You probably know Jake Johnson as Nick Miller on New Girl, but you may be surprised to find out that he is also partially responsible for the webseries and television show Drunk History. In real life he has a fondness for beer too, so maybe it’s more than coincidence that he plays a bartender on New Girl and his character in Drinking Buddies worked at a Brewery. Either way it was fitting that we caught up with him at the launch of Stella Artois’ Perfect Draft in New York City. We talked about his love of drinking, the truth behind the most confusing drinking game in history, True American, and he let his artistic abilities shine.
What’s your drink of choice?
Jake Johnson: I like Stella, and I like this Perfect Draft because I like that I can have it in my home. I mean that genuinely, I like to drink! I’m at the part of my life where I don’t want to go to a bar all the time. I’m done. I want to be home, but I don’t always like to drink beer out of a can or a bottle. I like a draft beer.
Besides Stella what do you drink?
Jake Johnson: I also like Ketel, so if I’m going booze, I’ll go Ketel on ice. I used to like soda in there, and then I got embarrassed that I was a grown man drinking vodka sodas. I don’t drink Miller Lites anymore — I used to.
No Natty Light then?
JJ: Believe me, I went to the University of Iowa for two years, so I’ve been down that road. Now I’m 35 years old, you know?
You went to a big party school then, so tell me what the most embarrassing thing you’ve done while drunk?
JJ: I mean, there’s a lot! There’s a lot. The most embarrassing thing I’ve done recently… I mean, there’s just too many. I will tell you an embarrassing story that occurred at the University of Iowa that wasn’t about me, but was about a guy I was drinking with. They had overbooked the dorms, and we all had to sleep in this main room, with bunk beds. And there was one guy, his name was Todd and he was from Newton, Iowa. And he was trying to convince me that a frat was the way to do it. I was always an independent, but my friends were in a fraternity, so I hung out with those guys. So one night we all come back, we were all partying, and Todd had gone deep that night. And one of my other roommates woke me up and said, “I think Todd took a crap on the speakers,” and there was an old — this was the ’90s, I guess, now I’m an old man, but it was, like, ‘97 — CD player with these speakers, nothing was wireless. And somebody had taken a crap all over, and there was toilet paper leading back to his bunk. So I woke him up and I go, “Hey homeboy, you just took a shit on Mike’s speaker, man! You did that!” And he goes, “How do you know it was me?” And I go, “Well, there’s a toilet paper trail all the way back to your buttcheeks.”
So you’ve just sold Todd out.
JJ: Yeah, I don’t talk to him anymore. He left the dorm — I’m not kidding — that night. He didn’t clean anything up and that was the end of it. So that’s an embarrassing thing that happened with alcohol. For Todd at least.
What’s your favorite drinking game?
JJ: Quarters. You ever see the show Drunk History?
Yeah! I was going to ask you about that.
JJ: Well Derek Waters [the creator] came to my house when I first moved to Los Angeles, and we became friends. We did a short together, we did Jake and Derek’s Road Trip with Nick Jasenovec who directed Paper Heart. And one night he said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Nothing, what are you doing?” I said, “How about this, come to my house, sleep over, let’s go old school. Sleep on the couch, let’s drink a million beers and just be idiots, order pizza at midnight, pretend we’re in college.” And we start drinking, and we’re drinking and we start playing heads-up quarters. I got really drunk and I told him a long-winded Otis Redding story. The next morning he called me up and said, “Will you re-tell me that story on camera?” And I said, “Why?” And he goes, “Because I want to film actors doing reenactments and I want Otis Redding to tell you to shut up.”
So that’s how Drunk History started.
JJ: Yup, it was heads-up quarters with Derek Waters.
OK, so since you were part of the reason Drunk History exists, can you recite any of the Gettysburg Address?
JJ: No! It took me five years to get through high school; I’m not doing that shit now!
So another famous drinking game is…True American, made famous by New Girl. Do you know the rules? Does anyone know the rules?
JJ: No. There are no rules. I know people on the internet created lists and things, but there are no rules. It’s a game that’s made up each time we play.
When you guys were filming that, was most of it scripted? Or were you playing around with the drinking game itself?
JJ: Well, it kind of depends on the season of it. I think this year was pretty scripted but I don’t fully remember. I know when it first started we improvised a ton of it, and I feel like this year we kind of went script.
Who is the biggest lightweight on the New Girl set?
JJ: Well, we don’t drink at work, so the only time we all drink together is at events. Max doesn’t drink. Lamorne is a professional; he drinks quite a bit. Damon is kind of a lightweight, but you know what, she might get mad at me for saying it, because she can actually drink more than she used to, but Zooey used to be a huge lightweight. She has built up her tolerance but she used to be. Season 1 she was a huge lightweight.
How often do you get mistaken for Jack Johnson, the musician?
JJ: Quite a bit!
Has anyone ever come up to you and said, “Hey Jack Johnson!”
JJ: Well no, because visually we don’t look enough a lot. He’s a far handsomer cat. That Hawaiian dude is cool. But our names are similar, so that happens. Through that, a lot, especially when I first started, I would be in interviews and they would start out and say, “JACK JOHNSON!” But to be perfectly honest, and I’m not just saying this, I like his music.
What’s your favorite Jack Johnson song?
JJ: I don’t know the names.
What about the classic “Banana Pancakes?”
JJ: Sure. It’s the feeling, I like the Hawaiian surfer, chill-out vibe. So being compared to him seems pretty cool to me. It’s not like I’m getting compared to a serial rapist, who is like the worst guy ever. I’m getting compared to a cool Hawaiian family man who makes great music.
Who is the most sensitive on the New Girl set?
When’s the last time you cried?
JJ: When there was a good song on the radio. No, actually, I just teared up — I didn’t fully cry — but while reading the obituary from the actor from Homeland. The way that he wrote about his life with gratitude. When he wrote about his daughters and son-in-law, and when he said how much he loved them, I choked up. I just thought, Holy shit! To be dying, but to thank everybody. Like, I think in my obituary, because I’m a bit of a son of a bitch, I might throw one last dig, like, “To my agents, thank you, but, was this the best we could have done?” To my family, “Did you appreciate me enough you sons of bitches?! I did everything for you!” And, “My friends, you snakes!” But in his obituary, the way he talked about his sister and his parents, I just thought, like, to do that, it broke me down a little bit.
When’s the last time you fell off a bike?
JJ: Fourth grade.
Did you break anything, was it rough?
JJ: Well it doesn’t feel good to fall off a bike! Especially if you have a bigger frame, and I’m not known for being a lightweight. So that’s a heavy body falling on concrete.
So that’s kind of Chicago terminology, lightweight meaning a smaller person.
JJ: Yeah well in the Midwest, we grow them bigger. You know the term, like, a Midwest 7 is an L.A. 5 or whatever. The look of human, what is attractive to a Chicagoan, what we think, Oh that person looks great! looks less great in Hollywood.
Who farts the most on the New Girl set?
JJ: I mean people do, we are all in our thirties though. No one is like ripping farts and slapping five about it. This is a place of work!
Tell me something that someone doesn’t know about you. A hidden talent or something.
JJ: About me? Hey, Brian [calls over his friend Brian], what’s a hidden talent about me that people that don’t know?
Brian: He’s an amazing basketball player. Great jump shot. Really hustles on defense.
What position do you play?
JJ: I’m an undersized power forward.
I don’t know what your artistic abilities are, but maybe you could show them off by drawing your fellow New Girl castmates?