's host and one of its creators, guests usually come in with a bit of knowledge about the topic they're covering.
But the team at Drunk History also sends the reteller an informational packet a couple of weeks before filming so that the narration can include some of the finer details of the story. "We make them repeat [the stories] lots of times," Derek told Glamour. As he tells it, the perfect take happens when the narrator is "completely comfortable and not trying to be funny — they're just trying to tell a story with alcohol inside of them."
The packets that narrators get include a summary of the subject, plus links to primary sources, as well as books and documentaries that they can use to study the subject further. After going over the packet for two weeks, the narrator is meant to retain enough information to tell the story back to Derek with little to no prompting.
Derek mentions that episodes can take up to six hours to film and pre-gaming is not encouraged. "I tell them, 'If you want to have a drink before I get there, have one drink," and adds that he has "one drink with them to make them feel comfortable" once he arrives.
He's also serious about the educational aspect of the show and will stop a guest if they mispronounce a person's name or get a date wrong.
"I want it to be funny," he says, "but I also want people to know the real story."