Last night, the fourth season of Drunk History premiered on Comedy Central. The premise of the show is simple: Someone, usually a comedian or talented storyteller, drinks way too much on camera and then attempts to tell a story from American history in a more entertaining, much less coherent way than a textbook might. On the show, these stories are paired with reenactments by professional actors in costume, set to the dubbed words of the original storyteller.
Watching the season premiere, I was struck again by something that continues to be a glaring problem with the program: It seems like it features almost entirely white dudes. Last night, for example, the show starred Duncan Trussell, Steve Berg, and Doug Jones—all comedians, and all white men.
We are told in school that history is written by the victors. If you lose the war, your story might be told among your people, but the nuance of it will get lost. The winners write the textbooks and teach the classes and decide which narratives matter, which pieces of history will make up the legacy left behind.
Of course, Drunk History is a far cry from an extensively researched academic text. But representation matters, no matter where history is being told—even if it's being told on TV, for laughs, by someone who just downed an ungodly amount of whiskey. So often, the stories we hear are told by a very specific type of people, people with the privilege to do so: notably the literate, the wealthy, and those with leisure time. In American history, those people have typically been white men. So in honor of Drunk History’s fourth season, we took a look at just who gets to tell the show's stories:
With 61 out of 94 hosting spots, white men
This does not mean that the producers of Drunk History are intentionally sidelining the voices of women and people of color. It's much more likely that they just defaulted into using white men who they knew personally both of the creators of Drunk History are themselves white men. One of them, Derek Waters, told Vox earlier this week: "Most of the narrators I know pretty well, so I know the types of stories they like, and then I present them with three or four stories that we’re definitely going to do this season and let them pick which one of those that they really attach to."
It makes sense that most of the early hosts would be friends of the creators, especially given that this project started as a web series. So I decided to take a look at whether or not these ratios have changed throughout the three seasons of the show. (Comedy Central did not respond to requests for comment before the publication of this piece)
What I found was that the raw number of women and people of color grew every season, though not enough to overtake the percentage of white men. On first look, it seems like there are drastic increases in every people group (including white men). That's because every season of Drunk History has had more episodes than the last. There are more women and people of color in each season, but the percentage change is less drastic than the chart looks. White women, for example, went from occupying 25% of hosting positions in season one to 30% in season three even though season one only had 6 white women and season three had 12.
Whether by intention or by accident, white men have had their reign diminished on the show taking up 71% of the hosting seats in season one, 66% in season two, and only 58.9% in season three. That's still not a number to brag about, but it's definitely progress.
Each episode generally features three people telling three different stories. What's interesting is that even though white men make up more than half of the hosts, only nine of the total 32 episodes aired (including the season four premiere) featured only white male hosts. One episode (episode 18) featured all women. No episodes featured all women of color.
That hints at some effort on the part of the Drunk History showrunners, especially because they have already announced the inclusion of Tymberlee Hill, a black woman, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Latino man, in upcoming season four episodes. But they have a long way to go before the people telling the stories of American history look like the people who make up America. Ultimately, though, I guess nothing screams history like stories told by a bunch of white dudes.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.