It all started with one drunk night. Actor Jake Johnson – the dude who plays Nick on New Girl, but has also been in seemingly shitty but actually funny movies, like No Strings Attached and 21 Jump Street – was playing quarters with his fellow-actor friend Derek Waters. Johnson was wasted and decided to tell Waters a story about Otis Redding.
The next day Waters and his director friend Jeremy Konner (who was Jack Black’s assistant at the time) called up Johnson with the premise for Drunk History: "You get belligerently drunk and tell that same Otis Redding story. They’ll film it, get re-enactors to play the historical parts and it will be a viral YouTube success."
Jeremy was right.
In 2008, the show gained an audience on VICE’s very own VBS.tv as Waters and friends drunk-told historical stories like Ben Franklin discovering electricity and the duel of Hamilton and Burr. It was picked up by Funny or Die. I remember back in high school when my best friend showed me the Alexander Hamilton YouTube clip and I thought it was the funniest video to hit the internet since “Daughters”. It was a glorious time in the beginning stages of online comedy, when Childish Gambino was still a very funny Donald Glover and no one quite knew how comedy would progress from five-minute YouTube bits. Last year, Drunk History became a full-fledged 30-minute anthology show on Comedy Central, teaching little-known history to the masses. Last night, it began its second season.
The rise of Drunk History from YouTube clip to Comedy Central tells us something very remarkable and comforting about American culture. You can attain the riches, fame and promise of Hollywood by being a little funny, getting very, very drunk and having just a bit of ambition. As the Supreme Court allows religious employers to reign free over the contraceptive rights of their female-employees, at least we have this beautiful and comforting reality – getting drunk and knowing random historical tidbits is still one of the quickest ways to the top. The American dream at its finest.
Ahead of the show’s season two premiere, I sat down with Konner as he ate a burger and fries to talk about getting drunk as a teen and hanging out with Michael Cera, who is apparently perfect at everything. Learn from Konner and never let anyone turn you away from your weirdest, least socially acceptable goals.
VICE: Do you drink while filming?
Jeremy Konner: Derek [Waters, host of Drunk History] will get fucked up. When we did it for the web, I totally would because it felt like camaraderie. I wasn’t wasted, but I was drinking. We were all drinking. You don’t want to drink alone. Then for the first season, we were like, "Yeah, everyone will be drinking together – it’ll be great!" But we had a crew. Then the crew started being like us, then we’re all drinking! It was like, wait, cancel this plan. This is a bad idea. It was around that time that you’d just see crewmembers wandering off.
Do you remember the first time you drank?
I remember the first time I got wasted. It was during the summertime. I was about 14, hanging out at my friend’s parent’s house. We went upstairs and he had a handle – that’s what it’s called, right? – of vodka, and he was like, “Should we try some vodka?” I was like, “Yeah, let’s try it.” I did a shot and I was like, “Oh, that’s the worst thing! Oh my god! I’m in so much pain! That was terrible! Okay, one more.” We did it again and I was like “Ah!” but it wasn’t quite as bad. And then the third it was like, “That almost tasted like nothing.” And then the fourth it was like, “Now it’s like water.” At this point I was the smallest kid in my class. I weighed 90 pounds. I was tiny. He told me that in the end I probably had 16 or 17 shots.
And you’re alive to tell the tale.
The last thing I remember was smacking my face on the ground and thinking how great that felt. Being like, “This is the best!” My friend got sick first and I was telling him that he was a pussy because he was throwing up. Then all of a sudden I woke up and there was vomit everywhere. The entire fucking house was covered in vomit. I was like, 'Oh my god.' He literally grabbed me and was waking me up, going, “Dude! My parents are fucking pissed off man! We got to get out of here! We got to do something!” I was like, “What?” I had severe alcohol poisoning and didn’t know it. I told my parents I had the flu because I was puking for three days straight – every hour on the hour. Real alcohol poising! I should’ve absolutely been in a hospital. Then a few days later his parents told my parents and it was a shit show.
Did you get in trouble?
Yeah, but not terrible. Man, did I learn.
And now you have a show called Drunk History.
When you put it that way…
Do you hang out with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis?
Dude, all day every dayyyyy.
What’s it like?
No. I don’t hang out with Will Ferrell or Zach. We filmed once with Will and he helped us sell the show, but we don’t hang out with them. We do hang out with Michael Cera. He’s pretty great. That’s how we ended up doing the first Drunk History. We called him up and he said yes. I was Jack Black’s assistant at the time and he saw the first one. He said, “Hey man, I want to do one of those,” so we devised a second bit. It just went on from there.
So people call you up and ask to be on the show?
Yeah, people approached us. I definitely hang out with the people who get drunk more than the re-enactors, but some of the re-enactors are good friends.
Any funny stories from set?
Where do I start? Winona Ryder is a pretty amazing character. First of all, we were having lunch with her and John Lithgow and Chris Parnell. Everybody’s in their outfits and wigs and John Lithgow was like “You know, Winona here passed the bar.” I was like, “What?!” Winona was like, “It’s just in California.” I was like “You passed the bar? When?” She was like, “Oh, I just did it a few months ago. I just decided to pass the bar, so I studied.” She didn’t go to law school. She just studied and took it and passed it. Now she can practice law in California. She’s a super genius.
What about Michael Cera?
He’s too nice – too good of a guy. Everything he does is great. As a comedian, every time he makes a joke, you’re like, 'That’s the best version of that joke. That is perfect.' I like him a lot.
How do you pick the historical moments?
The best version of Drunk History is when the person comes to us with a story and that’s seriously the story they already tell when they’re fucking drunk. Like, you go to a party and they’re like, “Oh, let me tell you about fucking… you know this shit?” Those are always the best. Now, there are things that we’ve found over the years because we have to make so many. I found this amazing news article from like six years ago about this girl who refused to sit on the back of the bus like nine months before Rosa Parks. She was arrested and the person who helped her out with her case was the head secretary of the NAACP – Rosa Parks. They were already trying to start a bus boycott, but I just love the idea that it was this teenage girl who was the first person to really do it and we don’t know who that is. We’ve never talked about it. I read that and I was like holy shit, this is perfect.
There’s a bunch of really cool stories. We did this story about a gay guy from Russia who fucking came and led the American military through war and literally wrote the book on military tactics that we used for 150 years. The leader of the American army was a fucking homosexual! Nobody talks about that shit.
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