Drunk History

Christmas specials are typically sentimental, pandering tales that have an almost magical feel in their ability to ignore or quickly resolve conflict and put everything aside for the sake of a heartwarming tale. Drunk History takes the popular format and soaks it in alcohol, and the results are a surprising authentic display of friendship and gleeful holiday spirit.

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Phil Hendrie starts his segment with a surprisingly good and thoughtful toast, and his warm energy permeates the rest of his retelling. He’s the friend that gets drunk and tells everyone how much he loves them, and that makes him a perfect narrator for a Christmas special, filling it with genuine joy. He’s a good storyteller, too, and the fluidity of the production design and direction in the reenactments of his retelling of Charles Dickens writing A Christmas Carol reflect that. There are some usual drunken misspeaks—the ghost of Christmas past becomes the Christmas spirit of “whatever the fuck happened before.” But Hendrie’s real gift is his infectious energy and the fact that you can tell right away that he’s having a great time. Some narrators get too self-aware of their own drunkenness, but he just seems like he’s here for a jolly good time.

He follows Craig Anstett, a returning Drunk History narrator, close friend of Derek Waters, and chronic burper. Anstett sets the tone for the episode with his antics with Waters at the beginning. He doesn’t have the most exciting retelling—of George Washington crossing the Delaware River on Christmas—but Rob Corddry gives a fun performance as Washington, and the production design is fantastic.

Even more so than watching narrators struggle to find their words and actors excel at conveying them, I’ve missed the so-bad-it’s-good production design and sets of Drunk History. The snow-covered battlefields are weirdly immersive, and like Anstett points out, even this low-budget rendering of the crossing of the Delaware is more visually accurate than the famed painting of the event, which reimagines the day as sunny and crisp. There’s a method to Drunk History’s madness, and that’s what makes the show so much more than drunken ramblings.

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Rich Fulcher ties a lopsided bow on it all with the final segment, a dependably weird and tangent-filled retelling of Teddy Roosevelt’s disdain for Christmas trees and the two “little fuckabouts”—also known as his sons—who helped change his mind. I’ve called Fulcher a human soundboard before, and he continues to prove me right, filling his retelling with nonsensical, inconsistent voices and punctuating with sounds like a “mouth fart.” He says things like “the trees make you sneeze below the knees,” and Drunk History rolls with it, providing the perfect platform for his genuine strangeness. “We’re gonna have Christmas trees every year for an eternity,” he says in a truly creepy, cartoon-villain voice for no apparent reason.

Ken Marino, like Hanks, and Corddry, is a great returning reenactor. But Drunk History is a show that’s often about underappreciated heroes, and the potentially underappreciated heroes of the episode are Aasha Davis, Cole Sand, and Noah Ziggy James. Davis, who along with Maria Blasucci is one of the best ensemble players on Drunk History and a huge part of why it continues to be so funny and weird, plays the indignant White House electrician with specificity that makes it all the more hilarious. The exchange between Waters and Fulcher about what a White House electrician even does becomes one of the funniest parts of the segment thanks to her characterization. And Sand and James are delightful as Archie and Quentin, easily mastering all the tricks of lip-syncing to Fulcher’s oddities. All in all, the Drunk History Christmas special is a little holiday gift that doesn’t try to hard and still ends up being surprisingly warm and emotional, particularly through its displays of friendship between Waters and the narrators. Drunk History is ultimately a joyous, playful show, and its Christmas episode harnesses that energy, bursting with merry holiday spirit.

Stray observations

  • A few moments, like Anstett’s slap across the face, build on past Drunk History installments.
  • I always like when they find funny ways to work in non-verbal sounds in the reenactments, like when Hendrie snaps and claps and it turns into Charles Dickens snapping and slapping his book.
  • The introduction of Teddy Roosevelt’s kids felt like a fucked-up alternative version of the Sound Of Music kids introducing themselves.
  • Hendrie’s attempt to recap the actual text of A Christmas Carol is hilarious.
  • The singing at the end of Fulcher’s segment is equal parts terrifying and hilarious.

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