‘Hot Ones’ was a slow burn all along

‘Hot Ones’ was a slow burn all along

'Hot Ones' was a slow burn all along

Bob Odenkirk was dubious when he walked onto the set of the long-running ‘Hot Ones’ YouTube interview show last month. He was, after all, about to take the “wings of death,” as the treacherously spicy chicken range is called.

“I’ve heard such great things about the show,” Odenkirk told Balanced host Sean Evans once the cameras were rolling, but “I think I’m perfectly capable of talking without a part of my body is hurt.”

Though he peppered the interview with a few F-bombs, Odenkirk, the Emmy-nominated actor from “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad,” underwent a familiar change: He warmed up — emotionally. Particularly after Third Wing, when Evans, citing a 1989 Chicago Tribune article, asked him about his one-man show “Half My Face Is a Clown.”

“It was a lot more entertaining and fun than I thought it would be,” Odenkirk said in the closing credits through a spice-induced cough.

“Hot Ones” — a groundbreaking pop culture phenomenon in which stars eat 10 progressively fiery wings (or, increasingly, a vegan substitute) while being asked 10 probing questions — has built itself into a mainstay in line, stable amid the shifting tides of digital media.

Since 2015, First We Feast, the food culture site that produces “Hot Ones,” has aired nearly 300 episodes, nearly all of which have racked up millions of views. Guests this season, his 20th, include Pedro Pascal, Bryan Cranston, Jenna Ortega and Florence Pugh. At the start of the show, the guests were mainly rappers, comedians and athletes. Now, Oscar winners like Viola Davis and Cate Blanchett often occupy the hot seat, as do headliners like Dave Grohl and Lizzo. The two most-watched episodes, starring Gordon Ramsay and Billie Eilish, both in 2019, have amassed 165 million views. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson came to discuss our place in the universe and its place in us.

Evans uses his affable and unassuming approach to his advantage, with his deep questions disarming the guests, as the wings ignite them. Often visibly unwell, guests are quickly won over by Evans’ knowledge of their careers and his incredible ability to keep conversations on track, even when they’re dangerously close to going sideways.

When he asked Josh Brolin why the Geva Theater Center in Rochester, NY was special to him, Brolin replied, “Literally the biggest questions I’ve ever been asked. Seriously. I am blown away. I don’t know who works for you, but don’t fire them. (Turns out this is the little theater where he earned his stripes as a character actor.)

In recent years, “Hot Ones” has risen to the big leagues: with parodies on “The Simpsons” and “Saturday Night Live,” and Daytime Emmy nominations for Evans and the show. His influence seems to have trickled down to the multitude of late-night or online segments that test celebrities in one way or another: “Seth Meyers Goes Day Drinking” or Vanity Fair’s lie detector series. .

Since her debut, Evans said, “We’ve been through four different generations of new media.during this time, and we were able to navigate these rocky waters in the smoothest way.

The show could easily have been categorized as a novelty or a gimmick, but Evans and Chris Schonberger, the co-creator and executive producer of “Hot Ones,” say its steady rise is a product of their dedication to the craft of interviewing. and, perhaps unexpectedly, on linear TV: new 20- to 30-minute episodes drop Thursdays. “‘Hot Ones’ is a bit like an 80s or 90s sitcom,” Evans said, comparing its feel to “The Office” or “Friends.”

Schonberger calls “Hot Ones” a “true Venn diagram,” where today’s focus on viral formats overlaps with time-tested journalism. “It’s rooted in research, trying to be factually accurate, trying to be broader than the gossip of the day,” he said. His North Star has always been answering the classic question: “What would it be like to have a beer with this person?” »

It’s far more than Evans, 36, and Schonberger, 39, could have imagined when the idea was born nearly a decade ago.

First We Feast, launched by Complex Networks in 2012 and run by Schonberger, was struggling to catch up with traditional food brands like Gourmet Magazine or Bon Appétit, with their thousands of recipes or restaurant listings. Then, in 2014, digital brands turned to video. “It was this incredible flattening of the landscape,” Schonberger said. “Suddenly we weren’t far behind the starting line, and we also had this brand that could credibly talk about pop culture and not just food.”

And with the evolution of platforms like YouTube, Schonberger said, “People were looking for something to break through the veneer of stardom — how interviews became more experiential and playful.”

“‘Hot Ones’ was just the dumbest idea ever,” Schonberger said, only half-joking. “How is it, philosophically, that the dumbest idea is the best?”

“It’s like, well, we can’t just get people to get drunk or high,” he continued, “but I think we can get people to eat spicy food , which could be hilarious.”

Casting someone was officially not in the budget, Schonberger said, so he went looking for on-screen talent “down the hall.” And there was Evans, who had hosted segments for Complex News, played golf with Stephen Curry, for example, or ate Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson’s diet.

At first, the show had a more controversial and unbalanced quality (like an “Old West UFC barroom,” as Schonberger put it). The publicists, Evans said, would bring in their client, “half apologizing in front of us.” The conversations Evans had during Season 1 (which didn’t feature any women) – like when he used a lot of swear words when questioning Machine Gun Kelly about his relationship with Amber Rose – wouldn’t fly today .

In 2018, Charlize Theron’s episode opened the door to high-profile guests, like Scarlett Johansson and Halle Berry, previously difficult to book in part because of the show’s unconventional and untested concept, which doesn’t hadn’t quite broken up with his brother. centered box.

If you imagined Evans hiding out for a week before every interview to consume every part of his next guest’s career, you’re not wrong. But he also gets a lot of help from his brother, Gavin Evans, the show’s researcher, who compiles a dossier on every celebrity that could be 50 pages — no magazine profile, podcast interview, entry. IMDb, Wikipedia page or archived local news. is left unleaded.

Sean Evans, a Chicago native who grew up admiring Howard Stern, David Letterman and Adam Carolla, turns out to have a knack for demystifying fame. Towards the end of his interview, Oscar nominee Austin Butler, who told a touching story about riding the roller coaster with his late mother, hugged Evans, saying, “I’ve made a new friend who I hope will stay. in my life for a long time. time.” The night after Grohl’s episode, in which the two drank an entire bottle of Crown Royal whiskey, Evans attended a Foo Fighters show with friends and family.

Despite trending consistently on YouTube, the show has managed to maintain a certain level of underdog appeal. It may be that a team of about 10 people have worked on it since its inception. That includes one hot sauce curator: Noah Chaimberg, the founder of Brooklyn-based hot sauce store Heatonist. The range of sauces changes every season, but a mainstay is the brutal Da’ Bomb Beyond Insanity, a standout in nearly every interview. The final wing exceeds two million on the Scoville scale.

Or maybe it’s the unchanging set of bare bones: an all-black liminal space akin to the Looney Tunes void.

The set was “a byproduct of our bankruptcy,” Evans said, but it’s been a boon for the show. Although he often tours New York or Los Angeles, “we can pop this installation anywhere,” Evans said, such as when they traveled to Hawaii to interview Kevin Hart or to London for Idris Elba. . “The show’s restrictions have become a superpower,” Schonberger said.

Schonberger and Evans said cable networks and other platforms have shown interest in buying the “Hot Ones” brand, but have prioritized controlling them, sticking with YouTube and expanding their reach. reach by creating and selling hot sauces (first conceived as a souvenir for superfans, then expanded exponentially to meet demand). They have had collaborations with Shake Shack, Reebok and Champion sportswear. And in 2021, Hot Ones began selling Chicken Bites in Walmart’s freezer aisles.

And while “Hot Ones” wasn’t created with social media in mind, it’s “made for it,” Schonberger said, with each wing being its own two- to three-minute segment designed to have a start. , a middle and an end. Next are reaction GIFs and compilations, which rack up millions of views on TikTok, along with videos of fans trying the sauces themselves.

“We just continued to focus on the quality of the whole thing and believing that once it’s out in the world,” Schonberger said, “it belongs to the internet, and they’re going to find their ways to s have fun with it and amplify it. For the duo, who are admittedly stubborn about their vision, the future will look a lot like the present.

“I don’t really have these plans or aspirations to take over the world. I think I’m just happier being duke or baron on my little corner of the internet,” said Evans, who has eaten thousands of on-screen wings. “Hopefully I can handle this for as long as my stomach will allow.”


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.