I love celebrity interviews. Whether they take place on the red carpet or during a late-night talk show, they produce some of my favorite moments in pop culture. Even now, Andy Serkis reading Trump’s tweets on Colbert always makes me laugh. These interviews have long served as the primary medium for celebrities to interact with the public. For many Americans, the word “interview” sparks the image of a celebrity on The Tonight Show hosted by Johnny Carson. While this classic format — the “sit down and talk about your newest project” interview — is perfectly serviceable, I always welcome innovation.
“Hot Ones,” a 20-to-30-minute YouTube show from the channel First We Feast, updates the celebrity interview. In the show, a celebrity guest enters (or, these days, “Zooms” into) the studio to answer questions about their lives, current projects and personal qualities. But there’s a catch: host Sean Evans and the guest eat ten increasingly spicy chicken (or vegan) wings throughout the interview. As the Scoville rating of each wing rises, the interview intensifies.
The viewing community of “Hot Wings” has hailed Evans as a fantastic interviewer due to his attention to detail and thorough research of his guests. Compilation videos show how often guests praise Evan’s questions. Upon eating the fifth wing, guests are asked to explain one of their Instagram posts, which almost always elicits a deeply personal conversation.
“Hot Ones” benefits from its central gimmick. The spicy wings catch the guests off guard and dissolve their inhibitions. Even the reserved Idris Elba challenged the show’s creator to a fight. These exchanges are not only hilarious, they are also deeply personal and show how idolized celebrities are, at their core, just like us. The spiciness strips back stoicism and curated eloquence, leaving guests sweating and swearing as their mouths are set ablaze.
The most-viewed episode of the show features the infamously crass Gordon Ramsay, who eviscerates the terribly tasting sauces while talking about Master Chef Jr. While a normal talk show may have concluded with a handshake and a turn to the camera, this episode ends with Ramsay coaching Evans on how to make the perfect scrambled eggs.
The unconventional segments of “Hot Ones,” while not entirely unique, have made the celebrity interview more appealing to modern audiences. The show’s success has led to live hot wing interview vignettes on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon." Meanwhile, major media want in: they have seen the potential of this raw, outrageous interview format.
“Hot Wings” is a success story. The show was born from the care and talent of people in the entertainment industry who saw an opportunity and made their hot wing dreams a reality. Of course, for every show that does become a sensation, many do not succeed. Still, opportunities for innovation abound in the interview world.
Other YouTube shows, such as NardwuarServiette, Cold As Balls and Carpool Karaoke from The Late Late Show with James Corden, also work to transform the celebrity interview. Nardwuar fills a typically musical niche, where the host invites a musical (or rarely nonmusical) guest to his show and does so much research his questions often scare his guests. “Cold as Balls,” hosted by Kevin Hart, sees Hart interviewing sports celebrities while they take an ice bath, similarly humanizing celebrities by placing them in uncomfortable positions. Meanwhile, “Carpool Karaoke” features James Corden on car rides with a musical guest or band. During their interview, they sing the artist’s songs. While produced by a major network, the show receives most of its consumption on YouTube, speaking to the shifts in how interviews are conducted, even by “traditional” talk shows.
If all of these shows demonstrate one thing, it is that innovation to the conventional format is coming and that the innovations will be a little weird, but will be centered around humanizing celebrities. We as a consuming public want to see our celebrities as “just like us,” and the media producers have noticed.
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