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The Enduring Legacy of Hot Ones

Image from Hot Ones Youtube


The recipe to make the hottest interview show actually involves ten bottles of hot sauce. Hot Ones started as a weird niche show on YouTube but has reached cultural status beyond the Internet. It was spoofed on Saturday Night Live, became an Emmy-nominated hit with 19 seasons, and now has a cult following on the Internet. 

The show involves the host, Sean Evans, interviewing celebrities over a platter of 10 spicy hot wings (there are also vegan options). He begins each episode by welcoming the viewer to "the show with hot questions and even hotter wings." Each wing corresponds to a hot sauce, which gets hotter as they progress through the platter. Eventually, guests struggle to maintain their composure while their mouths are enflamed with spice. Off to the side of their table are refreshment options such as water and milk. (Actor Simu Liu brought boba tea for him and Sean during his episode.) During the pandemic, the show was done remotely, and guests set up their tables like the set. 

"Explain that 'Gram" is a segment where Evans does a deep dive into a person's Instagram account and asks them to explain a photo or two. (Actor John Boyega was asked to explain why it looked like he was taking horseback riding lessons from a Putin-lookalike on the Star Wars set.)

The show ends with the Last Dab, in which guests are encouraged to put an extra dab of hot sauce on the last wing. Surprisingly, signer Lorde and actress Elizabeth Olsen impressed Evans during their interview. Both were immune to the spice somehow and managed to carry on through the interview as if they were eating regular wings. 

Some celebrities like DJ Kahled didn’t make it through the ten wings and became members of the Hall of Shame.


Spicy Beginnings

Hot Ones started in 2015 and was created by Christopher Schonberger and Sean Evans. "When we started, I did not think I  would make it this long," admits Evans in a podcast interview with Ali Plumb.

Schonberger took inspiration from British interviews like Channel 4 and Alexa Chung's shows. Evans explained that these shows are part of Hot One's DNA as America treats celebrities differently than the UK. Stars in the US are oddly put on a pedestal and are almost treated like a god or untouchable people. 

Celebrity interviews, on the other hand, are boring, said Evans. He described it as a "PR-driven flight pattern" and questioned how to disrupt it. Schonberger came up with the solution: What about interviewing celebrities with violently spicy chicken wings to break them down? Schonberger and Evans worked in a building where they saw celebrities walking down the halls and decided it would be "viable because of proximity." Evans himself had no experience being on-camera or a host.

Evans admits that early on, Hot Ones was not a big hit. The Key and Peele episode was the first to bring them views and make them trend online. Afterwards, the show gained a new surge of audience. The viewers came for the hot sauce, but Evans and Schonberger wanted to give them more reasons to stay throughout the programme.


A different kind of interview

The format of Hot Ones quickly sets it apart from other shows. The hot sauces knock the celebrity down to a relatable level. As Evans put it, chicken wings are not a dainty food to eat, and the guests' manners fly out the window, which allows them to be themselves. For once, the celebrity is not treated as a PR product but as a human being, and most share good insights about the industry, acting, or life.

Even the viewers find it oddly relatable and can sympathise with the guest's discomfort. 

The interviews are detailed and have well-researched questions—not just the typical cycle the guests are tired of hearing.

According to Verge, the research team comprises Schonberger, Sean, and his brother Gavin. Schonberger listens to hours of podcasts, while Evans consumes 12 to 24 hours of interview clips. On the other hand, Gavin goes through every article, Reddit "Ask-Me-Anything", and online profiles. Then everyone compares their notes to boil it down to 10 questions or topics per wing.

Both viewers and guests are impressed by the depth of research and the questions they get. YouTube commenters always express joy whenever a guest acknowledges Sean's interview skills (which happens almost all the time.) For instance, actor David Harbour was in the middle of the press for The Black Widow and was surprised by the depth of Evan's questions. "Do I get to talk about real stuff now?" He asked Evans excitedly. Through his tears, actor Sebastian Stan told Evans that he was impressed by the questions and facts he was asking.

It was also refreshing to watch Scarlett Johansson in an interview where she wasn't asked typical questions about her body, image, or relationships.  


Another ingredient for success: Sean Evans

Lately, many interview platforms, whether on YouTube, a TV show, or a podcast, try to be a "beer-with-this-person" type of show, meaning the host tries hard to be buddies with the guest. Hot Ones was the trailblazer and were the only one to succeed without seeming too fake. According to the podcast host, Evans succeeds in creating an "instant 25-minute friendship" with the guest.

Evans can gauge the comfort level with the "the Wing Three Shoulder drop." He explained that guests come intense but by the third wing, they relax into the format, the show, and the host. Evans is always encouraging and never makes fun of the guest, no matter how spicy the sauce gets. He matches their energy: if he sees someone struggling to look tough onscreen, he is the first to go for the water to make them more comfortable. The guests enjoy themselves and Evans' company despite the discomfort and occasional pain. 

Hot Ones gained even more pop culture notoriety when it was spoofed on Saturday Night Live. In the episode, Mikey Day impersonates Sean and interviews Beyoncé (played by Maya Rudolph). His impression is accurate to Evans' big hand gestures, the slight tapping of fingers on the table, and how he always cautions guests to be careful around their eyes. Evans called it "amazing and very memorable" and was even surprised that SNL had his costume (typically a hoodie and a pair of jeans).

Evans has been cemented as "the wing guy" beyond the Internet. While Evans does not actively seek out wings, they "always have a way of chasing me down," he said. Chicken wings are now part of his life: chefs bring him free wings in restaurants, and he gets recognised on the streets. 

Since starting seven years ago, Evans hopes the show has another seven years to push the concept of celebrity one wing at a time.

Do you have a favourite Hot Ones episode? What did you like in the interview? Share with us in the comments.

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