Message in a Bottle

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

Rans plows through the Prince speech, then walks over to his couch. Rans is more a reactor than an actor, and seems relieved to get gag #2 out of the way—a Morris Day-style glimpse into a mirror held up by Haiku Jim.

Finally, he cedes the spotlight to "bartender of the stars" Ollie Stench. Balding, round, and bespectacled, Stench also hosts KFAI-FM's Radio Riot and fronts a band called the Ed Gein Fan Club with Rans on bass—though they've played only nine gigs in the past 12 years. Stench edits DWI, but seems equally at home on camera.

Having previously concocted drinks such as the Sex in the Dumpster Behind the Skyway Show Lounge and the Dead Nazi Sympathizer, Stench says his new cocktail might actually be recognized when you order it from a bartender: a Root Beer Barrel 1999. Hovering above him is a camera placed on a crane—the big gun for this special Mainroom shoot.

"We got a lot of compliments on that crane," Rans says afterward. "People were in fear of being decapitated."

Rans drinks with his audience—"Salut"—and welcomes guest Patrick "the Spiking Viking" Olsen from Channel 5 and 93X. "You're damn near unavoidable," Rans says to his guest. "You're kind of like me that way."

"I haven't seen this many drunks in one room since I was court-ordered to go to that AA conference," says Olsen.

"And the great thing is," says Rans, "if you're drinking, there's twice as many of them."

Later in the day's shoot, Rans gets his first look at the pretaped footage of the Vaginal Gnome—and appears genuinely taken aback. "When you see it on the big screen, you're kind of confronted with The Fear," he says later. "Maybe everybody was right when they told me I shouldn't do this."

Rans talks a lot about The Fear. And although it can mean different things at different times, it's obviously a force he reckons with. "I think the show actually made me drink less, oddly enough," says Rans, when I ask him later if he has a drinking problem. "We all at some point in our lives drink too much, and can't really remember what we did the night before. But when you do it in front of five cameras and an audience of 200 people, The Fear that washes over you when you wake up the next day is paralyzing."

When he looks at older episodes of Drinking with Ian, he sometimes feels as if he's watching a stranger onscreen: "What's this drunken moron going to do next?"

Onstage at First Avenue, Rans turns from Olsen to the club's giant video monitor to watch another concept take form in front of an audience.

"Hi, I'm Ian, of television's Drinking with Ian," begins the guy onscreen, walking toward the camera against an outdoor backdrop of trees in a park.

"A lot of people know I can be a real bastard," he continues. "See, I have done things, and screwed over both friends and family alike, but they've come to expect it out of me. I don't think they'd like me as much if I went all soft on them. You see, I think there is a little bastard inside all of us."

A group assembles behind him, one by one, like in some hokey political campaign commercial, each person explaining to the camera why he or she is a bastard. "I'm sorry I sold your Dave Matthews box set to buy cigarettes," says Gabaldon, wearing a yellow hard hat, "but really, I was doing you a favor."

"I sell insurance," says Forrest. The audience laughs.

Rans explains the rules of the "Biggest Bastard in Minnesota" contest, and ends his spiel with a would-be catchphrase: "Because deep down, we're all bastards!" The group shouts the last three words with him. Then cast members and extras break into play fighting, and Forrest musses the star's hair.

Rans winces and glances behind him, then shakes his head. "What a bunch of bastards."

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