For a number of years, the on-camera long-form celebrity interview was in a rut. Outside of some podcasts and public radio programming, the appetite for self-serious conversations about the entertainment industry had diminished, and most of the personalities that had once made them digestible were either dead or retired. But then came along a YouTube show called Hot Ones, [cut to two-shot] a show with hot questions and even hotter wings. Hot Ones rejuvenated the format by solving two major problems: a) getting the guest out of their own head by providing them with a distracting challenge and b) removing any whiff of showbiz brevity with the nature of the challenge.
If you are unfamiliar with Hot Ones, the premise is simple. It’s a one-on-one interview show where host Sean Evans asks guests remarkably compelling questions while both host and guest attempt to eat 10 increasingly spicy chicken wings. The spice level of each wing is measured in Scoville units, and to give you some idea of how spicy it can get, the first wing is measured at 1800 Scovilles while the final wing has over 2.5 million. For comparison, that final wing is roughly 500 times hotter than a jalapeño.
The questions posed are surprisingly thoughtful, often eliciting audible disbelief from the guest at the amount of preparation Evans has done for the interview. These moments alone would be enough to make the show endlessly watchable, but it’s the wings that add an element of unpredictability, requiring you to come back for more. Many guests cry trying to eat all 10, others panic, one guest pooped his pants, and a very elite few display minimal signs of distress. A guest could always be answering a question deceptively to make themselves look better, but there’s no hiding from the truth hidden in the wings. Here’s a selection of some of the best Hot Ones episodes that demonstrate why it’s the best celebrity interview show in ages.
Season 2, episode 10
The spice levels of the first seven wings are fairly manageable, giving Evans plenty of time to ask his guest some engaging questions before the interview implodes with the reliably explosive eighth wing, covered in the show’s most infamous sauce: Da’ Bomb. Things got off track immediately when chef Eddie Huang came on and began to eat the wings in reverse order, prompting Evans to tell him “you just did a crazy thing that I think you are going to regret.” He did. Huang spent the next half hour in complete agony, asking if his life was in jeopardy, before the show was able to resume. While Huang was unable to eat the remainder of the wings, he still provided one of the best interviews to date as Evans asked him about the transformative effects of receiving a zero-star restaurant review as well as his beef with Gordon Ramsay. He returned two years later to take on the wings in the proper order, though only in slightly less discomfort.
The best question: “What do you think is the biggest problem in food media in 2016?” In reliably filterless fashion, Huang pointed to celebrity chefs as being overhyped clowns and said if someone has to tell you why something tastes good, then it probably doesn’t. While embedded in food media himself, Huang is certainly outside the mainstream television chef club, which gives him a perfect vantage point on the issues he believes are afflicting the industry.
Season 8, episode 8
Academy Award winner, doctoral degree holder, and Olympic gold medalist Shaquille O’Neal added another prestigious accolade to his career by becoming the tallest Hot Ones guest of all time in 2019. The basketball legend and platinum-selling recording artist talked a big game by guaranteeing the wings would not get him to “make a face.” He did, a few times, but the most entertaining aspect of the episode was the conversation itself. O’Neal humorously recounted the highs and lows of his basketball career by elaborating on differences in opinion with former teammate Kobe Bryant, recalled an important life lesson involving blowing a million dollars from his first NBA contract in under 45 minutes, and talked about shattering backboards as early as high school. O’Neal was able to get through all 10 wings but, perhaps feeling out-sauced, aggressively persuaded Evans to eat a single wing smothered in the contents of every bottle on the table and dubbed it “Shaq Sauce.”
The best question: “Fact or fiction: You used to have police lights on your truck and you once pulled over Darius Miles on the freeway and made him late for Clippers practice?” Shaq laughingly opted to not answer this one, which could be seen as an answer in itself.
Season 6, episode 2
There is certainly much to be said about the ethics of a talk show that centers around ingesting birds for amusement, and this elephant was addressed when Natalie Portman took on the (vegan) wings of death to promote her documentary Eating Animals, which is about exactly what you think it is. Evans did not shy away from discussing the topic, and Portman spoke at length about the environmental effects of factory farming and the difference that could be made by simply eating less meat. The interview transitioned to other big questions, like if eating a taco from the top makes you a psychopath and what the greatest stoner film of all time is. As far as wing composure goes, Portman is easily one of the most unflappable guests the show has ever seen. Her eyes are completely filled with tears by the end of the challenge and she does acknowledge some discomfort, but a detectable shift in demeanor is largely absent.
The best question: “How, at all, does the international press differ from the American press?” Portman, one of the very few people who could be considered a world-renowned person of interest for multiple decades of global blockbusters, said the biggest differences she sees are that the European press want to know where movie stars stand on political issues and the Japanese press just wants to goof around.
Season 8, episode 1
Most famous for making the fringe elements of society cry on TV over undercooked beef Wellington, Gordon Ramsay was Hot Ones’ most requested guest for years. The Michelin Star chef was the perfect person to sit in the hot seat and receive a reconciliatory return on investment for televised torment (outside of MasterChef Junior, which continues to be wholesome and delightful). Ramsay may be a highly decorated chef, but his status as an entertainer is equally impressive, and he is as animated as ever, providing thoughtful insight on the restaurant industry while predictably admonishing the quality of the chicken in front of him. The fireworks really start once he starts suffering through the back half of the wings, leading him to chug a giant glass of Pepto Bismol, scarf down donuts, discard wings by throwing them off the set, rub a lime on his butt, take shots at a late restaurant critic that once spurned him, squirt copious amounts of acidic juices into his mouth (and then spit them into a trash can), and create a new language made entirely of different inflections of curse words.
The best question: “Do you have any thoughts on this black foods trend known as ‘goth foods’?” Operating at the highest possible level of the food industry, Ramsay is perhaps the best person to ask about meals that place appearance over all else. Unsurprisingly, he’s not really into the idea of getting ice cream that has charcoal in it and thinks some people have too much time on their hands.
Season 5, episode 14
Outside of the meme industrial complex, Tyra Banks is most famous as a fashion icon, talk show host, and supermodel. The show allows you to get to know someone way more personably than you would on a six-minute late night couch stint, but you never really truly understand someone until you meet the people that raised them, which is exactly what happened when Banks’ mother, Carolyn London, joined her for a single wing. Banks herself ranks among the funniest guests the show has hosted, as she provides fascinating insight into the fashion and modeling world, not-so-subtly tries to get a date with 2 Chainz, uses her expertise to weigh in on mostly ridiculous promotional modeling photos of Evans, and talks about her crush on Larry David. While she declined to eat the ninth wing, opting instead for an unprepared and nervous cameraman to do the deed, she came back to the table to overcome The Last Dab, the 10th and final wing.
The best question: “I know that you were helping to teach a class for Stanford MBAs called ‘Project You: Building and Extending Your Personal Brand.’ Is it true you started the class having the students take one-minute videos of themselves?” As mentioned earlier, it’s a common experience on the show for the guest to be genuinely surprised by a question (they don’t see or know what the questions are beforehand), and Banks is stopped dead in her tracks, asking Evans how he knew that about her. She goes on to explain that the video was used as a measuring stick so that the students could really see how developed their brand had become by the end of the semester.
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele
Season 2, episode 8
Back when press junkets were held in hotel suites and movie stars were forced to be interviewed all day by some of the most abrasively feverish personalities on the planet, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele found themselves on an abridged version of the show while promoting Keanu. The interview was 15 minutes long, only enough time for the last five wings, so the interview goes from 0 to 100 almost immediately, and the result is one of the show’s most purely funny episodes. Peele starts noticeably struggling on the second (usually the seventh) wing as he hits Evans with a comically dead-eyed stare and dropped jaw while Key answers a question about attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The duo continue to hit wall after wall while hilariously answering questions about unaired Key & Peele sketches, collectively referred to as “Camp Awesome,” and with Key flexing his knowledge about Scovilles (“I know that it’s a unit and I can tell you I know it has something to do with how fucked up my mouth feels.”) The episode ends with them pleading with anyone watching to never come on the show.
The best question: “What sketch in ‘Camp Awesome’ are you so upset that it just hasn’t seen the light of day? That nobody will ever see it?” Though they’re both taken aback at how Evans knows about something as obscure as “Camp Awesome,” most of their focus is on the pain, leading Peele to quickly make up a sketch about happily swimming and drowning in a vat of water.
Season 15, episode 5
Like Billie Eilish before her, Olivia Rodrigo made an appearance on the show just as she was riding her first crest of superstardom. It’s rare to see young entertainers get the long-form interview treatment for a number of reasons, many of them likely related to a lack of media experience, but Hot Ones has a proven track record as a gotcha-free zone, so the guest’s only real concern is not puking on the internet. For a lot of viewers, this was a coming-out party of sorts for Rodrigo, and the most remarkable takeaway was how absolutely normal she seemed. The singer-songwriter sensation who had been drilling ear worms into our heads for the past several months was somehow a well-adjusted musical theater nerd with big time golly-gee energy. This wasn’t someone with superficial extraterrestrial clothing and a holier-than-thou disposition. This was just a regular person who happened to be well on their way to pop domination based on the work alone. The interview changed perceptions about what a pop star could be as well as showcasing the potential of what Hot Ones could accomplish for rising talent.
The best question: “As a musician who covers such a wide gamut of styles, how do you know when a feeling or an idea will fit best in, like, a pop-punk song versus, like, a heartbreak ballad versus, like, an alt-rock anthem?” In Rodrigo’s view, contemporary pop music has become largely genreless. She starts with lyrics first, and then builds around them whatever music and tempo will serve them best.
Season 17, episode 6
Guests often come in with a strategy to try to offset the heat. Alton Brown drank half and half (and he may be on to something, judging by his seemingly painless performance). Jack Black and Kyle Gass gulped down some Thai iced teas. Universally beloved rockstar Dave Grohl took a scorched-earth approach by extinguishing all of his senses with several shots of Black Tooth Grins, a simple medley of Crown Royal and Coca-Cola, swirled together with hot-sauce-covered fingers and shared in abundance with Sean Evans. Grohl has been around the block a few times, so there was no lack of interesting ground to cover. The show aired shortly before the passing of fellow Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins, and among the topics discussed was the late drummer’s cover band, Chevy Metal, which Grohl occasionally sat in on, once pulling a muscle in his hand trying to keep up with an Andy Summers guitar riff. The last wing gets uncharacteristically emotional when Grohl starts recounting how surreal it was to perform on SNL and Letterman after dreaming about being on those stages for years, and then he surprisingly equates those moments to the show he’s currently on. It’s too much for Evans to process and the show ends with both men hugging and shit-faced.
The best question: “In 2015 you famously finished a show in Sweden after falling off the stage two songs in and severely breaking your leg. What’s the second-most-severe injury that you’ve ever suffered while performing?” It would have been surprising if Grohl hadn’t suffered some sort of ridiculous injury based on how he dealt with the broken leg, but while nothing really came close, getting hit in the face with a half dollar as well as getting electrically shocked on a stage perplexingly situated by a swimming pool ain’t a walk in the park either.
Season 8, episode 11
Hot Ones shares a little bit of DNA with late-night TV, which is why multiple talk show hosts like Seth Meyers and Jimmy Kimmel have had a go in the guest seat, but the best of the bunch was when Chelsea Handler brought her specific brand of comedy to the show. The show thrives when the guest has little regard for their own reputation, and Handler gives the zero-est fucks of them all, making for an endlessly entertaining interview. She comes in hot right away, tracing her standup roots to a DUI class where she made her fellow classmates laugh and describing her arrest in unflattering detail. The interview continues to delve into all sorts of uncommon experiences such as marijuana-infused six-course meals, getting drunk on safari with good friend (and fellow Hot Ones champion) Charlize Theron, and topless rampages on Instagram. Handler hits a pretty hard wall with Da’ Bomb and is hesitant to continue, but Evans at this point in his tenure is a battle-hardened spice lord who has seen every conceivable psychological struggle that guests could have and is able to help guide her through the volcanic terrain of the last two wings to Hot Ones glory.
The best question: “Do you have a take on the state of the celebrity interview show? Like is the late-night format failing its audience or is that a position that’s a little overstated?” Handler sees the traditional schmoozy-style of celebrity couch interview as outside her own personal skill set (and anyone who watched Chelsea Lately would certainly agree with that assertion), but concedes there’s a place for it since the audience is clearly there.
Season 1, episode 8
Widely considered the worst guest of all time, DJ Khaled’s episode is distinctly important in that it laid the foundation of how not to approach the show. Clearly knowing what he was walking into, Khaled flew in the chef from his restaurant Finga Licking to ensure the quality of the chicken would be up to his standards, but he probably should have spared the expense. He amazingly has to throw in the towel after only the second wing with a barrage of wide-ranging excuses. He goes on to tell Evans that he’s crazy, the show is dangerous, and then strangely claims he doesn’t know anything about Hot Ones. The interview continues, but not without remaining in its fixed rut of weirdness. At one point a poetically waxing Khaled lingers way too long on a metaphor about ripping open the doors to success and placing the proverbial hinges in the hands of the “fuckboy” trying to keep it closed (“it’s called congratulations, you played yourself”). He also keeps talking to someone off-screen, complaining that he’s fucked up because of the wings and expressing concern that he’s maybe on Punk’d. The interview is so disastrously bad that every few episodes a guest will bring it up. There have been multiple challengers who have surrendered early, but now everyone knows to quit with even just a smidge of modesty.
The best question: “You called this album an uppercut and a knockout and I always wonder when you say these things, who are you fighting? When you called this a victory, who did you defeat?” It’s not always clear if even Khaled is sure what the next word out of his mouth is going to be, at least in this interview, but if there’s one thing he does know it’s that he doesn’t care for the fuckboys, whoever they may be.
Season 3, episode 23
The table was turned in a very fun way when Sean Evans himself sat in the guest chair for a single episode, marking the only time he didn’t host the show. Super fan Brett Baker, whose biggest claim to fame is posting Hot Ones episode power rankings on Twitter, was tapped to run the interview and surprisingly nailed it despite otherwise being plucked from obscurity. The show is required viewing for die-hard fans, as it offers a behind-the-scenes peek of just how a chicken wing interview show operates. Among the revelations was the secret process of finding compelling questions to ask the guests (turns out it’s a lot of reading?), how many hoodies Evans thinks he owns, and what it was like to sit across from Bobby Lee when he pooped his pants. Evans also revealed he was on track to become a weatherman after a college professor in his broadcast journalism program told him he was too glib to be anything else, which… actually, yeah, that kinda tracks.
The best question: “When you were figuring out exactly what Hot Ones was, was there anyone you looked to as inspiration?” Evans often cites the purposely weird and offbeat interviews of Alexa Chung on Britain’s Popworld as a way to shake up the often stale celebrity interview (and not, as he has said on other episodes, from any excessive love of chicken wings or spicy food). He also wanted to emulate Howard Stern’s ability to make any guest interesting, and the results speak for themselves.