It goes without saying that when you’re interviewing a couple of grown men who lick bird poo and exploit the developmentally delayed for cheap laughs, it pays to be a little wary.
If either Kenny or Spenny had set fire to the table we were seated at and run out into the street naked, I wouldn’t have been shocked.
What I didn’t expect was Kenneth Hotz and Spencer Rice being thoughtful-nay, philosophical.
“If you deconstruct our show, our show’s really a microcosm of society and the world,” spits Kenny, the manic spokesman for the duo. “We had one show called ‘Who Can be Homeless the Longest?’ Our show is not like [MTV’s] Jackass. It’s kind of like South Park. People think South Park’s some shitty cartoon, but it’s a very moralistic show that deals with major cultural and social issues.”
The two childhood friends-turned-bitter rivals are playing up a more serious angle as they kick off the third season of their hit show Kenny vs. Spenny, which began last week on Showcase. They have always styled themselves as a latter-day Laurel and Hardy on the show, which, for the uninitiated, pits one pal against the other in absurd and sometimes grotesque competitions, like who can stay awake the longest, who can make kids like them better, or who can survive in the woods the longest (for the first contest, the boys didn’t sleep for a week). As I chat with them over cappuccinos on King West as they prep for a stint on CBC’s The Hour, their banter channels all the great spats: Machiavelli and Rousseau, Darwin and intelligent design, Nietzsche and Jesus.
Hotz and Rice, who boast total creative control over the show, are exhausted, but wired. They’ve done “thirty thousand” interviews in the past week (not to mention a visit to U of T’s own Innis Town Hall last Tuesday night for CINSSU’s preview of the third season) and face more after this one. The questions asked over and over are: have they gone too far, shocked too often? And: is it possible to go even further?
“Last year I gave Spenny HIV. This year I have to top that,” says Hotz. He’s not being literal-he only tricked his friend into thinking he had HIV so as to distract him from a competition. Yup, only that. But for Hotz, this is what people want. Right?
“That’s our audience. They just want to see us destroy ourselves,” he explains. “Spenny’s got that religious fundamental type of attitude that I love to crush and that everyone wants to see crushed.”
Rice, who is Jewish, does sometimes show a touch of the Christian ideal that he must endure suffering to acheive truth. He loses the competitions most of the time, mostly because Hotz finds a way to bend the rules, even if he doesn’t outright cheat. (For ‘Who Can Go the Longest Without Using Their Arms,’ Hotz strapped a midget to his body, who proceeded to prod the armless Rice with a broomstick.) Rice always insists that the rules must be upheld, playing superego to Hotz’s id. Sometimes Rice even wins.
Rice gets visibly upset at Hotz-and me, because I seem to be a Kenny fan. He insists he has his own fans, and that Hotz’s fans are complicit in his evil.
“His people, the blogging, you know, cowardly, faceless, nameless, internet set…” Rice trails off. “But I don’t give a fuck about them. I never have.”
Hotz seems to be enjoying the media parade a little more, his pulse and speech going just a little faster. After all, having total control over the show means the press as well.
“We can’t fuck it up,” barks Hotz. “This show is our lives. I want to be mega fucking rich. I’m not going to kowtow to anything, any broadcaster. It’s our show, nobody else says shit about it.”
At 6 p.m., Rice will go to a different interview-with his therapist. In his sessions, his relationship with Hotz is usually a talking point. If Hotz is the excitable, media-savvy half, constantly selling the show as “cinema-verité documentary” or as “the first character-driven reality show,” Rice is the reflective, neurotic, paranoid half left over.
In one episode, Rice refused to talk to an attractive female fan because he was convinced Hotz had hired her. (Hotz denies having ever met her. Whoops.) In another, Rice finally declares he hates the show.
“I hate doing the show,” he says. “You know the old saying, I hate writing, but ah, to have written? That’s what it feels like. When it’s over and I’m not doing it and people are kind of glad I did it and I’m cashing cheques…”
It’s not easy to do a physically and mentally demanding show that does biting social satire, something their friends over at South Park know too well. The two shows have a lot in common, and it’s no secret that their creators have a sort of cross-border mutual admiration thing going.
But when I ask Hotz about the status of a rumoured collaboration between them, Trey Parker, and Matt Stone, he goes uncharacteristically silent, citing the uncertainty of the TV biz.
“It’s sad; I’d like to blow your mind and piss off Rick Mercer and Corner Gas.” So much for Canadian pride!
So are Kenny and Spenny actually friends? And will they stay friends?
“Yeah, I think moreso after the show,” says Rice. “I’ve known this idiot fuckin’ forever, our fathers were friends. It’s like family, you can’t really do anything.”
“I’m like herpes: I’ve always managed to come back and annoy him,” says Hotz. He also says that they’re brothers and that they love each other. Above all, Hotz emphasizes that while they may ham it up for the camera, this is simply who they are-a couple of immature guys whose engrossing dysfunctions complement one another. “It’s totally fuckin’ real,” shoots Hotz. “For me, it’s Sun Tzu, it’s The Art of War-destroy your enemy from within.”
“He’s never even read it. Did you read the book?” Rice rolls his eyes.
“No. I played it on Xbox,” Hotz shrugs.
“There you go.”