Drunk History promises to mix and stir great Aussie tales with some favourite TV faces and shake it into a cocktail of comedy, even for those who have sworn off the stuff.
Australian Idol hosts Osher Günsberg and James Mathison reunite on screen, cheekily cast as explorers Burke & Wills. They will re-enact the colonial expedition -more or less- when it is recounted by comedian Harley Breen.
Based on a US format of the same name, the show requires its narrator to imbibe of the demon liquor in order to embellish the storytelling (and hence the comedy).
James Mathison appears in two episodes, once as Burke, and on another occasion as a sozzled storyteller.
“I was a bit skeptical about doing it because I don’t drink anymore”
As he tells TV Tonight, Mathison had given up drinking several years ago. But the idea intrigued him.
“I was a bit skeptical about doing it because I don’t drink anymore. When my wife fell pregnant and stopped drinking, I stopped in support and we just never started back up again,” he explains.
“When they asked me I thought, “I haven’t had a drink in a long time. But if we’re supported through it, it might be a bit of fun.'”
Osher Günsberg, who plays Wills, also gave up drinking in a decade ago.
“I took responsibility for my relationship with alcohol, but it is not on me to tell anybody what they can and can’t put in their mouth,” he said of the show.
He added, “No workplace can legally put anyone in danger. There are going to be health and safety protocols about everything, including this.”
Mathison, who recounts his own version of “The Dismissal of Gough Whitlam,” notes the show juggles a fine line between its title and encouraging humour.
“You have find that balance between ‘What am talking about?’ and being free and loose”
“Mine should be called Tipsy History. You have to find that balance between ‘What am talking about?’ and being free and loose at the same time,” he recalls.
“There’s a playfulness with it and also an understanding that adults can and have been able to consume alcohol responsibly.”
But he assured that Eureka Productions also took care when filming.
“You’ve got First Aid on site and a medic, and a producer whose sole job is to keep an eye on how many drinks you’re having. You don’t get to pour one yourself. They mark down how much you’ve had and in what time frame. I think I had to give my height and weight as well, before we started,” he continues.
“They have a real duty of care to make sure that you’re not putting yourself or anyone else at risk.”
“They take it really seriously, because you’re in a work environment. You’re being paid to be there, so you’re an employee, and they have a real duty of care to make sure that you’re not putting yourself or anyone else at risk. They make sure you’re picked up in a car, taken there, and taking directly home. You’re not unleashed onto the world absolutely hammered from a workplace.
“After I recounted a story they asked me to act in one of them. But I thought, ‘I’m not an actor.’ When they said they had Osher on board, I was in.”
Getting the band back together, this time in period costume, was great fun for the best mates.
“..to cast another iconic Australian duo….I’m bloody grateful”
“Burke & Wills are this iconic Australian duo, so to cast another iconic Australian duo …there’s plenty of them, don’t get me wrong. We just happen to be in that category. I’m bloody grateful,” says Günsberg.
“I don’t think they could afford Hamish and Andy so they got us!”
Through Breen’s retelling, Burke and Wills’ 1860 expedition ran into extraordinary bad luck as they ventured from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Trouble started before they had even left Royal Park, lending itself to plenty of comedy schtick.
“James Mathison is without doubt one of the most talented comedic actors I think our country’s ever seen,” says Günsberg.
“If he wanted to, he could be the lead in a sitcom tomorrow. He’s that good. So to spend a day just trying not to laugh was the hardest part of this shoot. His deadpan is the best.
“And I adore Harley Breen. He is one of the most fabulous human beings this country’s ever made. He’s the greatest dad, incredibly kind-hearted, just a brilliant human.”
“I don’t think we’ve worked on something together for 10 or 12 years”
Mathison concurs it was great getting the Idol band back together.
“It was great fun. I don’t think we’ve worked on something together for 10 or 12 years. We see each other all the time.
“But it was awesome to get all dressed up and have a good laugh.”
The series will also include such names as Anne Edmonds, Susie Youssef, Yvie Jones, Darren McMullen, Wayne Hope, Phil Lloyd, Matt Okine, Peter Phelps, Stephen Curry, Bernard Curry, Joel Creasey and even Costa Georgiadis.
Mathison even goes as far as to say he could be coaxed into imbibing once again.
“I won’t lie it was fun. I said, ‘If I’m going to do it, I want to do it on these specific spirits!'” he insists.
“The key to drinking. High quality spirits, lots of water afterwards, eat a delicious meal and then go to bed early.”
Drink history responsibly.
Drunk History airs 9:40pm Monday on 10.