The kindest thing I can do for “Drunk History,” Comedy Central’s version of the popular online sketches, is to review it after several glasses of wine. There’ll be a few more typos to catch, but it might help me cope with the mildly disappointing discovery that, as a TV show, “Drunk History” feels late to the game and a little hung over.
After all, it’s been a few years since the first of Derek Waters’s “Drunk History” riffs appeared on the Funny or Die Web site, to much acclaim and social-network sharing. The concept is brilliantly — if dangerously — simple: A narrator drinks to excess, up to the point where his words are verging on slurred nonsense. He (or, not frequently enough, she) then attempts to coherently recount a historical event, such as the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Raym— hic! I mean Aaron — Burr. It’s up to costumed actors to then perform this inebriated transcript word for lip-synced word, with all the slip-ups and tangents intact.
Like a lot of hilarious Web stuff, it’s a whole lot funnier on the screen than it is when described in type. Tuesday’s premiere (which is already online) takes us to Washington, where soused narrators regale us with historical minutiae about Watergate, Lincoln’s assassination and the day President Nixon welcomed Elvis to the White House. Part of the fun rests in the cameo casting: Bob Odenkirk as Nixon, Jack Black as Elvis, Adam Scott as John Wilkes Booth, Fred Willard as W. Mark “Deep Throat” Felt — along with Dave Grohl, Stephen Merchant and others. The effect, as with so much of Comedy Central’s programming, is to make the whole thing feel clubby.
But “Drunk History” is far from an inside joke. Narrator Matt Gourley downs way too much scotch and then holds forth on the intricacies of the Watergate scandal, as uncovered by the tenacious “Robert Woodward and, to a lesser extent, Carl Bernstein.” Gourley pauses at one point to get up and vomit in the hallway.
The humor is probably lost on anyone who’s either been an alcoholic or spent too much time living with one. And I don’t think you’re necessarily being a scold if you have serious reservations about how much binge drinking it takes to achieve a funny episode; nor do I think it’s too skeptical to ask if these dudes are as drunk as they seem.
Much funnier is Allan McLeod’s sloshy tale of John Wilkes Booth, jealous brother of Edwin, who decides (on a whim, it seems) to shoot the president during a play at Ford’s Theatre. Having done so, Booth leaps to the stage, whereupon McLeod forgets what he wanted to tell us, but then remembers, quoting Booth as shouting to the audience: “This is [bleep]-ing perfect and everyone gets what I’m doing right now.” (His story concluded, McLeod asks the camera crew: “Do you want me to put a pizza in the oven?”)
“Drunk History” is a delightful idea and yet it’s already history. There’s a chuckle here and a chuckle there, but it’s impossible to escape the feeling that you’ve just been forwarded a stale Internet meme from your dad.
(30 minutes) premieres Tuesday
at 10 p.m. on Comedy Central.