Message in a Bottle

For TV's Ian Rans, there's no such thing as an unhappy hour

Ian Rans downs his beer and announces his new idea: "The Biggest Motherfucker in Minnesota."

The host and namesake of Drinking with Ian is surrounded by the cable-access show's creative team, six guys hunched around a pitcher of Old Style at Jimmy's bar in Nordeast. The men are mostly in their 30s with short hair and T-shirts bearing the names of punk or metal bands. The jukebox is silent for the game on TV. The pull-tabs lady is oblivious.

"We want to try something 'user-generated,'" Rans continues. The idea is to hold a statewide contest. "Everybody knows several motherfuckers. Everybody has a favorite motherfucker. But now we finally get to separate the chaff from the wheat and get the biggest motherfucker."

Rans speaks in a hipster parody of unctuous TV voiceovers: rapid-fire, relaxed, transparently insincere. He looks like a young Malcolm McLaren with Conan O'Brien's hair, but has a deadpan stare all his own.

"What we need is people to make videos of their friend, who is the motherfucker," Rans says. "And then those go up on drinkingwithian.com, and everybody votes for it. The grand prize will be a station wagon full of beer and beef. Maybe some whiskey in there, too."

"I thought it was 'bastard'," says producer Brian Forrest, scratching his whiskers.

"MF, mofo—we can change it as we need to," says Rans. "My initial idea was 'bastard,' but 'motherfucker' seems more unisex, even though bastard is the more asexual term. We definitely want this to be female-centric."

"We'd like some female motherfuckers," Forrest agrees.

"Motherfuckers are the people who watch our show," says Ron Gabaldon, the director of Drinking with Ian. He wears a black pork-pie hat and glasses that magnify his eyes. "Motherfuckers and people who like motherfuckers. We are unified by this motherfuckerness."

Gabaldon says the grand prize should be taken away from the winner "for being such a motherfucker." Others suggest alternate vehicles.

"I'm down with a pickup truck, I'm down with a fucking wheelbarrow," says Rans. "I don't care, whatever. Here's a midget, he's full of beer, have at him."

"What about one of those cheap trailers?" says Forrest. "Like a box trailer? If you don't have a trailer hitch, you're screwed."

"Or make it a U-Haul," says Rans. "Where they have to return it at some point."

The guys have succeeded in cracking themselves up.

"The meat's going to go bad at any moment," Rans says, gasping.

Halfway through its fourth season, Drinking with Ian has found a surprising number of viewers with an appetite for rancid meat—or whatever else Rans is dishing up. Tonight's brainstorming session is preparation for an April 25 shoot at First Avenue in the club's Mainroom, the show's big jump up "to the big kids' table" from its usual 7th St. Entry stage next door. (Another shoot in the same venue happens June 1, and will be open to the drinking public.) Dubbed DWI for short—an abbreviation guaranteed to offend and entertain—the series has found cult success with a formula that's part late-night talk show, part pretaped sketch comedy. Even cable access airs the program at bedtime hours—see "Drinking Times" p. 19.

The meeting at Jimmy's produces such wholesome ideas in family entertainment as "Chippers the Menstrual Chimney Sweep." It's the latest in a DWI series of "lesser-known mythical creatures" that has included Philip the Abortion Stork and Gregory the Nocturnal Emissions Faerie. For Chippers, according to Gabaldon, the plan is to "drape some peach-colored fabric that looks like a vagina, and pour blood and meat on it."

For most of the conversation, Chris Maddock, host of "Death Comedy Jam" at Grumpy's downtown, stays pretty quiet. Then, suddenly, he pipes up: "How about 'Kids Say the Darnedest Things When They're Drunk'?"

The table explodes, and Rans starts talking logistics. "How many kids can we wrangle?" he says. "There's an assload of single mothers in our audience."

Maddock launches into a Bill Cosby impression—"He gave me two Jell-O shots!"—and soon everyone is speaking in the constipated rasp of the Cos. "Let's do the rest of this meeting in faux Cosby, shall we?" says Rans, not bothering to compete.

There's talk among this group about the show getting picked up by Comedy Central, following the local precedent of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Let's Bowl. While the meetings haven't happened yet, DWI already has connections. Gabaldon once worked with Lindsay Wagner on one of those ComfortRest commercials, for one thing. He jokes about it outside the bar as the group takes a smoke break.

"She's got her own gaffer," he says. "And you can't talk about The Bionic Woman."

"You can't even make the sound?" asks Dan Schlissel, the show's audience wrangler. He's referring to the late-'70s show's trademark ch-ch-ch-ch sound effect.

Schlissel owns Minneapolis-based Stand Up! Records, which has released recordings by alternative comedians such as David Cross, Maria Bamford, and Doug "show me where babies feed" Stanhope. A DWI DVD is due out on the imprint this summer, which can only raise the show's profile further.

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