The Marvel Life: Derek Waters

The Marvel Life: Derek Waters

By Blake Garris

Derek Waters, creator of the popular Comedy Central show “Drunk History,” where actors reenact an intoxicated narrator’s retelling of famous events in American history, recently stopped by Marvel to talk about the creation of the show and much more!

Derek Waters (photo by Ricardo Tirado) I’ve read a ton of interviews with you about Drunk History and all the questions seem to be the same. Is there any question you thought you’d have been asked by now but haven’t?

Derek Waters: Yeah, I have. I’m always surprised that no one asks [about people’s safety] because I’m so aware of that. We have a medic on the set. They’re always at their place. I’m surprised they don’t ask, “Do they drive home?” No one’s ever asked that, which I guess is kind of sad that no one really cares. It’s always at their place and everyone’s always safe when we leave. How did the show go from Funny or Die to Comedy Central. What was that process?

Derek Waters: Well, it was just sort of trying to figure out how do you make a five minute idea longer than five minutes. I was really inspired by shows like “Stephen Fry in America.” [Director] Jeremy Konner and I just threw out ideas. I also wanted to make the world bigger than Thomas Jefferson and George Washington stories so it wouldn’t get old because there’s nothing worse than watching tired comedy. The idea [was] each episode would be about a town and you can do stories about Lincoln but also stories about Patty Hearst and Elvis. That was sort of the idea and we pitched it.

Actually, the original idea was at 30 years old I realized I don’t know anything about my country so I bought a short bus and I’m driving across America to find out what happened. That’s what the pilot was and then Comedy Central wanted more and they made the right decision that it wasn’t about me learning, it was about just a history show where we’re teaching everybody and not just this dumb guy that looks drunk all the time. That was a long process. It’s been a long time but I’m really thankful because there were so many times where we’re doing a movie or a show which was just the way we had it before. And I just know that would have gotten old really fast and I never want it to get old. It’s been a long time of trying to figure it out.

Jake Johnson as William Travis, Derek Waters as Davy Crockett and Chris Parnell as Jim Bowie (photo courtesy of Comedy Central) One of the things that’s so great about the show is that you have some really big names like Jack Black and then some lesser known talent who deserve more exposure like Natasha Leggero. How do you go about deciding on that process?

Derek Waters: Well, the narrators I like to keep relatable. “Oh, that’s just like me. That’s how me and my friends get drunk.” And Natasha, in the comedy world, she’s very popular. And Paget Brewster, she’s a famous actress, and Jenny Slate. Those three are the most famous or well known that were doing it, which said a lot. I was like, “Are you sure you guys don’t want to just be in the reenactments?” but they really wanted to get drunk and tell a story. So there is that fine line of trying to figure out when someone’s interested, what you want to use them for. And also feeling like, “Oh, it’s just a regular person telling a story,” and then you have someone like Jack Black or Winona Ryder moving their lips to this ridiculous thing. I don’t know. I know if I was watching, I’d be like, “What the [expletive] is happening?” You have a great story about Sidney Poitier. Can you briefly mention that?

Derek Waters: Okay. So I used to work at Tower Video when I first lived in Los Angeles and people would come in all the time asking for really strange movies I’d never heard of. And I remember this one guy came in and asked for a movie, I still don’t remember the name of it, but I looked it up, we didn’t have it. So I thought maybe I could find it under the actors, and he named three or four actors and the only one I recognized was Sidney Poitier. So I kept spelling “Sidney Poitier” into the computer but I kept spelling “Poitier” wrong. So I was like, how do you spell it? And the guy was really nice and he helped me spell it but unfortunately we didn’t have the movie and he said thank you and left. And then my manager said, “Why the [expletive] did you just have Sidney Poitier spelling you his own name?” and I was like, “I thought it’d be funny?”

I knew who he was but like, just not at that moment. So for a long time my mom kept sending me Sidney Poitier movies. You’ve been a guest on a lot of great shows like “Happy Endings.” What’s been the best show to work on outside of your own?

Derek Waters: Oh, I don’t know. That’s a really hard question. I’ve been fortunate. That was my main goal when I moved from Baltimore to Los Angeles, was to be an actor. I don’t know how to answer that because I don’t really have a favorite. I like working but I don’t have a favorite show. I loved “Happy Endings,” it’s a shame that show isn’t on anymore but all those people involved, I loved them.

Spider-Man You mentioned earlier that you’re a fan of Marvel in general. You’re at Marvel right now, anything specific you’re excited to see? Any specific character?

Derek Waters: I like that Spider-Man guy. I always thought he was pretty cool. Yeah, I’m just interested in seeing the process and what goes into something that’s lasted for so long and something that’s so specific in creating a world; creating something that all these nerds live by. It’s really, really cool and admirable and I’m excited to see how it all gets made. Have you seen the Marvel movies?

Derek Waters: I haven’t seen [“Iron Man 3”] that’s now on Blu-ray. But “Iron Man,” I really like. The first one is one of my all time favorites. Why is that?

Derek Waters: I was entertained by it. I thought it was cool. I’ve only seen the first Spider-Man. I didn’t see the other two. But I loved the first one. Would you ever do a drunk historical retelling of Marvel?

Derek Waters: I could get Tobey Maguire to do Spider-Man to do the history of how Spider-Man started and I’m sure whoever’s talking is going to say how parts are good and parts aren’t good. It’d be great to see that reenacted. The history of Marvel would be unbelievable, but it’d be hard. People would want it to be animated but it would have to be live action and with really sad outfits. Like really tight, uncomfortable. Is there anything else fans can check out aside from Drunk History?

“Iron Man”

Derek Waters: Well I just directed a really cool video for this band Islands. It’s like a documentary about them acting like their new album is The White Album so people are talking about this historical album that’s been out for years and then it mention it came out last week and is $7.99 on iTunes. Well thanks for stopping by.

Derek Waters: Thanks for the interview. Marvel. Comic books forever. We do have a real tagline but I like that better.

Derek Waters: What is the tagline? This is Marvel. Your Universe.

Derek Waters: This is Marvel. Your universe. Do another one to end.

Derek Waters: This is Marvel. I’m dead serious. This is Marvel.

You can follow Derek Waters on Twitter @derekwaterss and check out recent clips from Drunk History on Comedy Central