In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Derek Waters moved to Los Angeles from Baltimore 14 years ago, and he’s appeared in lots of funny stuff, including The Sarah Silverman Program, Maron, and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. But he found his calling with Drunk History, which originally began life as a web series but has since blossomed into a Comedy Central show, whose second season just debuted. The concept: Narrators—usually comedian friends of Waters’—get drunk and recount historical events as best they can. Actors are then engaged to bring these not-quite-accurate stories to life, frequently lip-syncing the best bits. We asked Waters to have a few drinks before this interview, in keeping with the spirit of his show.
The A.V. Club: How are you?
Derek Waters: I’m fine, I’m having my second glass of wine. I blame you. I realized when I was purchasing this bottle that I could really write this off. It is for work. You’re the first person to have me do this. I’m at what I call stage one, which is what I call good. I’m a professional.
AVC: I can’t believe that I’m the first person to ask you to do an interview drunk.
DW: You’re the first person I agreed to do this with. You guys have been so good to Drunk History. Eleven questions! Holy shit. I’m a little nervous. Can I say that, off the record? Do you want it on the record? Can I ask you a question before you start recording? How are you stating this? Like, “I asked Derek to have a couple of drinks?” The Methodist Christian in me wants to make sure it’s not like, “I called him and he was drunk.”
AVC: I will clearly state that I asked you to have a couple of drinks.
DW: Instead of “asked,” can you make it “forced”? I’m ready whenever you are. I read your Jenny Slate one, and that’s why I’m a little nervous. She’s my dear friend, and she was so funny. I hope I’m funny.
AVC: You don’t have to be funny on all of them.
DW: Just remember I’m dry. As in humor, not alcohol.
1. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
DW: You asked Jenny Slate this!
AVC: You’ll get some of the same ones, not all.
DW: Fuck. There’s so many. I guess the best story I have is working at Tower Video. Remember when video tapes existed? I worked at Tower Video when I first moved out to Los Angeles from Baltimore. It was cool, because growing up in the suburbs of Baltimore, I wasn’t really surrounded by independent movies and stuff like that, so I got to learn about lots of new movies. One day this guy came in asking for a movie that I’d never heard of, so I was excited to look it up. We didn’t have it, so I asked what actors were in it, and he named three or four actors, none of them I had ever heard of except for one, which was Sidney Poitier. So I was typing in Sidney Poitier’s name into the computer, but I kept spelling it wrong. So I was like, “How do you spell his last name?” and he spells it for me. Unfortunately we didn’t have the movie, and he said, “Thank you, young man,” and he left. And my boss came up to me and said, “Why the fuck did you just have Sidney Poitier spelling you his own name?” Maybe that’s not a worst job.
Probably the worst job was working as a busboy at a French restaurant. I don’t know how to speak French. I’d be bussing tables, pouring water for these kindly French women. They’d go, “Bonjour! Merci!” and I’d go, “Hey, how you doing? I’m from Baltimore.” I later found out when I ran into someone that worked there that they used to call me Turtle. I was like, “Because I stopped working there to be an actor, like that tool from Entourage?” “No, because you were so fucking slow!”
2. What did your parents want you to be?
DW: Another Jenny Slate question! Please note that I did my research! I don’t think they knew. I was in special ed; I had a lot of hard times in school. I wanted to be a baseball player for a really long time, and they really supported that. They were in denial about how much I sucked at playing. When I didn’t make it to the high school team I became a little league umpire; I don’t know if you could get more sad than that. But as soon as I started acting in high school plays, they were very supportive. A job like this is very risky. The odds of success are slim to none. They never really said they wanted me to be something. They wanted me to be happy. I have a very close family and I love them.
AVC: Do they watch Drunk History?
DW: They do. And even their church friends do. Neither my father or mother have ever had a drink. Supposedly. But my dad drinks four Coca-Colas a day.
AVC: That might be worse than having four whiskeys a day!
DW: I don’t have four whiskeys a day.
AVC: I didn’t mean you.
DW: It is better than four whiskeys. See, I’m tipsy! I did what I was told to do! A.V. Club said, “Would you have a couple drinks before the interview?” and I did. It’s a very vulnerable state. This is why I get on bended knee to thank every narrator who’s interviewed.
AVC: How much do narrators typically drink for the show? Or does it vary wildly?
DW: It varies, but the best way to explain it is… I say, “Have one or two drinks before we come over.” I’ve learned so much about alcohol and what the effects are. Adrenaline will not allow the brain to recognize how much alcohol the body has consumed. The best way to compare it is like, when you were a high school kid and you went to see Spin Doctors, you were drinking on the way to the concert. You were so excited to see the Spin Doctors, right Josh?
AVC: Every tour.
DW: In all seriousness, you’re so excited that you just keep drinking, and that’s what happens with comedians, and anyone who does the show. They’re like, “I gotta be good, I’m gonna be on TV, I gotta be better than the other people.” I’m always like, “Don’t drink that much. We’re gonna drink together. It’s gonna be a team effort.” So it all depends on the person. There’s some people that it’s very hard to tell that they’re drunk. But we have a medic on site, which is always very funny to have. We have Breathalyzers. Once someone gets to a certain level, we won’t leave their place until they come down to a certain level. It’s not like a show where it’s like, “They got so fucked up they puked!” I like the comedy of frustrated passion, where you see this man who’s very frustrated, but he’s so passionate. You know American Movie, right?
AVC: I know it well, I’m from Milwaukee.
DW: I just spent the day with Mark [Borchardt] the other day. I gave him my wallet. His wallet, which he had had for 30 years, was basically four rubber bands holding together money, a social security card—many important things that could be dropped at any time. I was like, “I’ve been inspired by you since I was 19, and I bought this wallet when I was 19,” and I gave him my wallet.
AVC: Is he going to be on Drunk History?
DW: No, I was doing a little web series that he’s doing, called Out And About. I’d do anything to help support that man. Pure passion. What every artist struggles with is thinking that they might fail, but they keep that inside. He expresses that. That’s a very rare quality. See how serious I can get? I spent the day with him three or four years ago. We ate Tombstone pizza and watched Cops together, and that was one of the best days of my life.
3. Maybe that will inform this next question. Who would be your pop-culture best friend?
DW: As in somebody I don’t know or really respect? Like a character from a book or a movie? Who I would want to hang out with? Eddie Vedder, because I love him. Christopher Guest because he’s my inspiration. And Tim Burton.
4. What game show would you be good at?
DW: What game shows are there? Double Dare. I would one-up that to Triple Dare. As long as I could have a pair of Marc Summers’ shoes. He always had the coolest fucking shoes. I would not be good at Wheel Of Fortune. I would not be good at Jeopardy. Family Feud I’d do pretty good at, I’d just need a family. I have my mom and dad. Is Double Dare a game show, though?
AVC: Absolutely. There’s a score and everything.
DW: Okay. Can I say my second choice would be American Gladiators, just to meet Laser and Turbo? They’re the only ones I remember.
AVC: What would your American Gladiators name be?
DW: My lucky number is 34, based off Bo Jackson, so maybe I would be Derek Jackson? I’d be Bo Derek. Fuck it. Is Cops a game show? Because I’d like to be on Cops. You didn’t ask Jenny Slate that game show question, by the way.
AVC: You’re really keeping score!
DW: That’s my game show—What Did The A.V. Club Ask Jenny Slate That They Didn’t Ask Me?
5. How would your enemies describe you?
DW: This is dark! This is why you wanted me to drink! I hope I don’t have any, but I will start with this: As I learned at 34 years old this year, standing up for myself and the show and the creative vision that I wanted to make, I would sometimes get angry. And I would say, “I know who I am, and I’d rather have people think I’m an asshole than a pussy.” And what I guess my enemies would say is what any insecure person would say, and that’s, “He’s changed.” Or, “If he didn’t know famous people, he would still be living in Baltimore.” I’ve been very lucky! I will be the first to admit, Michael Cera and I genuinely were friends, and if it wasn’t for Michael being in the first Drunk History, I wouldn’t be talking to you. I know that. I humbly think it’s a good concept, but without something else behind that, you need to have something familiar. Do I think everyone on the show now needs to be famous? No. Most people’s favorite episode of last year was the Lincoln lawyer, played by my friend Eric Filipkowski, the State Farm guy who says “Bonjour.” He’s not famous, but it’s a great story.
AVC: Before we get to the next question, where are we with the drinking?
DW: Like two and a half! Do you want me to stop? I feel like it’s nice. I’m on the opposite end of what I do to people. If you weren’t at home with your kid, I’d think you were rude. But you need to be a father and be responsible, so I respect that.
AVC: He’s asleep.
DW: Well then where’s your drink?! Ask the next question, and I’ll think about it. What drink are you gonna get?
AVC: Whiskey and ginger beer.
DW: Great. Less ginger ale, more whiskey.
6. If a deli named a sandwich after you, what would be on it?
DW: It would be Maryland crab. Can delis have Maryland crab sandwiches? With Old Bay on it, which is the best spice in the world.
AVC: Is this a play on words, like you’re a crabby guy?
DW: I’m not a crabby guy, I don’t have crabs. If I were to die—you know that I’m never going to die, right?—I would like to be buried surrounded by Maryland crabs. Live Maryland crabs. So like, karma. I’ve eaten so many of them, let them have me. But then they’re gonna get cremated and spread into Big Sur. I didn’t do good on that question. What number are we on?
AVC: That was number six.
7. What was your first big grown-up purchase?
DW: Great question. I think my 2003 4Runner that I still own, that I bought at 22.
AVC: Had you had a little success at that point?
DW: I was on a really shitty—and when I say shitty I mean terrible—sitcom on ABC for a year, at a very young age. [Married To The Kellys—ed.] And I had a ’96 Grand Am GT Pontiac, and my brother came out to visit and told me I needed a new car. So I got a 4Runner, which I get made fun of for. Any time I get made fun of for it, I just say I have a kid. But I also drive cross-country all the time!
8. What’s your go-to karaoke song?
DW: “American Girl.” I always do this really cheap setup. I go, “This song is dedicated to the girl I just met in the bathroom. I’m not sure what country she’s from, but this song is for her.” It’s pretty cheap. I told you I was dry. What whiskey did you use?
AVC: Old Grand-Dad.
DW: How much ginger ale?
AVC: Ginger beer, actually. The whole bottle, but plenty of whiskey on top.
DW: All right. Thank you for being a team player. Can you hold on a minute? [Leaves for a minute.] Sorry, I just had to puke that up. Just kidding!
9. What’s the worst living situation you’ve ever had?
DW: I’ve only had three, so I think where I currently live! I had a homeless person shit on the front of my right tire and leave his toilet paper—hashtag a T-shirt covered in shit—followed by the day after—my registration tags got ripped off. A month later, while we were filming, I got a call from my landlord. When we would shoot, since I drank, I’m always safe and take an Uber. My landlord called and said, “Derek, you need to move your car.” I said, “I can’t, I’m working.” He goes, “Well, the pipe above your truck has a hole in it, and there’s human feces falling on it.” Am I doing good, or am I just doing shit jokes?
10. Who could you take in a fight?
DW: Can I ask what the fight’s over? What are my choices? Verne Troyer? Sure. I’m not a fighter, but I’m also not a pacifist. We’re the same weight, same strength? Are you looking for someone famous? I could beat up Verne Troyer, I could kill Simon Birch. But only if they were ripping on my girlfriend or something very personal to me. Otherwise I have nothing but respect for them. Make sure you put that, because you know they have their names on Google Alerts. Is it a better joke to say I would fight Simon Birch, but I wouldn’t fight Owen Meany? Is that too smart?
11. Do you have anybody’s autograph?
DW: Yeah, this is a good one. My favorite band is Pearl Jam, you can say what you want. When I was 12 years old, all I listened to was what my parents listened to—the Commodores, Billy Joel, Elton John. And then my brother handed me Ten on cassette. It was like that moment in Almost Famous. From that moment, I’ve loved them. This is going to sound like a name-drop, but I’ve been out here for 14 years and been lucky to meet a lot of talented people. When Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig started at Saturday Night Live and Pearl Jam played, they got me tickets to see them do soundcheck and blah blah blah. Long story short, Kristen, bless her heart, got the script signed by all of Pearl Jam, and none of them spelled my name right. That’s perfect. That’s my sense of humor. I think all Eddie Vedder wrote was, “Peace. Eddie.”
Bonus question from Ron Funches: What Super Mario Bros. power-up best represents you?
DW: An extra life. Without hesitation. I’m being serious for a second, then I’ll end it with a joke. I’m 34, I never thought I’d be where I am. I’ve had times in my life where I’m like, “I’m done. I don’t think this is working.” I believe I’ve been given an extra life. Are you crying?
AVC: Just a little.
DW: That’s the ginger ale.
What question do you want to ask the next person?
DW: Why did you decided to agree to this interview? That’s a good question! I can tell you my answer.
AVC: Most people will just say, “I had something to promote!”
DW: Let me give you a couple, and then you pick which one. Are you gonna watch Drunk History when it premieres? Have you heard of Derek Waters? Does he have enemies, and if he does, what do they say about him? Why isn’t Eddie Murphy funny anymore? In your opinion, what happened to Eddie Murphy? Let’s do that one.