Message in a Bottle

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

By '96, Rans was art director for a local music monthly, Cake. He worked in exchange for free rent on a basement apartment—until the publisher decamped to Hazelden. Rans brought most of the staff with him to a new magazine, Toast, which he published for two years. By the time it folded, he had already made the news without anyone knowing his name.

On April 1, 2000, a press release arrived at 20-odd news outlets announcing that First Avenue was closing and moving to Blaine. The legendary club would now be called 101st Avenue.

"It was April Fool's, and I was sitting there at five o'clock, bored out of my mind," remembers Rans. "I hadn't heard of any good pranks. So I emailed [editor] Todd Bennington at Toast, and said I wanted to put together a press release that First Avenue was moving." Bennington added such details as First Avenue's plan to take over an abandoned Supervalu. Then Rans faxed the local media on a Saturday night, and fell asleep.

"I'd forgotten about it until Monday morning, when Todd woke up and read something in the Star Tribune about 'ethics in journalism,'" says Rans. On Sunday morning, WCCO Channel 4 News had showed up with a crew in front of First Avenue, and reported the hoax as solemn fact, even showing Purple Rain footage to mark the event.

"Heads fucking rolled at WCCO, which I feel really guilty about," says Rans. "But I even put the real contact name and phone number, and nobody did anything to check the sources."

Days later, Rans got a call from First Avenue manager Steve McClellan. "I honestly thought I was going to jail," says Rans. "Instead he hired me to do all their public relations."

Rans has become one of the few local icons associated with the club—though more on Fancy Ray's level than Prince's. He's hosted First Avenue's crazed annual Halloween party for the past four years, dressing as Max Headroom and the yellow-suit-era Bowie. His all-time favorite costume on the floor?

"Hermaphrodite in a box," he says. "It was this girl who had a cardboard box and three holes with curtains. You put your hand in here, and there's a boob. You put your hand in here, and there's a boob. You put your hand in here, and there's a dildo. It was such a great concept."

Many of his Drinking with Ian collaborators were regulars at Punk Karaoke, which Rans ran out of Tubby's in Northeast for two years, from early 2002 through the end of 2003. Swiping the idea from similar nights in New York and L.A., he mixed out the vocals of punk mp3s on his laptop. Today he's master of ceremonies for Wednesday trivia night at Pizza Lucé in downtown Minneapolis, and seems game for just about any gig holding a mic. "I hosted an employee drag show at the Saloon," he says. "For some reason they asked me, a surly straight guy."

Meanwhile, Rans has turned down job offers that he probably should have taken: art director for Epitaph Records in the late '90s, bass player with Indiana pal Kristopher Roe's band the Ataris. "This pop-punk thing is played out," Rans told friends at the time. A year later, the Ataris were all over MTV2.

"He's somehow managed to not have a real job in the 12 years I've known him," says Tony Zaccardi, bassist in the local band Kruddler, "and he's always had an angle on getting free beer."

Today, Rans and Drinking with Ian co-creator Ollie Stench (a.k.a. Brad Beving) drink for free on camera, thanks to sponsors Phillips Distilling and Grain Belt beer, two companies willing to back a sardonic TV show about alcohol consumption. In a broadcast era that has left sozzled icons such as Dean Martin far behind, DWI is bracing stuff. WB affiliate KMWB (Channel 23) originally planned to broadcast the series premiere in January of 2004, but station brass yanked it after discovering that the content was true to its title.

"I think that the stigma that's gone along with drinking in the past 10 years is unbelievable," says Rans. "I think we should be flip about it. Because everybody wants to be politically correct. Everybody's worried about drunk driving. Everybody's worried about killing people because of bad decisions. When in reality, our show is about hanging out and drinking in a bar, at night."

Bar culture and the outside world, says Rans, are two different things. "What happens in a bar, if you do it in a different time and a different locale, it's the most scandalous thing ever," he says. "The simple act of drinking beer and the occasional shot now, it's how we look at doing coke 20 years ago. I think we've sensitized ourselves so that anything vaguely dangerous is frowned on. I mean, it's beer, man!"

A week after the meeting at Jimmy's, producer Brian Forrest is pressing his face into the ass of director Ron Gabaldon. Standing barefoot in front of Forrest on a plastic tarp, Gabaldon wears a pointy green hat, a foamy white beard, and a red-striped shirt with suspenders. He holds a pipe in one hand and a pickax in the other. The producer and director have backed off their threat to stage a skit with Chippers the Menstrual Chimney Sweep. Replacing Chippers is "Angstrom the Vaginal Gnome," and Gabaldon is fully in character.

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