“The reason I like it is we’re expanding how to tell stories and also making the world of history bigger,” the creator told IndieWire. “I grew up in a lot of slower, special ed classes and had a hard time understanding why I should care about this [or that] story. I had a hard time listening. History is so important, but it’s rarely taught in a way that makes you go, ‘Oh, these people aren’t that different from you and I.'”
Now, as the series prepares to launch the second half of its sixth season, Waters has resolved to only keep making the show if he believes he can improve upon what’s come before. “I promised Comedy Central I would never do another season unless I could outdo the last one,” Waters said. “That’s what I strive for, that’s what makes it harder, but I do it to myself.”
That’s no easy task. “Drunk History,” which asks inebriated narrators to recount historical events and then brings those stories to life with professional actors, has been nominated for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series three years in a row, won an Emmy for its costumes in 2015, and has racked up 11 nominations total.
Still, Waters sticks by his standard of excellence — just one reason the show continues to win fans and accolades after 64 episodes. “I don’t want it to get old. I don’t want to do the same jokes over and over again. I don’t want to do a story if someone says, ‘Yeah, it’s kind of like that other one you did,'” Waters said. “So it’s harder in my own head — wanting to be creative and outdo the last season.”
But that doesn’t mean former performers are off limits. To kick off Season 6, Waters brought back Evan Rachel Wood, who first appeared in the Season 5 episode, “Heroines.” For “Are You Afraid of the Drunk,” she plays the famous author Mary Shelley and ended up with quite a few lengthy speeches to memorize. “Every monologue she had was huge,” Waters said. “But before her big one, where Mary Shelley is sitting at the dinner table and she’s about to tell her story, I had the crew go to lunch and just the actors sit at the table […] and she didn’t have her script with her, so I was like, ‘Oh, God…'”
But Waters’ worries were unnecessary.
“She didn’t drop one word,” he said. “She knew every single line, had everything calculated, and […] she’s obviously an amazing actor, but she does a thing for the show where she embodies the narrator and [her] character. [She] just makes it so passionate and plays it so genuine. I think it’s one of the best performances on the show.”
Waters said one of the reasons Wood likes the show so much is that it taps into a talent she couldn’t show off anywhere else. It’s lip-syncing combined with a physical performance, all to serve someone else’s story. “I always said the whole tone of the show was taking ridiculousness seriously,” he said. “The words said are so naturally insane, but how she responds, how she plays it, it’s Shakespeare.”
Watch Waters discuss Wood’s performance at IndieWire’s Consider This FYC Brunch below. “Drunk History” is eligible for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, as well as other variety programming categories, at the 2019 Primetime Emmy Awards. Season 6 returns June 18 at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.