'Hot Ones' Creators Reveal Their Brand New Sauce and the Time the Host Interrupted a Nightclub Brawl

Hot Ones—that show where celebrities eat super spicy chicken wings while answering creative questions—just began its tenth season on YouTube last week, and the season's second episode, starring Ashton Kutcher, came out Thursday. The series lives on the popular First We Feast channel, which is part of Complex Networks.

Newsweek sat down with Sean Evans (host of the show) and Chris Schonberger (general manager of First We Feast) for a candid interview to get their thoughts on the creation of the series, the power of the Carolina Reaper pepper, and the upcoming release of their hottest Hot Ones bottle of sauce yet, The Last Dab XXX.

Ashton Kutcher, Sean Evans and Chris Schonberger
"Hot Ones" host Sean Evans (left) and First We Feast general manager, Chris Schonberger (right) pose with their latest guest, Ashton Kutcher. First We Feast

Chris, how did the idea for Hot Ones come about?

Chris Schonberger: Part of it was borne out of pressure to create a hit web series that would break through, nothing was breaking through. So, it was sort of a pressure and anxiety situation, and the inspiration for it was an interest in interview shows in general, the timeless format, even though we thought it was boring.

What you saw coming out of it was just this like, celebrity interviews are not as interesting as they should be. They were really kind of boring. How can we flip them on their heads and really just roll with it? The idea was to get them out of their PR flight pattern.

It's kind of like my dad giving me these ridiculous hot sauces as a Christmas gift, ridiculously hot salsa. So I thought to myself "What's the kid-friendly version of getting drunk with someone?"

I was lucky enough to meet Sean, who worked for Complex News at the time, and I told him the idea. I knew he was already a talented interviewer and he was incredibly funny, and the rest is history.

Jeff goldblum hot ones
Jeff Goldblum and "Hot Ones" host Sean Evans laugh over bottles of hot sauce. First We Feast

Were hot wings the obvious favorite choice when you conceptualized the series, or did you consider other vehicles for the sauces, such as chips?

C.S.: I think that one was an easy choice. We never really overthought that. I knew it was a thing, eating Buffalo Wings. It's such an American tradition. They're a great vehicle.

We have a joke that as the show has evolved and gotten bigger and the guests have gotten bigger, the greater percentage of guests actually are vegan, the famous Hollywood actors. More so than ever, we use other things, like vegan nuggets or fried cauliflower bites, which is kind of funny. But yeah, wings were always the thing.

And you know, we've received a laundry list of goofy pitches from different brands, like, who like want their frozen tacos, or change it to ice cream and call it cold ones and get brain freeze. But the thing about wings is that it's there's a core, people can relate to it.

It's kind of a funny thing to navigate on camera too, which helps, and there's a messy quality to eating them. And they are kind of a messy food but also kind of a clean food, you can pick it up and you'll bite. Some of it will get on your fingers or whatever, but not like tacos with the filling falling out. They look cool on camera, they're easy to get no matter where we shoot, and on top of that, it's a very accessible thing for people watching.

Sean, do you have any idols or role models when it comes to your hosting style?

Sean Evans: Yeah, I grew up listening to Howard Stern on the radio and I remember watching Letterman with my dad. Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel were two people who meant a lot to me.

What's great about the show is that we've had the chance to actually be on The Tonight Show, and be on the Late Show, things I was watching as a kid. We're at the Ed Sullivan Theater and we get Stephen Colbert spitting up on himself right on stage.

We actually shot an episode with Adam Carolla. It's a super cool experience, meeting all these people whose influence and inspiration gave me everything that I have, and this job now. I wouldn't even be doing this show without those guys. The fact that it's touched the world of late night and touched some of my heroes. I did the Howard Stern wrap-up show last week. It's just an amazing experience.

gordon ramsay hot ones
Gordon Ramsay helps Sean Evans prepare a delicious recipe. First We Feast

Because I've seen the question pop up a few times: how are the wings prepared for Hot Ones, or is that a channel secret?

C.S.: The reason why we don't talk about it that much is because it's so pedestrian and uninteresting but we have like, lifted the curtain to the audience on that one. We've answered it on Reddit and things like that, but the thing is, and we've like said this from the beginning—it's not a wing show. It's an interview show where wings are the disruptive elements.

People from food sites have thought that these were going to be like the most gourmet wings ever, and people realized that we were just getting fried wings from whatever carryout was open whenever we needed to do the interview and then tossing them in the exact sauces. So that's how it remains, even ten seasons in.

A lot of the audience thought the wings got better after the Gordon Ramsay episode, where he brutally made fun of them and said he would consult for free on improving the wings, but I can assure you, they're exactly the same as they ever were.

Stone Cold Steve Austin Hot Ones
Stone Cold Steve Austin samples a sauce. First We Feast

What's the hottest sauce either of you have tried in your personal lives or on-set, and what did you think of it?

C.S.: Sean can tell you about eating a Carolina Reaper.

S.E.: Oh, yeah.

C.S.: I don't know if I ever told Sean this, but in Chicago, there was this place that was like a Cajun/Creole restaurant. I went there when I was writing for Let's Go Travel Guide, and they were one of those places where they had like waivers and a secret cabinet full of exotic sauces.

And I forget exactly which one it was, but it was one of those things where I signed a waiver and they took a medicine dropper and they were wearing black gloves put one drop in a jambalaya, because it wasn't edible.

S.E.: I've had South Carolina Reaper on two occasions, which is like giving yourself food poisoning. You're just out for six hours, filling your mouth up with milk until it hits room temperature, grabbing a bucket, spitting it into a bucket and throwing it up again. It's like a horrible experience.

The hottest sauce I've ever had is probably Da Bomb, and that was on the show, but never anything outside of the show. And of course everybody wants to throw the hottest thing, or the hottest sauce at me, but Da Bomb that's still the hottest sauce on the market.

Idris Elba Hot Ones
Sean says the "Hot Ones" episode with Idris Elba was one of his favorites. First We Feast

Do you have a favorite celebrity or episode of the series, and why are they your favorite?

S.E.: I think that Gordon Ramsay and Scarlett Johansson—last season we did an episode with Stone Cold Steve Austin and one with Idris Elba. Where if you show those to somebody, they'll watch ten in a row, then the next day they'll watch five, and next week they'll be telling all their friends to check out this show.

But there are certain ones like that, and there are ones that are special to me and Chris for what they like meant for the show at the time we were filming it. I think that Russell Brand is a good example of that—the one where he sang off the top of his head his song to Brett Baker. Jeff Goldblum, we had a guest cancel in that finale slot, and we had to scramble and fly out to LA the next day and Jeff Goldblum sat in, and delivered what I think was a classic Hot Ones.

And then I think there's just like fun, chaotic episodes, that were early on that I have a soft spot for like the Eric Andre episode. I like the Charlize Theron episode. I'm so obsessed with the show. I know it's self-gratifying, but I could talk about every episode.

What are your dream guests for the show?

S.E.: So much of the show is shaped and informed by our audience. We'll receive tons of requests for guests, and sometimes they'll get so loud it's almost suffocating—where like, every Twitter mention is "this person," "this person" will be in every Instagram comment, people approaching me on the street, people yelling at me in airports. Every once in awhile, those names float up, and I want to get them in the hot seat just so the heat cools off a bit.

That was like with Gordon Ramsay where it's almost like hard for us to do the show because the audience had been requesting him so aggressively. In the course of a season, every once in a while, it's like a thinker, thinking it out. We have some for the fans, and some for me and Chris.

Fans will request one certain name and we certainly will go after those people and note those things. But at the end of the day, this is a show, and we're basically travelling around all the time spending four days in a given city, working so hard to keep it going and to keep us motivated.

Sometimes we just have to do a couple of things for ourselves. I think a good example of that this season is [Oasis singer and songwriter] Noel Gallagher where he was like, to us, a great Hot Ones guest. We connect with him in a way that other outlets aren't doing at the time. So that's like a two in one for us. We try to do that a couple of times a season.

What's the most interesting fan encounter you've ever had?

S.E.: One time—there's this bar on Sunset Boulevard, I forget what it's called. They've recently made it into a sports bar, like a "get a bucket of beer" sort of place. But before that, it was this bar that was stopped in the '70s. They even had this light-up dance floor upstairs, and my girlfriend and her friends liked to go there. It was like the last bar of the night sort of thing for them.

So I get dragged to that place a couple of times and they have those windows lined up so you can see out in the street. And I'm in the middle of Sunset Boulevard—there's this three-person brawl, just three people fighting in the middle of the street and I'm just watching everything. I'm just spectating.

And in the middle of the fight, someone looks up and sees me. They stop fighting, run over and get a picture. Another person who was fighting in the middle of the street stopped to get a picture!

There was this little line forming, it was like a meet and greet with combatants! And then after they got their pictures, they went right back to fighting in the street.

Scarlett Johansson Hot Ones
Scarlett Johansson and "Hot Ones" host Sean Evans share wings and an animated conversation. First We Feast

What's the celebrity story or anecdote that surprised you the most from the show's run?

C.S.: I think for me it's hard to pull one. Like Sean was saying, all of these episodes, we put so much time and effort into them and they all hold a special place. It's sort of the nature of the show, it's sort of a celebration of their careers and lives, and less a "gotcha" interview where you're going to get the untold story of the most controversial part of their life. Instead, it's like learning the backstory of some celebrity lore you never knew.

In the Ashton Kutcher episode that comes out this week, we were showing him a photo of himself partying with Diddy, and he told the story of why Diddy ended up running the New York Marathon that year.

It's just these surprising glances into the Illuminati world of celebrities that can be be fun. Y'know, the most surprising moments often have nothing to do the questions.

It's like Russell Brand hallucinating so hard on the hot wings that he burst into song, a musical that he made up off the top of his head. You can't create those moments, they just come naturally. That's the canvas that Hot Ones has created where people want to paint with their personality.

Pepper X
Pepper X, the mysterious pepper used in the official "Hot Ones" sauce, The Last Dab. First We Feast

According to Wikipedia, the hottest bottle of sauce in the studio right now is your own The Last Dab XXX sauce at two million Scoville units—which, from what I understand, is about to hit Heatonist's virtual shelves on October 17. How did the pepper selection process for that sauce come to be, and what made you stop at two million Scoville units?

S.C.: The selection of this pepper was really down to the partnership that we have with his amazing guy named "Smokin'" Ed Currie, who's a pepper farmer in South Carolina and has a place called Puckerbutt Pepper Company. And we make all of our Hot Ones Hot Sauces with our partner Ed.

He is the man. Smokin' Ed is the Michael Jordan of hot chilis. He's broken multiple world records with peppers that he's bred, he created the infamous Carolina Reaper pepper, and he basically has a warchest of peppers. The way he makes them hotter and hotter is by crossbreeding those already hot peppers and create new, mutant varieties. Whenever someone around the world comes out with something like Dragon's Breath that can beat one of his peppers, he's ready to bust out a nuclear warhead and take over the game once again.

So Pepper X is this crazy mutant pepper that he's been working on, that is exclusive for The Last Dab and The Last Dab Triple X. It continues the evolution with the Last Dab that we had, Last Dab Redux, which had Pepper X in it and a variety of Pepper X. Now he's got three varieties of Pepper X. Pepper X, Chocolate Pepper X and Peach Pepper X. Chocolate and Peach describe the color of the pepper that's achieved through crossbreeding, not the actual flavor profile.

So the hottest sauce on Hot Ones keeps getting hotter. The audience has an obsession and almost demands that every season we get hotter, I don't know what the ceiling is on that actually, we might have to rein it back, but we've been able to deliver every season. Keep cranking it a little more every single time.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

'Hot Ones' Creators Reveal Their Brand New Sauce and the Time the Host Interrupted a Nightclub Brawl | Culture