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The Web Series Bringing People Together Over Hot Conversation and Hotter Chicken

Photo: Courtesy of First We Feast

You’ve probably wondered what it would be like to have a drink with your favorite celebrity. Although you may never have the opportunity to experience it, the hit YouTube series “Hot Ones” comes close.

“Everybody’s trying to make this show like, ‘What’s it like to have a beer with this person?’ No one can ever make that show — except for ‘Hot Ones,’” said Sean Evans, 33, host of the web series, which is in its ninth season. “We have this disruptive element where we take somebody who’s on a pedestal and just knock them down to this more common, relatable suffering, which is dying on hot sauce. Everybody knows what that’s like and what that feels like, and for whatever reason, it’s always funny.”

Heating up celebrity interviews

“The show with hot questions and even hotter wings,” as its slogan points out, takes an unconventional approach to interviews by making guests eat chicken wings with sauce that gets progressively hotter as Evans queries them on their rise to fame, their Instagram posts, and the like.

What started out as what Evans called a “dumb idea” between him and his business partner, Chris Schonberger, has exploded into an internet sensation. Interviews with celebrities like chef Gordon Ramsay and actress Charlize Theron have racked up tens of millions of views.

“Key and Peele was the first episode where we had millions of views, and it was on the first page of Reddit,” Evans said. “That was the episode that brought ‘Hot Ones’ to the world.”

Evans, who shoots “Hot Ones” in New York City, thinks the show works because it brings celebrities down to earth.

“I think that for us there’s this combination of the hot sauces, which can be alarming and disarming, and it is a unique environment we’re dealing with people who are so used to going from room, to room, to room in basic sit-down interview fashion,” Evans said. “The fact that we’ve popped up this sort of circus freak show on them at least a little bit piques your interest and your curiosity, and then on top of that, it’s this absurd premise where we’re delivering hotter and hotter and hotter and hotter and hotter chicken wings.

“I think what it ends up doing is stunning people, and then they’re stuck on our show and they’re concerned less with their guardrails and more with just sort of surviving the situation.”

Fine-tuning the feast

Evans doesn’t relish watching his guests suffer. In fact, he views his role as “part interviewer, but also part life coach and shaman and caretaker,” he said. Although he’s more aware of what’s happening than his interviewer (he’s filmed 150 episodes over the past four years, though, despite his increased tolerance to heat, he doesn’t consider himself on par with professional eaters), that doesn’t lessen his empathy for the person on the other side of the table.

“It’s like Bear Grylls — he can rip through the wilderness, and he can probably do it a little bit better by himself, but he has to take care of somebody else along the way, so you have this added responsibility,” Evans said.

One of the ways that Evans and his team have tried to make the show tastier, if not more comfortable, is by perfecting their sourcing for chicken wings. In particular, their wings pass what he calls “the pizza test,” where touching them doesn’t leave an oily residue on your skin.

They’ve also started their own hot sauce line and incorporate some of Evans’ favorite flavors (like horseradish, wasabi, apricot, and blackberry) into their lineup, changing the variety of sauces for each season.

The show is certainly shaking up the typical celebrity interview, and bringing people together over food — no matter who they are.

“Every single episode is somebody’s favorite,” Evans said. “When I talk to people in the street, I get a 150 different answers, so I think that’s what’s unique about the show and magic about the show.”

Melinda Carter, [email protected]

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