“Hot Ones” Creator Chris Schonberger Explains How His Series Caught Fire

Sean Evans has sat down with hot wings and a hot celebrity more than 300 times

September 20, 2023 6:43 am
"Hot Ones" host Sean Evans with Steph Curry.
"Hot Ones" has become one of the hottest shows on the internet.

From Bob Odenkirk to LL Cool J, Viola Davis to Gordon Ramsay and Olivia Rodrigo to Travis Kelce, Hot Ones host Sean Evans has scarfed down increasingly spicy chicken wings while interviewing some of the biggest names in music, TV and film during the 300+ episodes of his popular YouTube talk show Hot Ones that have been recorded since Tony Yayo was the first guest in 2015.

Chris Schonberger created the show for Complexs First We Feast label and has seen it become a fairly hot commodity over the years as the spicy streaming series has spawned hot sauces, Hot Pockets and a play-at-home party game as well as multiple spinoff series. That’s not exactly what Schonberger was expecting when he dreamed up the spice-infused interview format as a way of capitalizing on all the celebrities, rappers and athletes who coming in and out of the building at Complex for video or cover shoots.

Schonberger wanted to take advantage of Complex’s access to celebs but didn’t want to run stale interviews that were poorly researched and instead wanted to shoot for the “cheekier” sort of interviews he’d seen on British television during family trips to the U.K. (Schonberger’s mother is from London.) To try to accomplish that goal, Schonberger leaned into an inherited interest from his father’s side of the family.

“My dad was an early adopter of mail order and would get interesting regional foods sent from around the country, including absurdly spicy salsas and hot sauces,” Schonberger tells InsideHook. “I was a shy kid in college, but I brought some of them with me and found them to be icebreakers. I remember one called Bailiff’s Brutality. It was obscenely hot and people would come by and try it and everyone would sweat and die in a fun bonding experience. I think that’s what the audience has really glommed onto and loves about the show. I thought it would be amusing, but I didn’t realize it would have the power to show people’s personalities on a deeper level. It’s impossible to put on a facade when you’re dealing with something spicy.”

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Already appearing in videos and conducting interviews for Complex, Evans signed to host Hot Ones immediately once Schonberger pitched him on the interview format. “I needed someone who had onscreen experience, but we were very scrappy and inexperienced at the time so doing a talent hunt and investing in finding a host was not really on the table. We had amazing talent just down the hall at Complex and when I told Sean the idea, he said it was like a Cupid arrow to his heart. He loved it and said he was the man for the job. From there, we just had to shoot a pilot.”

Though some things have changed since Yayo and Evans first sat down in ’15, using saucy chicken wings as the vessel to deliver the tongue-numbing, conversation-inducing spice that makes Hot Ones work has never been questioned.

“When I go back to the original email I sent pitching the series, it had wings. I had done some hot wing challenges, so maybe that was in my head. But it’s also an experience that made sense to me, so it was a natural fit and decision,” Schonberger says. “Once it started gaining traction, people and clients who wanted to be part of it suggested using frozen tacos and other products. But it has to be wings. Hilariously, as the guests got more and more famous, it became more and more common for them to eat meat alternatives in wing form. There was never anything but the wing.”

Although he has never sat down with Evans for an interview under the lights with the hot wings on the table and the cameras rolling, Schonberger samples the complete sauce lineup ahead of each season to get a taste of what guests are going through and make sure every season’s curated collection has the right progression of flavors and spice. “Contrary to what some celebrities say when they come on the show and call me out, I do eat them. Just not during the show,” he says.

So, any tips on surviving the Hot Ones experience without suffering permanent emotional or esophageal damage?

“Don’t overthink it. The best content comes when people react to it naturally and let the rollercoaster take over,” Schonberger says. “In terms of the spice advice, we’ve learned over the years that the best thing is fat. Lipids glom onto capsaicin, which is the active element that makes things register as spicy to you. People will have whole milk, but it’s even better to have coffee creamer or a milkshake. Acid also helps neutralize spice, so lemon juice is a good one. The feeling of cold can give you temporary relief, but water helps spread it and doesn’t actually help. It’s good to have carbs in your stomach to provide a foundation so it’s not the first thing of the day that’s hitting your stomach. Everyone comes out the other end intact and I think the aftermath is almost like a post-workout high. There’s a euphoria that makes you feel better and more energized once the pain has gone away.”


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