Pumping the Shark

It’s Ian Ziering’s second second act, and he’s making the bow-tie-wearing-and-chainsaw-wielding most of it

Life is good for Ian Ziering, but it usually is when your job involves a chainsaw. … Come on, your job would be like 78 percent better if you got to swing a chainsaw around. Unless you’re a lumberjack. Then it’s par for the course. Call it a cruel cosmic balancing of scales for getting to eat all those pancakes every day.

Fret not, Sharknafficionados (Are they called that? They should be called that.) The chainsaw that Ziering so adroitly wielded to secure his freedom, like Jonah from a toothy whale, returns in Syfy’s inevitable Sharknado 2: The Second One.

“I’m on a truck screaming, motivating the city,” Ziering says. “I get the Braveheart speech. It’s great. Instead of raising my ax, I raise my chainsaw into the air. It’s a call to action for all of Manhattan. I get the big speech.”

Ziering, 50, is living the Year of the Sharknado, the Syfy cult hit that turned Twitter into the postmodern equivalent of a bunch of 15-year-old girls screaming for Elvis at the Tupelo fairgrounds.

The morning after ’Nado aired, he was fielding calls from Oprah. He picked up some work in the intervening months—voice work in a Disney short; drag-racing biopic Snake and Mongoose produced by his next-door neighbor; and Christmas in Palm Springs—but nothing yet that approached the earlier sublime absurd delights of the Citizen Kane of Syfy.

But that’s all prelude, as July 30 sees the premiere of Nado 2. The latest trailers show Ziering palling around with Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath and fighting a shark with a baseball bat on the subway. The only way that could get more New York is if the shark told Ziering to go fuck himself.

Ziering is making another return, though, in the runup. He’s back with Chippendales at the Rio, through July 20. It was easier to get in shape this time around—he said he’s kept off most of the 35 pounds he lost before the first turn with the Chips, and did CrossFit two days a week and lifted weights five days a week while he prepared for this run. And when he’s here Thursdays through Sundays, he has his family in town. He lights up when he talks about his two daughters, ages 3 and 1.

They’re the reason he turned in some of the directions he did as he was capitalizing on the resurgence. He’s working on a line of toddler clothing that comes from a dad’s perspective, and he’s hoping to franchise a chain of indoor playgrounds for kids.

Not all of the new doors that opened up were kid-related. One is a travel website that points civilians to hideaway destinations that celebs know about … but the shark is never far from the surface. He started a production company that’s working on both reality and scripted projects, one of which is a reality competition show based around filming a monster movie. If it all goes right, the winner would be able to show their own, personal ’Nado on a network.

Even Chippendales is savvy to the power of the shark—they’ve touted Ziering as the star of the movies in its advertising. It’s turning into big business on its own. Syfy is preparing to expand its merchandising of the franchise, up to Sharknado kids’ pajamas.

“I’m kind of tickled to think there’s a little kid going to sleep with my face on their pajamas. That was usually for superheroes,” Ziering says.

As if Batman could handle airborne sharks.

The high-concept camp of the first one is a high-wire act, and it’s going to be tough to follow. The Internet is a fickle bitch, and it can turn on you at the drop of a chum-covered hat. The first movie was self-aware, and that can be forgiven. Embraced, even. But self-aware and trying too hard under the weight of expectations? There’s a reason there was never a Stuff White People Like movie.

“The script is a little more ambitious than the first one. The locations have changed. I think people are going to really enjoy the surprise cameos—there are several that have not been publicized. The movie knows what it is,” Ziering says. “But it does things it doesn’t know it’s not supposed to do. These movies aren’t supposed to be successful.”

Known cameos include Michael Strahan, Kelly Ripa and Al Roker cutting a Today segment; Judd Hirsch driving a taxi, in a nod to his sitcom days; and Biz Markie as Vinny the Pizza Guy, whose appearance Ziering worked into getting his own upcoming cameo on Yo Gabba Gabba.

Right now, Sharknado 3 is a lock to happen, but if the team behind the franchise can keep the lightning firmly in the bottle, there’s a tentative plan to make the movies an ongoing summer event. What Saw is to Halloween season, Sharknado could be to the dog days. Frankly, it’s a huge step up from an annual Transformers dump Michael Bay takes on movie screens across America every year. At least you can follow the action when a man’s fighting a poorly animated shark.

“It’s not ridiculously expensive to produce. If the fans want it, this is a fan-driven movie. If the fans want it, it will go on in perpetuity,” Ziering says. “I’d be proud and happy to be associated with this project as long as it lasts. As long as I don’t get eaten.”

A year ago, writer Jason Scavone watched Ziering watch the airing of the first Sharknado, thus witnessing the moment one actor’s life forever changed. Read the play-by-play at VegasSeven.com/Sharknado.

See Ian Ziering

in Chippendales at 9 and 11 p.m. Thu-Sat and 9 p.m. Sun through July 20 at the Rio, $61.45-$89, 702-777-2782, then watch him in Sharknado 2 at 9 p.m. July 30 on Syfy.

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