If you’ve never seen Drunk History in web series form on Funny or Die or now on Comedy Central as a half hour TV show, the premise is this: A person (a comedian, an actor, a writer—any kind of good story teller) gets completely wasted and tells the true story of a little-known historical event. That footage of the drunken person is then used for reenactment purposes. Big celebs and comedians dress up in historical garb and mouth the slurred words of the narrator. It’s a real smart show and I was lucky enough to be one of the drunks this season.
Now before you scroll down to the comments and write that I only got to be on the show because my boyfriend created it, lemme stop you. You’ll have so many other things to insult me for in this lifetime, I promise you. Derek Waters was not my boyfriend when I was asked to tell a story. Yes, I fell butt-crazy in love with him while we were shooting, but that was only my second time meeting him. In fact, I had never even seen Drunk History before. I barely had any idea who Derek was when I met with him to be a potential narrator for season two.
Fact is, I only emailed my agent to say, “Hey, I wanna be on Drunk History” because I was a little wasted and living alone in Austin for the summer and I saw that some girl I am vaguely competitive with in my own mind had once told a story on the show. I didn’t even know what I was asking to be a part of. A couple months later, I got an email that Derek had agreed to meet with me on October 16th. I didn’t even bother to Google him because I think Googling people is rude and I pretty much assumed he was some comedy guy and that was really all I needed to know about him and the show.
I went to my meeting a little tipsy because I had been at a Dodgers game earlier that day. I sat down with Derek and started shooting the shit about history. He asked me what I was interested in and I said that I like talking about computers and inventions and technology and oh, I was reading a biography on Grover Cleveland because he was a “buckwild” president. He said that they were actually doing a story about Grover Cleveland that year. Then he asked me if I liked to day drink. I confessed that not only did I have a healthy buzz on as we spoke, but also that day drinking was a weekly ritual for me during the fall months. I went to a football school.
I got the gig, basically. That night Derek emailed me two stories: The Statue of Liberty (which I immediately knew I didn’t want to do because I can’t pronounce French names when I’m dead sober) or the story of Frances Cleveland marrying into the White House. Obviously I went with Frances Cleveland because without knowing anything about her, I figured she was probably super buck too.
Once you figure out the story you’re going to tell, one of the researchers sends you links to info about your story. He even sent me some titles of books to check out to which I was like, “Fuck you” because I didn’t feel like reading a book. I asked him if he could just send me the beats of the stories and a few pages of reference material. He obliged. I didn’t look at it until two days before filming.
About a week before we taped, Derek and his co-creator came over to my place to figure out where they’d shoot. They picked my couch. I’d just found out that I’d passed the mandatory blood test they give you (apparently their legal department is all serious about making sure they don’t let people with destroyed livers participate in the show, which is cool) and that I should probably start at least looking at my materials.
Beside the blood test, here are some other precautions the show takes to ensure that you don’t kill yourself in the process of doing this (yes, you really do get very, very drunk): they give you a fifty dollar booze budget. When I first heard that I was like, “What the fuck? How am I supposed to buy two bottles of Dom with fifty dollars?” but then I realized that most people would not buy very expensive champagne with that much money. They would buy enough alcohol to kill several horses.
Because of that, they have a medic on set at all times. She checks your BAC before, after and I think a couple times throughout taping. If things go really badly (and I think they only have a couple of times) the medic hooks you up to oxygen and the crew stays with you until you are sober enough to be left alone. That’s also why they film in your home or rent an AirBnB for your taping. They do not leave the drunks without a safe place to sleep.
So I learned my material about Frances Cleveland and her marriage to Grover and fell totally in love with her. I went to Bristol Farms and decided that I was going to stick to my allotted booze allowance and bought eighteen cans of seasonal lagers. I also bought a can of olives, frozen chicken nuggets and sea salt caramels.
The day of the taping I woke up around ten to do my make up and get my coffee and by noon, the crew was there. I was told not to start drinking until Derek got there, but I was nervous and don’t play by the rules so I cracked open my first beer. I may have shotgunned it, actually. By the time Derek arrived an hour later, I was feeling real, real loose and agreed to do a shot of Patron with him. That was, what I think, made me lose my damn mind. It wasn’t the sixteen beers I drank that day, it was the fucking tequila shot.
Once Derek makes you comfortable with him (something he’s very good at doing), you sit down in the spot that was lit for you and you tell your story for the first time. I basically only remember snippets of everything after telling it that one time. And yes, you tell the story about five or six times over the course of four or five hours. It starts out making some sense, and by the end of it you’re slumped over your couch unable to do much more than compare historical figures to Jay-Z and Beyonce.
And since I was like, swooning over Derek the whole time, I kept talking about how pretty I think I am (????) and how amazing love is and asking him if he was a late in life bed wetter and nonsensical shit that I thought would make me seem interesting and cool. Instead what happened is Derek put an episode of COPS on for me to watch and let me hug him while his team brought their lights and shit down to the van. Since I was part of a double header (meaning they were filming a second person right after me because I was willing to day drink), Derek had to leave. Also, he’s a professional and didn’t want to be that guy who gets a chick drunk and takes advantage of her, which is nice. He did ask me out a week later and we’ve been together ever since though, so the footage that probably would have been my greatest source of humiliation is now actually sentimental.
Other things you may want to know about the process:
- Narrators take a lot of breaks to be human. You have snacks, you smoke a cig if you want one, Derek shoots the shit with you.
- The show is very generous to its narrators. A lot of us say and do really stupid shit. Way worse stuff than you’ll ever see on the show. The team at Drunk History is dedicated to making sure that they don’t take the people who generously agreed to make themselves that vulnerable on camera and then make a fool of them. Comedy is one thing, exploitation is another.
- They ask you not to smoke weed. A lot of people assume that weed would help the process, narrators and viewers, but if you got stoned while trying to tell these stories, you’d be fucked. It would take the passion out of the storytelling and take it to a weird place.
That night I ate Thai food, watched True Romance and then, despite the protests of many, walked myself up to Shamrock Tattoo on Sunset Boulevard and got a hand turkey tattooed in white ink on my wrist. You know, a hand turkey. Like the craft kids make at school around Thanksgiving.
I was very hung over the next day and completely depressed. That was probably the first time it really hit me that alcohol is, in fact, a depressant.