“It’s the show with hot questions, and even hotter wings” goes the slogan for First We Feast’s video series Hot Ones. The celebrity interview show has built a chicken-wing-obsessed cult following. Host Sean Evans has mastered an incisive questioning style that’s made it one of the best platforms for consistently engaging celebrity interaction. First We Feast, part of Complex Media, boasts a considerable subscriber count, and its several other food culture and cooking-based shows all rack up a fair amount of views. But nothing quite measures up to Hot Ones, which invites all manner of celebrities to consume ten chicken wings (or, increasingly now, vegan nuggets), each one doused in hot sauce that’s an order of magnitude spicier on the Scoville scale than the one before. Guiding them is Evans, perhaps the most dedicated and thorough researcher hosting video interviews today.
This is a concept that delivers time and time again. Evans directly confronts each guest’s rapidly declining capability for conversation and restrained thought, creating a paradoxical harmony of coherence and confusion. The wings get hotter, the questions get more intricate, and the guests get less coherent. Kristen Stewart perhaps summed it up best in a recent episode, stuttering through sharp intakes of breath that “sentences end, and then more hot wings happen.” But this not an arena for malice or exploitative probing. The line of questioning is always grounded in genuine intrigue and a respect for the working philosophy of the interviewee.
In today’s landscape of celebrity-on-celebrity profiles, megawatt-smile talk show hosts, and increasingly grimace-worthy clickbait segments scattered across the internet, Hot Ones reinvents and elevates the video interview format. It may perhaps seem like a gimmicky setup, but the show has built a space of integrity and purity of conversation, driven both by Evans’s perspicacity and by the personalities of his guests, who are so often ground down into corporate batter by traditional press junkets. Hot Ones gives them permission to let loose and be themselves, and blame it all on the wings if need be.
Evans’s hardiness against the heat (having eaten the ten wings in every episode for ten seasons now) doesn’t put him at much of an advantage over his guests. Both participants must suffer, and in some cases (notably with Trevor Noah), the interviewees are the ones who make it look easy. A crucial element of the show is breaking down the usual celebrity-reporter hierarchy and dynamic, and while Evans still takes the lead, there is a balance at play. He has developed the habit of mimicking the guests’ preferences, such as whether he’ll take sips of water throughout the ordeal. Whatever they want, he’ll adapt to, whether it’s almond milk, beer, or Thai iced tea (as Tenacious D memorably requested). These are minor details, but this consistency is a small demonstration of the ethos of the show, easing the interviewees into vulnerability.
The show has increased in prestige over the years. Early on it mainly brought on stand-up comedians and rappers, but more and more superstars have been making appearances. In this current season alone, guests have included Paul Rudd, Noel Gallagher, Maisie Williams, and Shia LaBeouf. One can imagine a guest texting their celebrity pals immediately after they’ve finished, urging them to go on one of the only interview shows they’ll actually enjoy.
Whether Evans’s stomach or taste buds are durable enough to last another ten seasons remains to be seen, but the approach Hot Ones employs would be sorely missed. We’re supposedly more connected than ever to the inner lives of famous figures, but their interactions with the general public through the internet are increasingly restrained and retreating. Hot Ones sits somewhere in a friendly space between their urge for privacy and our longing for information, a friendly conversation held over a tasty (albeit painful) meal.
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