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Drunk History: “New Jersey”

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Now in its third season, Drunk History has mastered its formula. The Comedy Central comedy born from a Funny Or Die webseries strikes a strange balance: It’s both a well-oiled and sloppy machine. Things are, of course, bound to get sloppy when copious amounts of alcohol are involved. And Drunk History faces the distinct challenge of letting things get just the right amount of out-of-control. Too many tangents (or in other words, too many drinks) means the stories start to feel less like stories and more like comedians just laughing at their own slurred words. When creator Derek Waters explained how he makes the show, he said he picks comedians as his narrators because they “know how to tell a beginning, middle and end to a story.” The best historical retellers on Drunk History, in fact, never lose sight of the storytelling aspect of the show—even at their sloppiest. And those retellers tend to be the ones who get so wrapped up in telling the story that they actually get excited about it themselves. “New Jersey,” the season three premiere, embodies that kind of giddy delight that can make Drunk History so much fun.


It helps that two of the episode’s three narrators are newcomers who aren’t one bit shy about their task. “New Jersey” begins with writer Tess Lynch, who is fucking thrilled to be here. Drunk History always showcases a wide range of drunk types. You know your friend who forgets everyone’s name when they’re drunk? The one who just starts making strange noises? The one who overthinks everything? They’ll all show up on Drunk History at some point. Lynch is the type of drunk who can’t stop saying different iterations of “fuck,” and her candor definitely gives a lot of life to the tale of Thaddeus Lowe (played by Greg Kinnear) and The Union Army Balloon Corps. She gets so excited about the entire premise of the show that she interrupts herself to say “this is the funnest job ever,” and there’s just something so great about watching people do something that brings them that kind of uninhibited, youthful joy. And Waters, as always, deftly plays the role of executive producer/Drunk Guide by not letting her just say “reverse fart noise” without further explanation. He wasn’t going to let that one just slide.


Also a newcomer, Mark Proksch (The Office) also jumps right in with few reservations in his retelling of The Bone Wars, which he of course can’t say without a little giggle. Another small part of Drunk History not be overlooked besides just seeing how different people act when they’re drunk is hearing how they like to get drunk: “I do vodka, because it doesn’t give me a hangover,” he explains. Although I have some doubts about this theory, hey, if it works for him, it works for him. Proksch is the kind of reteller who gets swept up in his story. As the tension between Othniel Marsh (Christopher Meloni) and Edward Cope (Tony Hale) escalates, so does Proksch’s excitement. He elevates a somewhat interesting story about two dudes feuding over dinosaur bones into a much more thrilling tale than it is on paper, which should definitely be one of the goals for every Drunk History retelling. It helps, too, that Meloni and Hale are giving an acting masterclass, with full-body commitment to Proksch’s slurred words. Proksch, in fact, ranks pretty high on the Most Slurred Delivery scale for Drunk History narrators. But his “you wish, tunafish!” is the best laugh of the episode.

“New Jersey” never loses momentum, closing out strong with returning narrator Jenny Slate, whose retelling of the invention of Coca-Cola was one of season one’s best segments. Here, she retells the tale of Arno Penzias (Justin Long) and Robert Wilson (Jason Ritter, who seems to get funnier and funnier with every television appearance he does) and the Holmdel Horn Antenna. Now, Slate doesn’t even need alcohol to be a weird and enthralling storyteller. The drink in her hand is just a bonus—as is the presence of her balls-less, science-hating dog. The second she exclaims “let’s talk about space!,” I’m strapped in and ready for the delirious ride I know she’s about to take me on. And she delivers, peppering her retelling with her signature strange sounds and honking laugh, which Long incorporates so well mid-sentence.

Lynch and Proksch get the ball rolling in “New Jersey,” but Slate picks up that ball and kicks it into space, pushing the episode into wacky, yet still grounded, territory. She’s the perfect Drunk History narrator: silly but focused. And she weirdly cares about the story she’s telling, giving endearing—if ahistorical—details to the characters, like the idea that Penzias and Wilson would refer to each other as “babe.” The discovery of Cosmic Microwave Background has never been so delightful.


Stray observations

  • Welcome to weekly coverage of Drunk History! Let’s get weird.
  • Drunk Derek Waters Wisdom: “You only need a cork if you’re not gonna finish it.”
  • Stephen Merchant makes a great Fuckin’ President Lincoln.
  • Lynch: “I’m seeing, like, so many of you.”
  • I wish I could see whoever was operating Camera A’s reaction to Proksch saying he wanted them to get a mouthful.
  • Props to whoever made the choice to have Long tap Ritter’s nose every time Slate says “boink!”
  • Slate: “I had to unfollow NASA on Instagram, because it made me too crayzayyyyy.”