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“History is written by the victors—but told best by the shit-faced.”
So reads a title card in an episode of Drunk History, the incredibly funny new Comedy Central show adapted from the eponymous web series. The premise is simple: Comedians, writers, and barflies are fed copious amounts of booze and then asked to narrate key scenes from American history, as costumed actors such as Jack Black and Zooey Deschanel fill in with lip-synched reenactments. The TV version—whose eight-episode first season premieres Tuesday, July 9, at 10 p.m. on both coasts—includes comedian Bob Odenkirk as Richard Nixon. And one of the web episodes is a fantastic account of the friendship between Abraham Lincoln (Will Ferrell) and Frederick Douglass (Oscar-nominated actor Don Cheadle). Watch:
So can we trust these sodden accounts of our national heritage?
“All stories are 100 percent fact-checked in advance,” promises Derek Waters, the show’s creator, executive producer, and featured actor. Each narrator is given notes to ensure a loosely tethered historical accuracy. Once the person has internalized these morsels of the past, he or she is bar-tended to in excess, and then they’re off. “We let them say whatever they want, but we don’t want anything that’s wrong,” Waters continues. “After all, we’re learning history here.” Actually, the casual flubs provide some of the show’s most amusing moments. One soused narrator substitutes soul icon James Brown for abolitionist John Brown. And in the clip above, the narrator briefly misidentifies Frederick Douglass as actor Richard Dreyfuss, and Abe Lincoln as Bill Clinton.
The whole idea for Drunk History was born of—what else?—liberal alcohol consumption. Out on the town one night, Waters and his friend Jake Johnson (Nick on the Fox comedy New Girl) began riffing about the singer Otis Redding and the circumstances of his 1967 death in a plane crash. Johnson started drunkenly reciting an urban legend about how Redding knew he was going to die before he boarded his doomed flight.
“He kept insisting that Otis said to his girlfriend, ‘No, I’m serious, you take care of yourself!’ before he got on the plane, and I was thinking ‘Oh, this is such bullshit,'” Waters recalls. “He was having so much trouble telling a story he truly believed was true, and I just started picturing this reenactment in which Otis Redding is staring at the camera being all like, ‘Shut the fuck up, this never happened.'”
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