Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s “Funny or Die” website spawned some of the most blisteringly funny comedy memes of the last decade (“Pearl the Landlord,” anyone?). Unfortunately the HBO spin-off “Funny or Die Presents” was a mixed bag. Whereas the website was unfettered and fresh, the TV series felt like it was trying too hard to make with the jokes. There was, however, one standout segment—the recurrent animated sketch “Drunk History.” In it, assorted piss-drunk celebrities would attempt to illuminate great moments in history.
Now Comedy Central has given the green light for a live-action version. As before, we have various inebriated storytellers giving their warped take on history. This time around, though, the narration is acted out by assorted celebrities and comedians taking on the famous roles. In the first episode alone we get Jack Black as Elvis, Bob Odenkirk as Richard Nixon, Jack McBrayer as H. R. Haldeman, Fred Willard as Deep Throat, Stephen Merchant as Abraham Lincoln and Adam Scott as John Wilkes Booth. All clearly get the joke and have a blast dressing up and slurring their dialogue. The actors play it mostly straight, simply mouthing whatever the narrators offer up, including drunken belches and nonsensical asides. It’s the one-joke premise that keeps on giving.
The storytellers are well and truly blasted out of their gourds. (Unlike Western Civ in college, there’s a distinct possibility that your professor will puke at some point.) Obviously some people are funnier drunks than others, but the vignettes in “Drunk History” are all fall-down hilarious. Occasionally the narrators lose their way, offer some dubious historical accuracy or deliver some wonderful dialogue. Putting words in the mouth of the infamous CIA agent who became Deep Throat, one storyteller explains, “I’m Mark Felt, and I did spy times in World War II.”
While each half-hour episode contains several highly educational lectures, there are only eight episodes in this first season. That’s not going to be nearly enough. Record the ones that do air, because you’re going to want to show them to your friends again and again. Hopefully while drinking along at home. Here’s hoping Comedy Central can recruit more historians, more comedians and more booze for another season as soon as possible. I, for one, am already holding out for “Drunk Science.”