The web series “Drunk Monkeys” isn’t just about two women getting drunk for the whole Internet to see. It’s about Erica Reid and Jen Ellison “Trying things so the people don’t have to.”
Jen and Erica are the best of friends, having met years ago in an intense, artistic play. They’re funny, they’re smart and you just want to hang out with them. Which is exactly what I did. I literally wedged myself in between the ladies to interview them as they fed me tequila. Lucky for them, tequila is sort of my drink… or at least it was in high school. You know, besides Hot Damn Cinnamon Schnapps.
Jen Ellison: Was Hot Damn ruined for you?
Serial Optimist: It was… along with the carpet.
Erica Reid: Did IT ruin it for you or did your vomit ruin it.
SO: The IT coming out of my body ruined it.
Erica: When you barfed were you like, “Hot Damn!”
Jen: I have a bottle of “Hot Damn” at my house. We need to try it. We should do an episode.
Erica: We really should. We haven’t done a Hot Damn episode.
And now you see the sophisticated method they use for deciding which liquor to try.
Check out a “taste” (pun intended) of what an episode of “Drunk Monkeys” is like in this video as we try three different ages of tequila. Meanwhile, I spoke to them about their process, the show and how Jen keeps making Erica gag…
SO: So tell me about the process for putting the show together.
Erica: We do a little bit of research, then smell (the alcohol), talk about it and talk about what it reminds us of. We just kind of make stuff up sometimes. We usually read the bottle. That’s where we get our information.
Jen: We’ll see things out in the world that will make us think… like I saw a list of bad liquors or peanut butter and jelly liquor, which we need to try.
Erica: And we don’t shoot anything, ever. We sip it, because we want the complexities and the feel. With all the flavored vodkas that are popular right now, you don’t get the flavor. You just get the aftertaste.
Jen: The side effect is that we started realizing, “Oh, this vodka is not good quality. It’s just masked by cake batter.” Also, people give us stuff all the time, which is cool.
Erica: Yeah, they’re like, “hey, try this” which is great.
Jen: We don’t have to buy it, so thank you.
Erica: Thank you!
SO: How do you rate the drinks?
Jen: Our rating system is a 360 rating system. It’s 1.) Do we enjoy the bottle? 2.) Did we enjoy talking about it? 3.) Is there, something interesting like, “Maybe we could drink this with something else”… if it’s not good on it’s own. I think we’re comprehensive in the experience of it.
As you might imagine, they end up trying a lot of girly drinks.
Jen: We did like “Kinky.” It was a little pink something. There’s a whole segment of drinking stuff that is girl type of drinks. It’s marketed to women. Very girlie girl drinks…
Erica: Feminine cocktails.
Jen: They’re very pink and flowery and sugary.
SO: Is that a turn off to you guys?
Erica: Because it’s like, hey we drink real things. We don’t need something pink to remind us that we have vaginas. We drink things that normal people like to drink.
SO: What is your least favorite liquor and your absolute favorite?
Jen: That’s a tough one, because, I feel like… well, I didn’t dislike bacon. I thought it was ok. Am I going to want to just drink a glass of it on the rocks? No.
SO: Yeah, I don’t want to drink meat.
Jen: Right, but I tend to really love bacon, so even bacon-flavored things are great.
SO: I like that you say that like, “Look guys, I have to admit something. I’m a little different than everyone… I like bacon.”
Erica: Yeah Jen, I didn’t know that about you, so thank you for confessing.
Jen: No, but it (the liquor) didn’t put me off that bad. It does sort of tastes like, like if you were to open a raw bag of bacon, (Erica: Ugh) that’s what it would smell like.
Erica: Jen’s quote that I love from that episode was, “It’s got some ham in there.”
Jen: It does, but for me that’s not the least exciting one or the grossest.
Erica: What was the grossest?
Jen: Hmm, that’s hard. The dill pickle was pretty rough. It had dill in it, but… there was something wrong.
SO: Did it taste like a pickle?
Jen: Well… no, because it wasn’t salty. You want it to taste like pickle brine, but it was more like dill water.
SO: No you’re a dill water! (to Erica) So, what’s YOUR least favorite?
Erica: The bacon made me dry-heave and almost vomit on the table. I’ve tried it in a couple different ways and every time there’s a very epic heave-cough involved.
SO: Please tell me this is on the episode.
Erica: Oh yeah. I actually started crying. I was weeping and dry-heaving. We mixed it on the live show with cake vodka to make candied-bacon and that made me heave.
Jen: That was pretty gross.
Erica: And we definitely get drunker as the season goes one. Our most drunk season was the home season that filmed before the one that’s currently airing. Where normally in a night we’ll do 6 or 7. That time we did 11.
Erica: Yeah. And we just went off the rails. We were like, “I’m going to just pull this off the shelf and do a quick episode with them. And we got so drunk that we didn’t even remember them later when we watched them.
(to Jen) I know your favorite… Loopy!
Jen: Oh, yeah!
Erica: Jen lost her FREAKIN’ mind of “Loopy.” That one is one of my favorite episodes, because…
SO: What is “Loopy?”
Erica: Fruit Loops!
Jen: It’s Fruit Loops flavored vodka. Because there’s a whole series of flavored vodkas and as we’ve talked about before, they’re definitely geared towards a younger audience, like college.
SO: In my days, we only had “Hot Damn,” but now, there are so many options.
Jen: I think because the flavors in Fruit Loops are kind of artificial, it’s really easy to engineer the flavor for the vodka. It’s insane.
Erica: It’s ridiculous how accurate it was. It’s the most accurate flavored vodka to flavor they’re trying to emulate out there.
SO: Did you mix that one with milk or cream?
Jen: Yes, I did. And it tastes just like the milk you drink after. It’s good.
Erica: See and that’s one thing that I don’t think I talked about in that episode. When I eat cereal, I pour the very least amount of milk. I only put enough milk to dampen everything and then I eat the cereal out of it. Then whatever milk is left; I don’t touch it, because I don’t like the milk in the cereal. I think I gagged in that one too over the thought of drinking cereal milk.
Jen: (laughing) I keep making you gag… oh no.
SO: How did you guys start doing this? How did it turn into an actual show?
Jen: It started because I’m obsessed with the Disaronno commercials, because they are these alien robots. They don’t behave like human beings.
SO: They don’t even look like most humans do.
Jen: No! They look like replicates. They’re creepy looking. They’re showing people drinking just giant tumblers full of Disaronno. I had never tried it and didn’t know what it was. So I was talking to you (Erica) about it and I decided that I was going to get a bottle and try it. Erica was like; “You can’t do this by yourself.”
Erica: We started doing it out at bars. We’d be like, “What’s something weird that we can try tonight?” I think it was Fuzzy (Erica’s husband) who was like, “You guys are hilarious. We should film this.”
We started by saying, “Let’s try something on the rocks” and then “let’s try it straight out of the bottle in its purest form,” so no rocks, no mixers. When you order a Gin and Tonic, what would just the gin taste like? What are bitters like without putting it in a cocktail? What is vermouth? So we had a vermouth episode. Some things aren’t meant to be consumed on their own, but we’re going to try them anyway.
SO: Has doing the show made you pickier when you order a drink for yourself?
Erica: It does make me judge them a little bit more harshly, because I have learned about the things that go into it and I do want a really good one.
Jen: I’ve become more adventurous in my cocktail drinking. I’m mostly a wine drinker and there are a lot of similarities in wine tasting to cocktail tasting, because there are things that are complex about it and interesting.
Erica: And it’s upped my home bar game too. I want to have good quality product and good mixers so I know how to make good cocktails. Why go to a bar and pay $10-$12 for a cocktail I can make at home?
Jen and Erica aren’t just a couple of loveable lushes on the Internet, they’re also both talented comedians, actors, directors, choreographers in their own right.
SO: Tell us about your background, because you’re not just two random people, you’re also really talented.
Erica: Well I moved to Chicago 13 years ago to do comedy. I am a producer and performer withproductions. We do “Impress These Apes” and “Don’t Spit The Water” and a million other stupid things that have never gone anywhere, like “The Silly Funny Goof Game,” which I still to this day think is the funniest ever. I’m also a choreographer. I’ve been directing lately and I produce a lot. I use to improvise a lot, but I don’t do as much now.
Jen: I came to Chicago in ’92. Oh man… I’m not the young people anymore. I came her to go to theater school and acting school and I just stayed in Chicago. I did Comedy Sportz for a while and I just did theater and generated work and doing that a lot. I don’t think I ever said, “Oh I’m going to do comedy” necessarily, but it just happened that way. I actually feel very strongly about the presence of comedy in the world and I think it’s important. Now I’m doing this and directing shows. I was the “Aide TO the Director,” for the current Mainstage show (“”) and I’m now am a director for one of the (Second City) touring companies.
SO: Do you feel that with “Drunk Monkeys” that your producing and directing side makes you picky on how you want it or is it more like, “I don’t care?”
Erica: (laughing) No, this is where all bets are off. We’re just like whatever, we’re going to show up drink and talk about it. It’s kind of like you get to turn your brain off a little bit and we get to be ourselves. I can just kick back and be me and get a little buzzed, talk about shit and people will watch it?! It’s a dream gig.
SO: You occasionally do a live show.
Erica: Yeah, in the last couple years we started doing live performances. Our live shows are super fun. We pass things out to the audience and can interact with them.
It’s great because then we have people to play off of and try the booze with us.
Sometimes we learn, like in the Nemiroff episode. It was a vodka from the Ukraine and we didn’t know anything about it. The whole bottle was in Russian and there was a woman in the audience from Russia who told us all about it.
Jen: So weird that she just happened to be there and know what it was.
Erica: And we didn’t know her. She was just there. It was amazing.
SO: When is your next live show?
Erica: On Friday June 7th at 11pm, we’re doing the Chicago Women’s Funny Festival. We’re sharing the slot with a group called “Sad Banana,” which I hear is great.
SO: With the monkeys! Perfect.
Erica: Also we’re into our new season with new episodes that come out on our website and on Facebook every Friday mornings. So with the ones we just filmed and our live show coming up as well as some future ones planned, we should have episodes coming for a while.
SO: Well thank you for the interview, the drinks and the wonderful company. Before I go, what do you think about inventing a “Serial Optimist” cocktail?
As you can imagine, Erica and Jen know how to make a good drink. They created a refreshing “happy and positive” drink called the “Serial Optimist”. It’s the perfect light and fruity cocktail that trust me, if you drink it, you can’t have a bad day.
The Serial Optimist Cocktail
1 ½ ounces of Gin (North Shore Distillery #11)
½ ounce of Lime Juice
½ a dropper (to taste) of Bittermans Hopped Grapefruit Bitters
Simple Syrup (to taste)
Shake over ice and serve over ice crumbles
Garnished with a Strawberry (if you’re not allergic, like Erica)
Episodes referenced in the interview:
Bakon (Erica’s least fave-except for an upcoming episode that hasn’t aired yet)
Dill Pickle Vodka (Jen’s least favorite)
Loaded Baked Potato (bacon flavored vodka included)