TSJ talks to the creator of Drunk History, Derek Waters, about telling some tall tales while totally inebriated, getting to play Davey Crocket (sans coonskin cap?? WHAT), and, obvs, his series recently getting picked up by the Comedy Network.
Good times were had.
The Smoking Jacket: So where are you today?
Derek Waters: I’m in New York. Where are you?
TSJ: I’m in Montreal. Do you ever go to Montreal?
DW: I used to live in Toronto but I’ve never been to Montreal.
TSJ: You lived in Toronto but you never ventured to Montreal? That’s crazy. You just, like, hung out it Buffalo on your spare weekends?
DW: Yeah, that’s how I roll. Got some loonies and some toonies.
TSJ: We have the dumbest names for money. But we have the healthcare thing down, so…
DW: You do have that. I’ll give you that. You win! Is that what you want me to say, Melissa?
TSJ: No, no. You have the big American cities! Plus I don’t win because I have to pay extra to get the good Netflix.
DW: Oh, that’s true. You lose!
TSJ: So, yeah, I’ve been binge-watching all these Drunk History episodes. I’d caught them here and there before, but I wanted to make sure I watched a bunch of them before talking to you.
DW: That was smart.
TSJ: Right? It’s a good journalist move.
DW: It is, yeah. Like, Oh fuck, I’m about to get my test! Did you have a favorite? Or did you have any that you were like, Huh, that kind of sucked?
TSJ: I had a few favorites. I think Winona Ryder did the drunk acting maybe the best.
DW: She seals the deal.
TSJ: The stories themselves are really funny.
DW: Best phonecall everrrrr [sings]. This is just a great phone call. I realize I just paid you a compliment. But I’m glad you like it.
TSJ: I really do like it. So I read that you and your buddy started this because you were drinking and talking about Otis Redding and it was your buddy who was really into Otis Redding or it was you who was really into Otis Redding?
DW: I love Otis Redding. We’re both into Otis Redding, but I still don’t believe his story is true. Yeah, Jake Johnson, my dear friend, who’s now on The New Girl and lots of cool movies, he was trying to convince me that Otis Redding knew he was gonna die before he got on the plane that took his life. And I just knew the story was BS and I just kept picturing Otis Redding looking at Jake like, Shut the fuck up, man, I did know know. So I wanted to reenact that, but then I thought, Everyone gets drunk and talks about music. What’s something that people don’t get drunk and talk about?
TSJ: History! But maybe you come from one of those history families where people get drunk and talk about history? Like my dad has some crazy stories about history he like to talk about…
DW: So tell me, does he get into conspiracy theories?
TSJ: Totally. Mostly about conservative government plots. But he really likes stories about Loyalists, or the War of 1812…
DW: Wow. What does he do for a living?
TSJ: He used to be a journalist.
DW: Then that makes sense.
ELVIS MEETS NIXON
TSJ: So does your family like to talk like that when they get drinking? Are they like highbrow intellectual boozers?
DW: God, I wish. No, they don’t drink. Neither one of my parents has ever drank or known history. Hence me seeking knowledge getting drunk and learning history. But no, I was never around it growing up. But I had a really amazing history teacher in Baltimore, and that just made me love history. History in general is pretty damn boring, but it’s very important that we know history, so how it’s great when the teacher makes it exciting, and makes you go, Oh shit — I should know that.
TSJ: It’s easier to remember the crazy anecdotes the most too, don’t you think? I took all these music classes when I was young, and the only thing I remember are the scandalous stories about composers committing suicide after coming out to their patrons and drowning themselves and stuff like that.
DW: Yeah, it’s the interesting stuff. So who drowned themselves?
TSJ: Tchaikovsky. I’m not sure how well I remember this because I was like 14 years old when I learned this.
DW: You’re 16 now?
TSJ: Yeah. I’m barely 16. So he was gay but closeted but then he started telling his wealthy patron all of his gay fantasies and she got really upset and cut him off. Meanwhile there’s some girl — I guess Tchaicovsky’s really famous and she’s made up her mind to marry him. And she threatens to drown herself at this mill or something if — I sound like one of your stories… this is embarrassing — anyway, so she threatens to drown herself so he marries her and then he drinks water that he knows has cholera and he makes himself die of cholera on purpose. So that’s actually the story. He didn’t drown.
DW: My god.
TSJ: But I don’t remember how to read music anymore. That’s all that’s left.
DW: I liked that story. What instrument did you play?
TSJ: I played the flute.
DW: The flute! Okay.
TSJ: People always ask me if I went to band camp after they find that out. And I did.
DW: You shouldn’t be friends with people who are doing American Pie references to you anymore.
“Neither one of my parents has ever drank or known history. Hence me seeking knowledge getting drunk and learning history.”
TSJ: I can’t help it. One of my columnists is Jason Biggs’ wife — Jenny Mollen. American Pie is all over my life!
DW: American Pie for life! I played clarinet. Amber Schinick, everybody had a crush on her, and when everyone was picking their instrument, she was like, I would like to play the flute. And all the guys were like, Uh I’ll probably play the flute too, because they wanted to be next to Amber. And then only one guy eventually played the flute.
TSJ: And all the others played alto sax.
DW: Sax! You played sax?
TSJ: No, I said, probably all the others played alto sax. That’s what all the boys played, alto sax.
DW: That is true. I’m a clarniet man, Melissa, I’ll be honest with you.
TSJ: Well that’s a good instrument, you know. It’s got the reed.
DW: You got your reeds! I don’t know anything.
TSJ: Alright so Drunk History went from being on Funny or Die to getting picked up by Comedy Central.
DW: Oh right, exactly. I want to talk more about the clarinet!
TSJ: Things seem a little spiffier now, am I right? Now that you’re with Comedy Central?
DW: You think? Well there’s now, compared to no money. Never ever ever got paid for Funny or Die.
TSJ: How’d you get all the actors? Just well connected?
DW: Murder, you know.
DW: I’m just trying to say something funny that I would have attempted murder if they didn’t do it. No, they’re friends of mine — not to brag — or people that I casually know in the comedy world. That’s how I got them. But people like Winona Ryder, I definitely didn’t know her prior to it. We’d just send the old ones to their agent and say, This is what we want your client to move their lips to. And somehow all those people did it.
So what do you think? Do you think it looks too nice, Melissa? You think the production looks too nice?
TSJ: I don’t think it’s too nice. The thing I was missing was the lowdown on how much they’d been drinking and what exactly they’d been drinking. I liked that from the older ones.
DW: I’m sorry. We tried, it just slowed everything down.
TSJ: I can see that. So what does your family think about this thing you do that somehow took off, about drunk history, if they don’t like drinking or history?
DW: Oh, they like it, which is nice. That’s really who you wanna impress, right. You want to make your parents happy. I’ve never watched an episode with them. I don’t know if they’re laughing. But somehow my mom and her church friends like it.
TSJ: That’s good.
DW: Yeah, they like that I’m working.
TSJ: Yeah, right? I know. You have a lot of supporting roles in these. What’s been your favorite one.
DW: My favorite one is going to come at the end of the season. The last episode where we do the wild west. I play Davey Crocket. I like Davey Crocket.
TSJ: Was that the fulfilment of something from your childhood?
DW: Maybe. Yeah. Or just excited for the first time all the actors we wanted to do it said no, so I had to do it. We don’t talk about it in the story, but Davey Crocket, his name was David, he never went by Davey. And he never wore a coonskin hat.
TSJ: What? How disappointing.
DW: That was all Disney.
TSJ: I was gonna say, the best part was gonna be the hat.
DW: I know. Yeah. Didn’t get to wear the hat ’cause it never happened.
TSJ: But did you wear a wig? You have some pretty great wigs going on.
DW: I wore a cowboy hat.
TSJ: That’s alright then.
DW: But we shot a lot of it in San Antonio, and there I was wearing the coonskin hat, and that was really fun. And I was walking around and no one said anything to me about like, Haha your’e wearing a coonskin hat. Not one guy stopped me. But then a guy stopped me and said, Davey Crocket never wore sunglasses! I was like, Oh fuck, sorry. That’s the only thing anyone ever said to me when I was wearing a coonskin hat.
TSJ: So where do you get all these wigs. Did you know you would wear so many wigs in your life?
DW: Where do I get all the wigs? I mean, it’s a real show, Melissa! There’s a hair department, there’s makeup, there’s costumes… I got them from there.
TSJ: [laughing] Alright, alright, I’m sorry. That was a dumb question.
DW: Like, Oh my closet! They’re all from my closet!
TSJ: I’m sorry!
DW: Don’t be sorry, it’s kind of funny. In reality, though, the first ones were all mine. We would just buy from the store.
TSJ: The wig store. Have you read any Kate Beaton comics?
TSJ: Oh, you should check that out. It’s like a funny, historical comic series.
DW: Okay, yeah, I will.
TSJ: Do you think people like the Obamas watch Drunk History as a way to learn a little bit about their country’s history?
DW: Did you just say the Obamas?!
TSJ: Yeah, probably they watch it. They want to know how people got on the money, how the Quakers protested, I mean, there’s things to learn. It’s educational and patriotic.
DW: I don’t think they’re watching it. It would be cool if they were. That would be very cool. But maybe their kids will in like three years. Nah, it would be nice if everybody watched it, that’s what I would say. Maybe Barack doesn’t know about Mary Dyer, maybe he needs to learn about Mary Dyer.
TSJ: I think he should. I love that clip. I put it on my Facebook yesterday…
DW: You put it on your Facebook?
TSJ: I did, so all my friends can see it…
DW: Let me know how many likes you get, please.
TSJ: So far one.
DW: I can’t sleep unless I get at least twenty likes.
TSJ: Yeah, likes are good.
DW: Likes are good. [laughs] Can you please get that as a tattoo?
TSJ: No way, I already have one bad tattoo. I don’t need worse.
DW: What’s your tattoo?
TSJ: Guess. I’ll tell you the year I got it and you have to guess what it is, okay? I got it in 1994. And I really loved the Earth.
DW: Alright, is it in the area of the tramp stamp?
DW: Is it on your ankle?
TSJ: Of course.
DW: Okay, so I got the location right. Gimme two tries. My instinct was going to be peace. But now… you said you really liked the Earth… “Legalize it”?
TSJ: No, not so bad. I’ll give you a hint, it’s an animal. What is the cheesiest animal you can think of?
DW: Tell me.
TSJ: It’s a dolphin. I have a dolphin tattoo. Forever.
DW: That’s like a third-grader tattoo. Who did it?
TSJ: Some junkie in a shady joint.
DW: Like, Heh… Want me to put a dolphin on you? Hey, you know, alright hobo, spare any change let me put a dolphin tattoo on you. Your poor little ankle. What are you gonna do? Are you gonna get that tat removed?
TSJ: Well I went to talk to someone about covering up and he was like, Oh, let’s put hummingbirds all over your leg, and wind! And I was like, What is wind? No! And then another time I went to find out about getting it removed and they said it would take two years! And so I figured I’ll just put a Band-Aid on it when it bugs me. So that’s the story of my dolphin tattoo.
DW: Wow. Well, that’s great. Will you post a picture of your dolphin tattoo? I’ll like that.
TSJ: You’ll have to be my FB friend to see it.
DW: I’ll find you. So was this an interview?
TSJ: This was an interview.
DW: It was a very comfortable interview.