Hot Ones, which is produced by First We Feast, a Complex Networks brand, is joining Global TV’s fall lineup.
Evans interviews some of the biggest names in Hollywood as they chow down on wings, each with a hot sauce that gets increasingly hotter on the Scoville scale.
Global News sat down with Evans in Toronto ahead of the premiere to ask him about his favourite interviews, the research process of Hot Ones and much more.
Global News: Is it weird to be on the other side of the interview right now?
Sean Evans: It’s a little bit different. I think that sometimes as an interviewer what I always do is get nervous about the ball hitting the ground and so if I’m hosting then I know that I can just keep that ball. But then when you’re trusting someone else to keep the ball up I think I’m an annoying person to interview because I’m definitely more comfortable asking the questions than answering them. And then I feel this pressure to keep the conversation going which is so annoying for the person interviewing me. But to answer your question it’s a little strange.
How would you describe Hot Ones to someone who’s never watched the series before?
Well, I think it’s pretty simple. It’s your classic interview show, but there’s a caveat; with our celebrity guests, we are interviewing them but in the process of the interview we have them eating increasingly spicy chicken wings. It starts off kind of chill and then we sort of wall you into this false sense of security zone and then into a midway point into just straight up sauces that were only designed for pranks. Then you have some of the most famous people in the world just swearing uncontrollably and dry heaving on camera.
Just like the Broad City episode where Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer were just dripping in sweat.
The celebrities become slightly different in their demeanour and approach. That’s what’s funny, too, is that in all these episodes that we’ve done, there’s no episode that’s like the last one. They’re all a little bit differently.
You have so much research on the celebrity guests prepared for the show. It keeps it extremely entertaining. Do you do all the research yourself or is there a team that helps you out?
For the first couple of years, it was just me and Chris (Schonberger). What we would do is one of us would read the book, because one of us did it last time, or I’ll take the podcasts, you take the YouTube interviews. We would do that and we did that for a long, long time. We’re still doing it. My little brother is also doing dossiers and stuff. What we’ll do is we’ll take a guest and divide up their work from the movies and the interviews they’ve done, the podcasts and the books they’ve written. We take all of this stuff and divide it between the three of us. We all take notes and then we’ll combine those notes into a more formal dossier. We take that dossier and turn it into 10 interview topics, things that we want to talk about, and take those and reverse engineer them into a thesis question with maybe three or four follow-ups. Then we order that into the run of the show and that’s how it’s made.
That’s crazy because I would have thought there was a huge team behind that. The fact that it’s the three of you makes it more authentic.
Thank you! We don’t have a whole team behind us. I think the fact that on the creative side only a couple people touch it is what’s made it the thing that it is today. There’s not a lot of chefs in the kitchen and very few people are involved in Hot Ones. There’s no research team or anything like that. It’s just myself, Chris and my brother on the research side and on the interview side, it’s just myself and Chris every single episode. That’s how it’s going to be until the end. I think that’s the thing that makes Hot Ones, Hot Ones.
Who cleans the laptop? I can’t imagine how dirty it gets with all the sauce.
Every once in awhile, I’m always calling out things to the crew like, ‘who has gum!’ or ‘who has a wipe or dry cloth for the laptop? It’s looking gross for Natalie Portman today!’ I’ll just wipe that down but I guess if you’re supposed to give somebody the task it would be camera guy Bill.
Who would you say were your top two favourite interviews?
That’s a tough question, because I know it sounds self-serving, but I’m so obsessed with the show, like you can just like hold up different thumbnails and I’ll tell you why that was the best Hot Ones ever. There’s been so many people, 10 seasons and 170 episodes. If I were to present an episode to somebody and say, ‘All right, this is like what Hot Ones is about and we’re gonna try to hook you, I think recently the Shia LaBeouf episode, the Idris Elba episode, the Stone Cold Steve Austin episode, Scarlett Johansson and the Gordon Ramsay episode. Those are episodes that I think embody the spirit of Hot Ones. Those are the episodes where I really think that if you give them a chance, you’ll watch it and then you’ll watch five more right after and then the next week you’ll watch 10 more and you’ll be telling your friends at work about the show.
Have you ever had any celebrities tell you that you’re not allowed to ask them certain questions before coming on Hot Ones?
With us, we’ll never pass our questions on to somebody beforehand. If somebody has that request that’s a complete deal-breaker, even if it’s the most famous person on earth. There’s some things that we keep sacred. Every once in a while a guest will come in with some guardrails. I understand it in a lot of ways because, usually, it has to do with family or relationships or stuff that should probably be off-limits anyway. I think that if a guest has some conditions and you feel like you can still do the show with those conditions and you invite them in then I think like that’s an acceptable way to go about it. If the laundry list is too long and you’re like, ‘It’s not even worth it,’ we’ll pass on that person. It’s always annoying to me when I see Nick Cannon on a press appearance and everyone’s asking about Mariah Carey. Give this guy a break. How many years and how many ways does he have to answer the stupid question.
What’s your favourite thing in the Museum of Curiosities?
If the Museum of Curiosities was on fire, and I could only grab one thing, it would be this movie poster that we did. We made it for the Key and Peele episode because that was the first episode that we shot at a movie junket. You know when you do the movie junket interviews you see the movie poster in the back? We thought it’d be funny to make a Hot Ones movie posters for the junket. It was right over my shoulder and it’s this Top Gun spoof but it’s me with the wings of death. We had Key and Peele sign that. Their episode was such a tentpole episode because the show was not a big hit until the Key and Peele episode. That was where we went from like 30,000 views and nobody watching it, and me saying, ‘wow I’m really eating a lot of spicy food for no good reason,’ until then. It was the first big breakout Hot Ones with millions of views and front page of Reddit.
How does it feel to now be on the Trending page of YouTube every time an episode drops?
If I’m talking about like the evolution of Hot Ones, when we first started it was not a big hit at all. It was on the verge of being cancelled. The thing that kept us going is that the cult fan base was so intense and nobody was leaving the tent. We’d put up an episode that would have 30,000 views but we’d have just as many comments as views. The comments were always so positive. We weren’t just picking up viewers because they were a fan of a celebrity on the episode. It was the same kids going week to week, watching all these episodes. The Key and Peele episode was one of those ones where it lifted all the other episodes because people discovered the show and then watched the entire back catalogue. It was such a journey.
Is your favourite food chicken wings?
Listen, when I’m off the clock I am not ordering chicken wings. It’s like how you live in Toronto and work in this building and on weekends you probably won’t want to come within 100 metres of this building because you’ll feel like you’re working. Everyone’s always like, ‘Yo, let’s go out for wings I know this great spot.’ I have to tell them if I’m off the clock I’m not reaching for chicken wings. But I’ll stop short of slandering chicken wings because they’ve been very good to me.
If you could choose one food to use instead of wings what would it be?
Well, you’d need some sort of hot sauce vessel. Something that’s not as annoying as a taco but probably some sort of spicy chip that gets increasingly spicier.
Do you ever get nervous before an interview?
I don’t think so and I don’t get starstruck because I feel like research is, like, so extensive that eventually they become a box that I’m talking to you. I feel like I’ve got them figured out on some levels and they come in and I feel like I’ve walked 20 miles in their shoes. But there are times where it feels like it goes from like the regular season to the playoffs. I remember when we had the Gordon Ramsay episode, it was this cloudy day in New York and it was an early thing. Gordon came in and you never really know whether this is his team telling him this is a big show and a good look for you. Or if they know it and really want to be on it. When I walked in the studio that day the whole crew had their game face on and they were putting up lights with a certain demeanour to make it more serious than the other days. When he came in the air felt a little bit thicker and you know it’s going to be a big Internet moment. There’s a little bit more pressure on those sorts of things.
I remember watching you say that if you weren’t hosting Hot Ones you would want to be a campus cop. What’s second on the list?
Remember in broadcasting school where you’d have to do all the mock newscasts?
Yes! And it was extremely awkward because no one really knows what we’re doing and the teleprompter would be going extremely fast because it’s a student working it.
It was, like, even worse than that because kids would be running the control room and trying to pop into a live shot with equipment that was purchased in 1985 and then it’s all live. If those things were on YouTube they would have, like, millions of views because they’re so uncomfortable to watch. It’s just non-stop bloopers and follies and it’s just fumbling their way through this live broadcast with no training or experience or anything. Just trying to make it happen. What separated the people was the weather because no one had a safety net for that. There was no teleprompter they just throw it to you live in front of the screen. I remember I was kind of comfortable in that setting and I kind of liked dancing on the green screen. I was very comfortable there which was different from most of the students who were so scared and they dreaded doing the weather. And then my professor John Paul, shoot our John Paul University of Illinois, he’s like you need to be a weatherman. Then I started taking it super seriously and I was like, ‘OK well that’s going to be next for me. I’m going to be a weatherman.’ If not for a spicy wing talk show host or campus cop, maybe I’d be a weatherman.
Who is someone you haven’t had on the show that you’d love to bring on for an episode?
The fan base is so loud with who they want on the show. For years they wanted Gordon Ramsay. It would follow me everywhere, in my Twitter mentions, or I’d post an Instagram photo of me on the beach and the comments would be filled with, ‘When are you getting Gordon Ramsay on the show!’ After years and years eventually we got cyberbullied into this room together (laughing). After we shot that, I thought I’d reached the top of spice mountain with the fans. But now they have that exact same energy towards getting Keanu Reeves on the show. All the comments are about Keanu Reeves now and then when we eventually do that I bet the comments will switch to someone like Will Smith. But right now the Keanu Reeves comments are so loud that I’d just love to do it because I think it’d be really good.
What’s your favourite viral Hot Ones moment?
There are so many. We love what we’ve done for the meme economy. Every episode has a second life in the meme economy. I think the one that was the biggest, which almost got bigger than Hot Ones, was the Idris Elba choking on the wing. But then you go into the YouTube comments and there are timestamps for certain moments in every episode.
(This interview has been edited and condensed.)
Hot Ones premieres on Global Saturday, Sept. 27, at 1 a.m. ET following the season premiere of Saturday Night Live.
Then, viewers can catch back-to-back new episodes of Hot Ones airing in a one-hour block kicking off Oct. 5 immediately following Saturday Night Live.