Zane Lamprey drinks for a living. Actually, no, that doesn’t really do his job justice. Zane Lamprey gets paid to get silly drunk in foreign cities for our amusement. Since 2006, he’s hosted a TV show called Three Sheets (first on MOJO and recently on the Fine Living Network), where he travels the globe and explores the local drinking customs everywhere from Belize to Taipei to the Philippines. Earlier this week, he published his first book, also called Three Sheets, which more or less covers the same ground. Because his name is so synonymous with alcohol, and because I’ll jump at any opportunity to make Vanity Fair pay for my booze, I interviewed Lamprey as we were both enjoying the very adult cocktails responsible for his semi-fame. It’s what we in the journalism trade refer to as “thematic context.” Or, as it’s sometimes also called, an “unnecessary research invoice.”
I met with Lamprey at the Blue Palms Brewhouse in Hollywood, where we talked for several hours and downed many, many beers. Not surprisingly, our interview began with an air of professionalism and soon devolved into pointless gibberish about monkeys and diarrhea. (For further clarification, I’ve separated this Q&A into five different sections, based on our increasing level of intoxication.)
Eric Spitznagel: Which came first, were you a drunk that got a TV show or did doing the TV show turn you into a drunk?
Zane Lamprey: I think anybody, given the opportunity that I was given, especially a comedian, is going to say, “I’ll embrace that.” You know what I mean? I’ll be the TV drinking guy. I’ll own that market. If I was given a show about cars or a show about home improvement, I would have embraced that just as much. “What’s that? You need a guy who’s an expert on mufflers? I’m in!” I just got lucky that my thing is a little more interesting and social than talking about mufflers.
Let’s talk about your book. Is there any new material in this thing, or are you just bragging about all the free trips and booze you got because of the TV gig?
Pretty much the latter, yeah. No, it’s a little more informative than that. It’s kind of a travel guide, but it’s less about where you should visit and more about the drinking traditions and history of fifteen different countries.
This stinks of learning, Zane. Can you give me a non-boring example?
I don’t know if you knew this, but in Belgium, up to the 1950s, the water supply was so bad that they’d drink beer because it was the only thing that was purified. The alcohol would kill off all the bacteria. Which, by the way, was the same thing with American colonists. Everyone pictures them drinking milk and water, but if it wasn’t for beer, we wouldn’t have made it as a country.
You’re killing my buzz with your fancy-schmancy facts.
(Laughs.) If you read this book, you will learn something. I bring my sense of humor to it, but I’m also a nerd at heart. I want to teach people about these interesting things that I’ve learned doing the show.
What are we drinking right now? Is this beer seriously called a Velvet Merkin?
It is. If I’m not mistaken, it’s named after a pubic wig. A pubic wig made of velvet. Personally, I think all merkins should be made from velvet.
The subtitle of your book is “6 Continents, 15 Countries, 190 Drinks, and 1 Mean Hangover.” Just one hangover?
Well, it’s one mean hangover that has continued for like four years. Maybe it’s because the hangovers are all the same, and it’s the drinks that are different. Hangovers have varying degrees of severity, but they’re all basically the same thing. It’s the same sensation.
But if you had to pick just one, your Auschwitz of hangovers…?
It’d be the hangover I had in Russia. We were shooting an episode of Three Sheets, and I was sitting around with five guys and a bottle of vodka. There’s a tradition that if you open a bottle of vodka, you have to finish it. We’d finished shooting and were getting ready to leave, and I was like, “Thanks, guys. Nice job.” And all of a sudden, (makes a popping sound) I hear the crack of a bottle opening. Really? So now I have a choice; I either run like the wind, or I sit down and embrace the fact that I’m in Russia, in the heart of winter, in the flat of three Russian guys with a full bottle of vodka. I didn’t run. You can’t buy experiences like this, right? You also couldn’t buy a solution to the hangover I had the next morning.
Alcohol has a funny way of turning otherwise pleasant people into assholes. Is that just an inevitable part of heavy drinking?
It’s all about perception. It is predicated on inebriation. When I’m out with my friends and I’m sober, they annoy the piss out of me. But if I’m as drunk as they are, I love them. The bear hugs and all that shit, punching each other in the arm, it’s all fantastic. In my experience, after drinking in 500 different bars, if you meet someone sober and then get drunk with them, they are your brother. They will watch your back. But if you come into a situation when somebody is already drunk, even if you pay for their booze, it doesn’t matter. They didn’t get to that point with you. You’re a stranger. You’re the enemy.
You’re gotten plastered in enough foreign countries to make some cultural generalizations. Which nation has the least annoying, most passive drunks?
I don’t know if this is racist. I guess it is to a degree. The U.K. seems to have the most aggressive drinkers. When they drink, they became very physical and intimidating and it seems like bad things are more likely to happen. But in my experience, the cultures that are the most tightly wound, with the most stringent cultural and social guidelines, like most Asian countries and in Germany, they don’t get as violent when they drink. There aren’t fights at their drinking festivals. They just have hugging contests.
Is it really a surprise that a nation like Japan, which gave us robot maids and bukkake, can also handle their liquor?
I don’t think so. A few months ago, I presented an award at the Tasty Awards in San Francisco, at a place called the Kabuki Theater, and before the show I kept telling myself, “Do not say bukkake, do not say bukkake.” Now that the time has come and gone, I so regret it. I wish I’d gotten up there and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Bukkake Theater. Please don’t get anything on my face.”
I think we should talk about the beers we’re drinking. Just to give this interview some context.
Okay, what do we got here? (Reads the label.) Shakespeare Stout. (Takes a long swig.) That is strong. It has a little kick to it. It’s like Richard Simmons, but strong.
You’re sticking with that celebrity comparison?
No, I can do better. I’m trying to think of somebody’s who’s fruity and strong. Cause if they’re big than they’ll beat me up for saying it. Who’s fruity and strong?
No, no, this beer is definitely a gay guy. Oliver Platt! This is the Oliver Platt of beers.
I don’t think Oliver Platt is gay.
Okay, maybe not. But he is fruity and strong.
What about this next one? Godfather Barley. What celebrity does this remind you of?
(Tastes it.) This beer is effeminate yet masculine, with a very deep voice. It’s Kathleen Turner. The current Kathleen Turner.
I’m getting more of a Walter Matthau in Grumpy Old Men flavor.
Have you seen Kathleen Turner in Californication? She is a grumpy old man. She’s amazing. She’s built like Mickey Rourke.
So what about this… (pause, examines label) Black Lighting?
I have a question about your show, but I’m not sure of the right way to phrase it.
Just ask it already.
Have you ever seen one of those porn films where it looks like a guy is having sex with 300 women in one day, but really they shot it over several weeks?
I think I know where you’re going with this.
On Three Sheets, it looks like you’re drinking an awful lot of alcohol in a very short amount of time.
You want to know how many women I have sex with on an average night?
I’m asking whether you use the magic of television to present yourself as the Ron Jeremy of drinking.
Thank you. I’ll take that title. I’d like to be the Ron Jeremy of drinking. Here’s a guy who was dealt a hairy back and a big penis. And he’s like, “I’m going to work with what I’ve got.” And he did it, right? If he had a small penis, he wouldn’t be doing porn.
I’m not sure if that actually answers my question.
What was your question?
I don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure the Ron Jeremy thing was just a metaphor.
Oh you writers, you have to be so creative about your goddamn questions! You can’t get to the fucking point! Let me reel in your question. You’re basically asking me, “Do you drink as much as it looks like you drink on the show?”
Couldn’t you have just said that without bringing Ron Jeremy’s penis into it?
Probably. Are you questioning my journalistic integrity as a way of avoiding the question?
No, I’m not as drunk as it appears on the show. If you understand the amount of time it takes to set up and light a scene, there’s no way I could be drunk. That’s the unglamorous part of making a TV show. Sometimes it takes two hours to light a scene. And also, I pace myself. I like to ride what’s called the “two-and-a-half-beer-buzz.” That’s what I ride through most episodes of Three Sheets. It’s a place where I can relax with my inhibitions but I can also focus and concentrate. It’s not like I can just cut loose and get crazy. I need to be conscious of, “Okay, we got that scene, we’re done.” And also, I need to be able to wake up the next morning and do the same thing.
So what you’re telling us is, despite how it appears on TV, you don’t drink to the point of peeing blood?
(Laughs.) Yes, that’s pretty much it. Although sometimes it feels that way. A lot of people say to me, “Oh my god, you have the best job in the world!” That’s true, I do travel around the world and drink. I get paid to do something that most people do as a leisure time activity. However, most people will go out drinking on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and maybe Sunday. The last thing you want to do is drink on Monday. But for me, I’ve got to drink on Monday. It’s my job!
(The waitress brings us another round. When she leaves, Zane nods in her direction.)
I made out with her.
You did? When, just now?
A few months ago. It was fun. I don’t know if she was aware that it happened, but it totally did.
You been to Nam, dude?
Vietnam? I don’t…
Either you’ve been to Nam or you haven’t!!
No, I haven’t been to Nam. Either as a tourist or in the military.
Doesn’t matter! I didn’t ask you to qualify it! If you haven’t been to Nam, then you haven’t been in the shit. I’ve been in the shit and on the shitter.
Wow, that’s a lot of unnecessary information.
I went to Nam for Three Sheets. I was in Bangkok before Nam, and I survived all of Bangkok. Here’s what I learned from Bangkok: Never order anything called “thit cho” from the menu. It means dog.
Thanks for the tip. I’ll keep that in mind if I’m ever in Thailand.
I had amoebic dysentery in Bangkok. I got it from a hangover cure, which was a form of drunken noodles with sprinkled fresh ground parsley on top. I ended up on the toilet maybe twenty times a day, and it was brutal. I lost like ten pounds of water.
So I went to Vietnam, and I ended up in a clinic where an American doctor—who I kinda thought was maybe running away from something—he took care of me and gave me two full bags of saline IV.
I’m looking at my list of questions, and there’s something here about a monkey. Do you have any idea what that means?
That could be it. That’s a sock monkey, right?
He’s my sidekick. On a semi-unrelated note, when I was in Gibraltar, I heard these amazing stories about monkeys that some people still believe came there through tunnels. As in 30 miles of natural caves, 400 feet deep under the sea. (Laughs.) I don’t think so. How about floating pieces of wood? Isn’t that a more logical explanation? Either they trekked through these giant caves and hundreds of monkeys died, or they just traveled on floating pieces of fucking balsa wood.
(We both laugh, followed by a long, awkward pause.)
Did that answer your question?
I think so. I honestly don’t remember.
(We both laugh again, nearly falling out of our chairs. )
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com)