Over the past year it’s been increasingly common to see Comedy Central’s programming pointed to as among the best on cable. Key & Peele, Inside Amy Schumer, Kroll Show, Review, @Midnight, Nathan for You, and Broad City are all relatively young shows that push at the boundaries of what TV comedies can do, while still being gut-bustlingly hilarious. Throw in those venerable stalwarts The Daily Show and the soon-to-be-departed Colbert Report, and it’s not hard to look at Comedy Central’s lineup and say it’s the equal of HBO, Showtime, or FX.
Drunk History is not as ground-breaking as some of its sibling shows, but it might be the most purely enjoyable show in Comedy Central’s lineup. It’s a sketch show where host Derek Waters gets comedians blitheringly drunk and has them tell stories from American history. Waters and a wonderful cadre of guest actors then act out the stories in full costume using the drunken soundtrack recording as both dialogue and narration. It’s a goofy concept, and doesn’t always hit, but when it does the show just soars. The slurred speech and wild excitement of the speakers (especially Drunk History all-star Paget Brewster) lend the action a pleasantly loony atmosphere. The real fun, though is seeing actors like Jordan Peele, Retta, Weird Al (as Hitler!) and Charlie Day perform the loopy action described by the narrators. Nothing on TV right now is funnier than the moments where a skilled actor mouths along to a drunken digression that utterly shatters the fourth wall.
Even beyond the pure entertainment factor, Drunk History has a lot of appeal because it’s actually educational. Really. I’m serious. The show has enjoyed tooling around with familiar times and faces in American history since its inception as a Funny or Die web series. But the current second season on Comedy Central has seen a shift towards the under-known and under-appreciated figures that still exerted a lot of impact on our past. Derek Waters and company have seemingly committed to moving past the well-worn “Great Men” of history that we all learned in school and it’s legitimately illuminating. Sketches about people like Claudette Colvin, Sybill Ludington, Sylvia Robinson, and Robert Smalls have been as riotously funny as the ones centering on Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, or Al Capone. But what’s surprisingly great is that until I watched Drunk History, I had no idea who those people were. And they all changed history! That’s awesome. It makes Drunk History into something like School House Rock for everyone over 16 years old.
Certainly the people we see on Drunk History did not affect the past with the same uproariously profane and knowing style that we see on the show. But any telling of history, be it a text book, or Ken Burns, or Crash Course, is an effort to reorganize and refocus actual events into a story with lessons and morals. Drunk History is no different, in that regard. It’s just much, much funnier than most.
Drunk History is in the midst of its second season on Comedy Central. It airs Tuesdays at 9 P.M. Central. Or all over the internet in clips. Either way, really.