Working under the influence
In the introduction to his show, Zane Lamprey proclaims that his job “is to drink.” It doesn’t take long to realize that Lamprey has one of the best jobs in the world.
As host of HDNet’s “Drinking Made Easy,” Lamprey travels the country with his bearded pratfall provocateur of a best friend, Steve McKenna, and his monkey-suited mascot, Pleepleus, to “explore the local drinking cultures, customs and cocktails.”
In each episode of “Drinking Made Easy,” Lamprey and McKenna make stops at local breweries and bars, share the local drink recipes and compete against each other in a physical challenge with a wager of six six-packs. Past challenges have included kicking field goals in Cowboys Stadium, throwing kegs in Atlanta and go-kart racing in Chicago. There’s even a drinking game that goes along with the show for viewers to play at home.
Now in its second season, the “Drinking Made Easy” tour made a stop in the Tampa Bay area to visit Cigar City Brewing and Columbia Caf in Ybor City, as well as the original Hooter’s location in Clearwater, where McKenna donned the traditional Hooters girl uniform.
Other stops in the episode, which airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. on HDNet, include Bern’s Steak house in Tampa, Empire Winery & Distillery in New Port Richey and Mandarin Hide in St. Petersburg. For Tampa’s six six-pack challenge, Lamprey and McKenna dueled in a jet-ski race.
The Oracle had a chance to catch up with Lamprey and get his take on becoming a drinking superstar.
The Oracle: After visiting Florida during season one, which included a brief stop in Clearwater, what made you decide to come back to Tampa for season two?
Zane Lamprey: We get to pick the locations that we go to, so when given an option of places to go in April, it’s not like Wisconsin is at the top of our list. We did Florida for season one, but we sort of raced through it. We really didn’t get a good picture of anything while we were down there. We briefly hit Miami, we briefly hit Orlando … The area definitely needed a redo.
O: While at Cigar City Brewing, you got to brew your own beer, “Pleepleus Plantain Ale.” Have you ever brewed any other beers?
ZL: We’ve gotten a chance to do it a few times. This season, we made the coconut porter at Maui Brewing Company, and, as far as I can remember, that’s the only other one that we did.
The thing is we have to keep in mind that we’re making TV, and when making TV, it needs to be visual and it needs to be engaging to the audience.
While going off and tasting a lot of beers would be a fun trip to an individual, when it comes to doing that on camera, it’s really not that engaging. We need to figure a way to get us involved so we’re not just sitting at a bar or a brewery tasting different beers. It does nothing for the audience. Even trying to describe it is like trying to describe a color. Whenever we can find something that we can engage ourselves in, that’s what we do.
O: How did your Pleepleus Plantain Ale turn out?
ZL: It turned out really well. I don’t think it’s the best beer I’ve ever had, but it’s up there.
O: What is your favorite drink?
ZL: The thing is you’re asking me right now and we were just talking about the plantain beer, so I’d really like one of those right now. But if you ask me tomorrow and I’m at a Japanese restaurant, I’m going to say, ‘Give me some sake.’ I don’t have a favorite and I really don’t even have a favorite style. I think the sort of myriad of choices that we have make it so that people can enjoy drinking and exploring different drinks.
O: Has there ever been a six six-pack challenge that both you and Steve were terrible at?
ZL: Yes. When we were in St. Augustine, we did this thing called the atlatl, which is sort of a cross between a spear and a bow and arrow. We were just so bad at it. We were like, ‘Yeah, we’ll figure it out. I may not hit the bullseye, but I’ll hit the target.’ One time, I was about 20 feet short of the target. It was really pathetic. We didn’t necessarily can it; we just made fun of it. I think, because I’m making TV, if me being horrible at something is entertaining and funny, then I’m going to do it and embrace it.
O: Steve generally makes a fool of himself while taping, but what is the most embarrassing situation he’s created on the show?
ZL: That would be in the Philadelphia episode. It was in the last restaurant we went to and he was very loaded. We were shooting a scene and we were almost done and he was behind the bar, making drinks or something and he was, like, ‘I’ve gotta go to the bathroom.’ And this was, like, a nice, upscale restaurant and he kept saying ‘I’ve gotta go,’ and the bartender joked, ‘Just go right there in the sink,’ and Steve was like, ‘Alright.’ He’s facing the camera, but the sink is underneath the bar and he literally relieved himself in the sink. It was horrible and amazing at the same time.
O: Did Steve get to keep the Hooters girl outfit, and has he worn it since?
ZL: He did (get to keep it), but if he ever wears it again, I will punch him in the stomach.
O: What advice would you give to a college student who has the wild idea of hosting a drinking show?
ZL: It’s not going to happen. Don’t do it. The position has been filled.
O: What adverse health effects has this show had on you?
ZL: Weight gain, obviously. A lot of people blame too much on the drinking. It’s not necessarily the drinking as it’s when you drink, you decide to push your diet off for another day. People tend to eat more when they’re drinking. That’s really the problem.
Last year, when we were doing eating challenges, we did so many of them that you want to exercise and keep it off, but you’re on tour buses and it’s just not going to happen. This year, we cut out the food challenges for two reasons. One, it’s a drinking show, not an eating show; and two, it just made us feel like crap.
O: It’s tough to name a favorite drink, but it may be easier to name a least favorite drink. Does the turkey gizzard cocktail you drank in Milwaukee make the list?
ZL: As far as “Drinking Made Easy” is concerned, I think that’s it. It’s either that, or I think it was in the same city we had some shots with scorpions in it, so the top two came from the same city.
O: Is there anywhere else in the Tampa Bay area that you went just to have a good time?
ZL: You know, we kind of broke a bunch of our own rules (in Tampa). Usually, when we’re done shooting, we leave, but we sort of hung out at all the places that we were at in Tampa just because we were having so much fu+n, especially at Mandarin Hide. They were closed that night, so they just brought in their friends and had a party and it was amazing. And then we ended up going back to Columbia (Caf) a couple of times. We had a lot of fun there.