For “Drunk History” co-creator and host Derek Waters, it’s pretty bittersweet to still be campaigning for an Emmy now that his show has been canceled. Comedy Central, which is mostly getting out of the live-action comedy business, announced earlier this month that it had rescinded a Season 7 order for “Drunk History,” and Waters admits it still isn’t clear what happens next.
“It sounds a little dramatic, but it’s like a funeral without any music,” he told Variety‘s Awards HQ. “I would love to finish what I started. It would just be nice to end on your own terms, to say goodbye and not just be like, ‘that’s it.'”
Waters, who created the show with fellow executive producer Jeremy Konner, said he still hasn’t been given an “actual answer why it happened … no one’s called me. I have no idea. I have no verification of it.”
“Drunk History” had already shot a portion of all 16 episodes for Season 7 — specifically, the “drunk” part, where inebriated narrators share their take on a historic figure or moment. The other half, when other guest stars re-enact those alcohol-drenched stories, had yet to be filmed when COVID-19 production shutdowns began. And now, with Comedy Central retroactively canceling the show, it’s unclear whether those episodes will ever be finished.
Among the half-done episodes now sitting on the shelf: Stories about Bruce Lee; the celebrated African American World War I regiment Harlem Hellfighters; Black mail carrier pioneer Stagecoach Mary; 1930s actress Thelma Todd; 1800s abolitionists and Black leaders including Lewis Hayden and James Armistead Lafayette; and comedian Patton Oswalt on the battle between rivals to build the largest ball of twine. Also, “Saturday Night Live” writer Sam Jay tells the story of Glenn Burke, baseball’s first openly gay player.
And then, in what could double as a finale, Waters invited his favorite high school teacher for a “Teacher Appreciation” episode. The show’s narrators discussed their favorite teachers, and it ended with Waters bringing on his teacher — and together they got drunk and recounted Alexander Hamilton and the Whiskey Rebellion.
“It was the most emotional, best night of my life,” Waters said. “Being able to be friends with your history teacher is already cool, but then to get drunk and put them on a TV show! We were wearing suits and we jumped in a pool, and laughed and cried. I had my old binders from high school. And I asked him to re-grade them, and he was reading his old notes on that. ‘I’m like, that can’t go to waste!'”
“How great would that be right now, to give love to the most unappreciated, important job in society?” he said. “What other comedy show is doing that? We were telling stories, diverse stories and we were telling stories of unsung heroes that don’t get in the books. So I’m very disappointed and sad to see what I know of it now being over.”
Waters said he’s still trying to figure out how to salvage the content that’s already been shot — including going back to the show’s low-budget origins on YouTube. “Let’s go to Adele’s where we got all of our outfits on Hollywood Boulevard, and get little toy guns and make dumb things in our backyard,” he said. ” I don’t think anything’s ever over. I have hope. … We’ll see. There’s a lot of legal stuff that you’ve got to figure out. What I really hope for is just to finish what we started.”
At the same time, Waters said he’s “so grateful” for the show’s run, which has included 17 Emmy nominations (and one win, in 2015 for variety program or special costumes). This year, the show is just one of three nominees in the variety sketch series category; it’s also up for costumes for a variety, nonfiction or reality program, and production design for a variety, reality or competition series.
“It’s definitely bittersweet, but I will say, anytime we’ve been nominated, it’s been great,” he said. “Being recognized by the actual Academy for this show that I was making with my friends in the backyard. I just appreciate it so much that they saw what we were doing, that we were making a history show with a comedic premise. And the show’s only good because of the people I was lucky enough to surround myself by. Sincerely, it’s the strongest crew and just the nicest group of people that you’ll ever meet. I know everyone says that about their own show, but it felt nice, felt like family.”
The episode that the show entered, “Bad Blood,” featured the story of Cleopatra (Aubrey Plaza) and younger sister Arsinoe (Olivia Trujillo); as well as the now-timely story of Typhoid Mary (Betsy Sodaro).
“Just being able to make the show in the little Comedy Central budget that we had look as close as we could to our version of ‘Game of Thrones,’ I was pretty impressed with it,” Waters said. “And Typhoid Mary, being able to talk about quarantining before we knew what quarantining was!”
As for what’s next, Waters said he’s working on a new show via his production company Be Nice or Leave Productions. “I’m hoping to get that made when it’s a little safer to film,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot of lessons from ‘Drunk History’ and I’m ready to use them on new projects.”