Fittingly, the idea for Drunk History came to Derek Waters on a night spent out drinking. A friend of the comedian's described the tragic death of singer Otis Redding with such drunken passion that Waters found himself imagining what it might look like as a re-enactment; slurred words, improvised dialogue, and all. Waters decided to give it a try, and Drunk History was born.
The web series was picked up by comedy website Funny or Die before moving to Comedy Central, where it aired for six seasons. Each episode is hosted by Waters and features three historical events, narrated by inebriated comedians and acted out by an all-star cast. The Emmy Award-winning series can now be streamed on Amazon and Hulu.
For all its irreverence and anachronistic hilarity, Drunk History remains surprisingly accurate at its core. Dates, names, and the broad strokes of each historical event have been verified by independent newspapers, making it the perfect watch for history buffs in a silly mood. If you're ready to laugh and learn, settle in with one of Drunk History’s best episodes, rounded up below.
Season 4, Episode 3
A sloshed Amber Ruffin tells how, in the early 1900s, Carrie A. Nation (Vanessa Bayer) earned the nickname the Saloon Smasher: by going on a hatchet-fueled mission to rid Kiowa, Kansas of booze. Then Kyle Kinane goes back to the 1800s to witness a petty argument that ended with Andrew Jackson (Michael Cera) entangled in a street brawl. Finally, Crissle West travels to 1960s New York, where gay rights activist Marsha P. Johnson (Alexandra Grey) played a prominent role in the Stonewall uprising.
What makes it great: Ruffin is one of the best narrators on the show, and she tells Nation’s story in such a fun, engaging way. A guest appearance by a hatchet-condoning Jesus and a newspaper headline declaring “She’s Famous Now She Is Famous” add that special Drunk History touch. West’s retelling of the Stonewall riots is humorous, but also touching, made even more so by the show’s decision to cast trans actors in the roles of Johnson and Silvia Rivera.
"The Middle Ages"
Season 5, Episode 11
Hillary Anne Matthews tells the story of Joan of Arc (Vanessa Hudgens), who dressed up as a man in 1400s France and led an army bent on putting Charles VII on the throne. Shaun Diston shares how Temujin (Jimmy O. Yang) became Genghis Khan, one of history’s most powerful leaders. The episode ends with West African emperor Mansa Musa (Donald Faison)'s 1324 pilgrimage to Mecca, as told by Daryl Johnson.
What makes it great: Aside from the pretty accurate history (though Mansa Musa probably didn’t ask his servants to load up his truck with gifts from the sultan), there are plenty of thigh-slapping moments in this episode. Like when Temujin is lifted into the air Lion King-style as he’s dubbed Genghis Khan. Or a blonde wig-wearing Charles VII (Jack McBrayer) cheerfully bestowing Joan with an army. By focusing on medieval events outside Europe, the episode also underscores the importance of sharing diverse voices, their accomplishments, and their historical contributions that too often go overlooked.
Season 5, Episode 5
Kirby Howell-Baptiste explains how suffragettes in the United Kingdom harnessed the power of jujitsu to defend themselves and eventually earned women the right to vote. Crissle West is back, this time to talk about the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March, in which more than 1,000 Black children protested Alabama’s segregation laws. And Suzi Barrett tells of the disability movement’s occupation of federal buildings across the U.S. to protest the government’s slow adoption of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
What makes it great: There's plenty of swearing and, well, physical comedy in the depiction of the suffragettes. Of course, Drunk History also has its serious moments. Like showing how children were jailed, attacked by K-9 units, and soaked with high-pressure hoses (yes, really) during the Children’s March. Actors with disabilities, including Sean Berdy, Tony Award-winner Ali Stroker, and Lauren Potter play the historical figures from the 504 sit-in.
Season 4, Episode 10
Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and star of Broadway’s hit show Hamilton, tells the saga of Alexander Hamilton (Alia Shawkat) and Aaron Burr (Aubrey Plaza). The episode follows the friends-turned-rivals from childhood to their Revolutionary War careers to their falling out and the duel that ended Hamilton’s life and Burr’s political career. Miranda provided so much excellent footage that the creative team couldn’t bear to hack it down to a 5-7 minute segment, so the entire episode is devoted to this story.
What makes it great: Burr often comes off as the villain. But in Miranda’s inebriated retelling, he is the more sympathetic figure, putting a new perspective on history. Don’t forget the surprise FaceTime calls with original Broadway cast member Christopher Jackson and DJ Questlove (“Oh, Questlove’s texting me,” says Plaza’s Burr, pulling out a cellphone in the middle of a duel).
Season 3, Episode 4
First up, Crissle West details how abolitionist Harriet Tubman (Octavia Spencer) went undercover during the Civil War to raid a string of riverside plantations with an “army full of bad b*tches,” rescuing more than 750 enslaved people in the process. Next, Claudia O’Doherty introduces Virginia Hall, who headed resistance efforts in 1940s France disguised as an old woman (“so she looks like Mrs. Doubtfire,” according to Waters). The episode ends with Lucius Dillon’s retelling of famed author Roald Dahl (Will Ferrell)'s stint as a spy gathering intel from informants in the bedroom during World War II.
What makes it great: You’re probably familiar with Tubman’s work on the Underground Railroad and Dahl’s imaginative and zany children's stories, but their work as spies is often forgotten. One of Drunk History’s goals was to share new things about figures we already know, and this episode does just that with side-splitting performances by Spencer and Ferrell. There’s enough drunk humor in this episode to keep you smiling while also being chalk full of in-depth, fascinating information.
Season 5, Episode 7
Famed mystery writer Agatha Christie (Kirsten Dunst) vanishes without a trace, only to reappear 11 days later. Did she stage her own disappearance? Suffer a mental breakdown? According to Alison Rich, we may never know. A mysterious man with a bomb hijacks a plane, demanding $200,000 cash before escaping by parachute, never to be seen again. Who was Dan Cooper? And how did he outsmart the FBI? It’s what Kyle Mooney likes to call “an unsolved…guy.” Residents of a small Ohio town start getting threatening letters from an anonymous writer who knows far too much about them. The writer’s favorite target: a bus driver with a secret (Vanessa Bayer). Who wrote these letters? And why was one woman in particular singled out? Georgia Hardstark has a few theories.
What makes it great: Fans of Unsolved Mysteries will get a kick out of the Easter eggs dropped throughout this episode, including Waters' performance as host Robert Stack. Plus, it's great fun to see on-screen depictions of mystery writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers.
Season 5, Episode 1
Drunk History regular Paget Brewster kicks off with the story of Deborah Sampson (Evan Rachel Wood), who fought in the Revolutionary War disguised as a man. Tiffany Haddish takes over, detailing how assistant museum curator Rose Valland (Busy Philipps) saved more than 60,000 pieces of art and culture stolen by the Nazis during World War II. And Amber Ruffin returns to discuss Clara Barton (Mandy Moore)'s efforts to provide Union soldiers with supplies during the Civil War, earning her the moniker Angel of the Battlefield.
What makes it great: Philipps’ acting paired with Haddish’s narration is a hoot (“Imma memorize this,” Haddish says at one point, as Philipps maniacally waves a finger at all the looting going on around her. “I’m memorinizing all of it”). Ruffin includes fascinating details about Barton, like her near brush with death at the Battle of Antietam and her recovery of more than 22,000 missing soldiers after the war. As if seeing Waters in drag wasn't funny enough.
"Are You Afraid of the Drunk?"
Season 6, Episode 1
This episode brilliantly parodies Nickelodeon’s early 90s hit show Are You Afraid of the Dark?, complete with the igniting match, “midnight dust,” and old-school blocky font in the title sequence. Joining storyteller Rich Fulcher are Waters and Kirby Howell-Baptiste, lending to the feeling of drinking around the campfire with friends. With the help of an all-star cast consisting of Evan Rachel Wood as Mary Shelley, Seth Rogan as Victor Frankenstein, Will Ferrell as the monster, Elijah Wood as Percy Shelley, and Jack McBrayer as Lord Byron, Fulcher tells how an opioid-fueled weekend led to the creation of Frankenstein.
What makes it great: A wasted Fulcher repeatedly botching Mary Shelley’s maiden name and Evan Rachel Wood’s epic monologues. Enough said.