Friday, August 21, 2009
When mining for comedy gold, there’s a debate whether premise or execution is more important.
It’s hard to determine which is the more phenomenal on the Web series “Drunk History.”
The premise: Creator Derek Waters and director Jeremy Konner head to a friend’s house, get them drunk, then film them recounting a historical event. The subjects — which span from 1700s-1800s American history —are obviously ones with which those interviewed have a good deal of knowledge and passion.
But after eight vodka and cranberries, some of the particulars get a little fuzzy.
The execution: “Drunk History” takes the concept to a whole new level by recruiting famous actors to dramatize the action while the commentary continues in the background.
On the first episode, storyteller Mark Gagliardi drank a bottle of scotch before launching into his surprisingly informative tale about Alexander Hamilton’s fatal duel with Aaron Burr. “Superbad” star Michael Cera turns up as famed politician Hamilton, complete with powdered wig and period garb. Only he doesn’t have any qualms about pulling out a cell phone to help illustrate the story.
Scenes of Gagliardi laying face down on his couch are intercut with those of the staged 1804 duel. Sometimes the actors freeze mid-scene so that Gagliardi can try and choke back his mounting sickness.
The filmmakers also take great joy in punctuating his tale with external visuals, such as when Gagliardi accidentally refers to Alexander Hamilton as tanned ladies man George Hamilton.
The series sprang up last year on the humor site Funny Or Die, and Waters has since added four more of these five-minute gems.
Episodes 2 and 2.5: Eric Falconer fills up on vodka and cranberry to recall Benjamin Franklin’s bout with electricity, his bastard son and various illicit affairs. Jack Black provides his usual manic energy as Franklin. The episode is infamous for the massive amounts of vomit that ride shotgun to Falconer’s oration.
Episode 3: Arguably, the standout of the series, Jen Kirkman offers the lesser-known tale of Oney Judge, a former slave of George Washington. Filtered through a bottle and a half of wine, Kirkman’s segment becomes funnier and funnier because she gets the hiccups — which means so does the cast. Comedian Danny McBride (“Pineapple Express”) plays the founding father. He has a priceless moment when he must react to this mangled narrative thread: “(Oney) writes to the president, because she has his address because she used to live there. Dear President Bush ...”
Episode 4: J.D. Ryznar downed vodka and beer before launching into the sad fate of ninth President William Henry Harrison, who barely spent a month in office before succumbing to pneumonia. Paul Schneider (“Lars and the Real Girl”) steps into the Harrison role. The best moment involves Ryznar pausing to take a call from his mom. “I drank a lot of booze, Ma. ... Happy Mother’s Day.”
Waters claimed in a recent interview that he is busy trying to turn “Drunk History” into a TV series. But isn’t network television already filled with enough drunk people fumbling through stories?
— Entertainment editor Jon Niccum explores facets of pop culture that have established a unique niche on the Internet in Net Worth. He can be reached at 832-7178.