You’d think Lin-Manuel Miranda might be sick of talking about Alexander Hamilton at this point, but as it turns out, there was one storytelling genre he had yet to conquer: the late-night drunken ramble.
Comedy Central’s Drunk History devoted an entire episode to the Hamilton creator diving a little deeper into Alexander Hamilton’s rise and fall — this time through a boozy haze. The episode, shot in Miranda’s parents’ house in New York City, eventually leads to him and Drunk History co-creator Derek Waters doing a rousing piano rendition of Semisonic’s “Closing Time” and holding drunken FaceTime sessions with Questlove and Hamilton star Christopher Jackson.
All in all, a pretty typical Tuesday night drinking sesh.
Reenacting Miranda’s enthusiastic words are Alia Shawkat as Hamilton and Aubrey Plaza as his rival Aaron Burr, with cameos from Shawkat’s Arrested Development co-star Tony Hale as James Monroe and Fargo’s Bokeem Woodbine as George Washington. Foo Fighters drummer Dave Grohl even shows up as a disgruntled Congress member.
As Waters told me in September, the Hamilton episode was a special project for the series. (And a long time in the making, judging by the fact that Miranda still had the long Hamilton hair he cut after his final performance in July, when the Drunk History episode was filmed.) Though the very first Drunk History sketch ever, which went online in 2007, was about the Hamilton-Burr duel, the Comedy Central show wanted to let Miranda get more specific and go deeper than even the musical does.
Waters “didn’t want [Miranda] to feel like, ‘Oh, it’s the drunk musical.’ I wanted to reiterate that this would be a completely different thing.”
And so while the Drunk History episode does cover a lot of the same ground as the musical — Hamilton escaping a Caribbean hurricane to go to America, get in with George Washington, and set the first national sex scandal into motion — there’s no denying that Miranda tells the story with a bit of a different flair while intoxicated.
For example, while the musical drops a few expletives, Miranda throws a hell of a lot more casual “motherfucker”s into Drunk History than he did into Hamilton (which contains exactly one). Also, Miranda’s musical doesn’t exactly call the Reynolds Pamphlet — the document Hamilton wrote to confess to his affair with Mariah Reynolds — “Dick 101,” as he does with a giggle on Drunk History.
More importantly, though, the Drunk History version of the Hamilton story continues with the musical’s tradition of casting people who wouldn’t usually get a shot to be in biopics about white people. As A.V. Club’s Drunk History recapper Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya explained when discussing John Cho’s portrayal of Shakespeare on the show, Drunk History’s always thrown traditional casting norms out the window in favor of letting the best and funniest take on roles:
…underneath the intoxication, there’s depth and subversion that you don’t get from more strictly educational programs. Drunk History gives attention and voice to some of history’s undervalued players—including women and people of color.
…For people of color, it’s an emphatic declaration that we’re here, that we’ve always been here, no matter who tries to write us out or silence us. In a time when history is still persistently whitewashed, in a time when literal white supremacy has infiltrated the White House, watching a Korean-born immigrant play one of history’s most famous playwrights is powerful.
And the same holds true for this Hamilton episode, in which two (hilarious) women take on the roles of Hamilton and Burr with gleeful sneers, with a black man stepping into the role of America’s first president. Drunk History knows and loves historical facts, but it has always known — like Hamilton — that it doesn’t matter who’s telling the story, as long as they’re telling it with the attention, skill, and talent that it deserves.