Message in a Bottle

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

Crouching behind him is Forrest, holding two boots on a stool to give the illusion of short legs—think Tim Conway's Dorf. "It's not what it looks like!" says Forrest when I walk into the studio at Northwest Community Television in Brooklyn Park. His voice slightly muffled by buttocks, he adds, "I have a B.A."

Picking up the scene again, Gabaldon declares, "I love to sing!" His helium voice sounds like Jello Biafra crossed with a Smurf. (At Punk Karaoke, Gabaldon made a habit of covering the Dead Kennedys' "Stealing People's Mail.")

"We gnomes are a right jolly bunch of fellows," he continues. "And there's nothing more satisfying than a rollicking tune with your elbows up in the girlie sauce."

Draped two feet behind the gnome is what looks like a pink tablecloth spattered with blood—corn syrup and food coloring, it turns out. The folds have been tucked into the shape of the female anatomy. Forrest climbs a portable staircase behind the cloth and picks up a big white bucket. As the camera on the tripod rolls, he pours the fake blood over Gabaldon's dancing gnome, who picks away at the virtual sugar walls. The liquid weighs down the beard, which begins to hang off his face. Soon his feet are sticking to the goo on the tarp.

Forrest was making instructional videos for major corporations when Rans approached him five years ago with the idea of doing Drinking with Ian. Two things immediately struck the videographer—the title, which he loved, and the fact that the show would offer so many opportunities for "roll in" sequences shot by Minnesota filmmakers.

"I never thought it would last four seasons," Forrest says, wiping cherry-colored goop off his hands. "I thought, 'We'll do six of these, and have a few laughs.' Now people are sponsoring it—Pizza Lucé, the Onion."

Since Dillinger Four's Paddy Costello stumbled onstage for the first episode, guests have included the North Star Roller Girls, local Guardian Angels, Fancy Ray himself, City Pages writers Diablo Cody and Melissa Maerz, and a broad range of Minnesota bands—the Awesome Snakes, MC/VL, the God Damn Doo Wop Band, the Mighty Mofos. But the show's surreal comic bits are what sets the program apart from the local-music-themed Nate on Drums, which cracked commercial television two years ago on KSTC-TV, Channel 45.

For one of his favorite shorts, the "Dictator sketch," Gabaldon dressed up in fatigues, a big mustache, and a beret. "You know how it's a craze for suburban couples to adopt a child from a third-world country?" Gabaldon explains. "By some snafu of paperwork, this particular couple inadvertently got a third-world dictator instead. So I walked around saluting traffic."

Shooting at a playground, he started chasing children around with a riding crop. "The kids just thought it was hilarious," says Gabaldon. "I'm sitting on a swing next to this one kid, and his mother was yelling at him, 'Get over here, stay away from that man.' 'Mom, he's all right, I'm just talking.' We just sat there and chatted for a little while, and I kept saying, 'I could have your family killed.' 'No you can't!' 'Yes I can.'"

Back in the cable studio, before the two men wrap the vaginal gnome sequence, Gabaldon needs to mime an action scene that would leave Stanislavsky at a loss: Angstrom is supposed to be batting back a penis that's attempting to enter the vagina—"Hit it with your ax," says Forrest. Putting on a brave face, Gabaldon turns to the camera, his voice helium again.

"You see, sometimes, I'll be in there working away, and along comes some mushroom—" He loses the line.

"Sometimes I'm working away inside the woman hole—" He pauses again.

"Sometimes when I'm working away inside the woman mines, along comes some guy to give me a mushroom tattoo," he hollers, nearly singing the lines. "And I say, 'Ahoy, there, I've got work to do! There's slopping to be done! Get your jollies some other time why don't ya!'"

When they're finished, Gabaldon strips to his underwear and walks across the room in paper-towel shoes, then washes his hair and body in a sink in the corner of the studio. "Could I wrap this fake vagina up in plastic?" Forrest asks. Gabaldon says sure, and they gather up everything in the tarp like killers disposing of evidence at a crime scene.

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to drink to this thing called life."

Rans is onstage at First Avenue, his voice flat as Prince's boobs. He's wearing a ruffled shirt, and riffing on the speech that opens "Let's Go Crazy," which also opens the 1984 film Purple Rain, a movie forever associated with the club surrounding him. A familiar organ part backs him up, mimicking the song.

But Rans's voice is chesty rather than Princely, and he eats his consonants. His machine-gun mumble is part of his charm—he doesn't seem to care if you hear, much less get his jokes, which might be why he sometimes thanks the audience for laughter with a raised eyebrow.

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