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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Human sound effects animate “Scoundrels” on Drunk History

Drunk History
Drunk History
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Rich Fulcher, a.k.a. the human soundboard, returns to Drunk History for an episode all about scoundrels. He’s one of Drunk History’s veteran narrators, but despite his familiarity with the form, he never seems overly rehearsed. Even some first-time narrators get too in their heads about being funny, and then repeat retellers tend to try to outdo themselves or put too much thought into recreating the things they did well the first time. Not Fulcher. He never seems like he’s performing. He gets so lost in his story that he has trouble snapping back into reality. Sometimes, he doesn’t even make total sense, seemingly telling inside jokes to himself. But that mix of natural weirdness and vocal dynamics makes for a wild ride. There’s a reason Derek Waters keeps bringing him back.

And this time around, Fulcher has some of the best reenactors in the game to interpret his word-salad style of narration. Taran Killam plays scoundrel Lord Gordon Gordon with flamboyance and menace, often giving an unexpected interpretation of Fulcher’s dialogue. Josh Charles also commits fully to the role of Jay Gould, and his very serious delivery of the unintelligible, expletive-laden mumbo jumbo that Fulcher gives him to work with near the end of the story is award-worthy. Fulcher doesn’t give a fuck about rules when it comes to formulating a sentence or even pronouncing words, inexplicably saying “cawat” instead of “court.” The story itself is just an okay one, but with Fulcher bringing a myriad of wacky sound effects to it and Killam and Charles delivering all that weirdness in a way that maximizes the humor, Drunk History transforms the story into quite the spectacle.

Vocal dynamics also buoy Hillary Anne Matthews’ story about Sadie the Goat (Kat Dennings) and Gallus Mag (Ronda Rousey), which is similarly perfectly cast. Matthews doesn’t quite have the experience of Fulcher, but she nonetheless knows how to tell a good Drunk History story, and the dialogue she comes up with, along with the different voices she does, are the perfect amount of goofy while still getting to the heart of the story. Her sound effects for Sadie getting dragged are on par with Fulcher’s human soundboard status. And she uses dynamics to give the story levels and convey the stakes. It helps that she has the most exciting story of the episode, centered on a scoundrel who is more tempting to root for than the others.

I also see the Sadie segment as a continuation of one of season four’s underlying themes: stories about complex, beautiful, unconventional relationships between women. Almost every episode this season has featured a story that taps into a similar, nuanced space of female friendship. Gallus may have cut off Sadie’s ear, but in Matthews’ retelling, it’s clear that the two women had a lot of respect for one another. And the ahistorical addition of a Golden Girls theme singalong makes for the most fun part of the episode. Meanwhile, Matthews sling-shotting Waters with a mini carrot and then literally head-butting him Sadie-style make for some of the best behind-the-scenes drunken moments of the season. Sometimes, those moments just before or just after a narrator tells their story can be uncomfortable, leading to far too much secondhand embarrassment. But Matthews is just a genuinely fun and silly drunk…with an impressive skill for head-butting to boot.

Though Matthews and Fulcher give sonically bizarre retellings that make “Scoundrels” a playful romp, the episode starts on a weaker note, with Chris Romano retelling the tale of Charles Ponzi (Jesse Plemons, who I didn’t even recognize at first) and William McMasters (Ed Helms). The segment’s greatest contribution is its recognition of a man history has forgotten: McMasters was crucial to bringing down Ponzi and exposing his notorious scheme, but he has been written out of the story thanks to the newspaper editor who quite literally didn’t write him into the Boston Post’s Pulitzer-winning coverage. But Romano relies merely on an Italian accent to inject the story with humor, and it just isn’t enough.

Stray observations

  • “Well, additionally, beans on toast.”
  • I love watching Ronda Rousey beat people up so much.
  • The staging of Rousey and Dennings whispering “white-on-white racism” in each others’ faces is so good.
  • Waters’ genuine amusement at Matthews’ saying Sadie didn’t have a fancy life is also great. I love whenever he breaks out of his straight-faced, even-toned Drunk Whisperer role.
  • Seriously, can someone make an actual Fulcher soundboard app?
  • Fulcher is also a solid reenactor on Drunk History, but he’s best in the narrator chair.