I type the phone number and wait, my finger hovering over the bright green button. I take a breath to ease my pre-interview nerves and press the screen.
“Hello, is this Ke—”
“NEEEEW WESTMINSTER,” Kenny Hotz bellows over the phone. “IN THE HOUSE.”
I’m not sure why he calls me "New Westminster" — perhaps it has something to do with my Caller ID — but I’m too afraid to ask. I sheepishly ask him to be placed on hold and dial up Spencer Rice, his lifelong best friend and comedic partner. After a couple of rings, Rice answers (minus the “NEW WESTMINSTER” greeting) and agrees to be transferred to a conference call.
“Of course, Kenny is always first,” Rice says, as I let out a nervous chuckle and merge the calls.
Hotz, 55, and Rice, 59, are still living in Ontario and will forever be joined at the hip. For six seasons in the 2000s, the entertainers orchestrated a grotesque, intense and humorous reality television show called Kenny vs. Spenny.
They challenged each other in a series of competitions that included who could blow the biggest fart, eat the most meat, drink more beer, live in a van the longest, and imitate the other guy better. The loser of each competition would be subjected to an act of humiliation, such as streaking down Yonge Street in Toronto.
The show was a glimpse into the world of two childhood best friends who met as kids at grade school in Toronto and bonded over comedy. It uncovered the uniquely different personalities of a man: one who preferred to play by the rules (Spenny) and another who liked to bend them (Kenny).
Not every aspect of the show has aged well. A majority of the jokes and contests make it hard to imagine a world in which it would air today. And that might be for the best.
By the time Kenny vs. Spenny wrapped in 2010, the relationship between Hotz and Rice deteriorated to the point where they didn’t speak to each other for years. But by 2014, the two reconnected and began hosting a live show, which is coming to Victoria Oct. 12 to kick off a provincewide tour.
“We’re men, we’re both horrible people,” Hotz said. “[Kenny vs. Spenny] opened with a gladiator ring and a ‘This is what they wanted to see,’ and we were willing to destroy our relationship for fame and money.”
It takes about 15 minutes for Hotz to admit this over the phone. Fifteen minutes to break through his layer of jokes and talk about something serious. I haven’t heard masculinity talked about so openly like that before, and despite giving the intention that he doesn’t care, Hotz genuinely recognizes the importance of their relationship.
In our call, I pry deeper into that relationship. I’m a fly on the wall, observing the banter and love between two best friends. I’m a sensitive man who’s been the butt of jokes, trying to understand how two men have coexisted — by making fun of each other — for so long.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
The Tyee: How did you two become friends?
Kenny Hotz: I’ve known Spencer since I was probably about three and he was 37. (Note: Rice is only four years older than Hotz.)
Spencer Rice: (Laughs) Therein lies the magic because it’s real. That’s what people are feeling whether they know it or not. The realness of our dysfunctional friendship.
Was there a moment in time when you realized you’d be really good friends?
Hotz: We went to the same school, and we were both kind of druggies.
Rice: Well, the reality was, I’m older than Kenny, so all my friends got really serious and they stopped partying. So I gravitated towards Kenny’s grade because they were fun.
Hotz: In high school, when someone is in Grade 13 and you’re in Grade 9 and he hangs out with you… [actually] when you’re in Grade 10 and someone’s in Grade 9, hanging out with them is like the plague.
Hotz: Not to Spencer!
Rice: It was fun for me.
Hotz: The reality is we —
Rice: Shut up, Kenny. We connected over drugs, comedy and music.
Fast forwarding a bit, how did Kenny vs. Spenny come to be?
Hotz: We were both film guys… I was making movies, like shitty movies, but when I was really lazy Spenny would drive over and make me get out of bed. That created a structure that allowed me to make films for him. We started making really good little shorts that had some success in some festivals all over the world. We couldn’t do anything else. The only thing we could do was fuck around, get stoned and make movies.
We made a movie called Pitch which was pretty successful for Canada, it was one of the handful of films that got into TIFF in ‘97. It was really the antithesis of Canadian cinema, where it was pushy, obnoxious, aggressive, abrasive and other movies were just boring, moral nightmares.
So we did Pitch and that did well enough for us to weasel our way to a gig in L.A. And because we went to the [same] high school, we know some successful friends in the film business and could manage to weasel some cash out of some people, and then we didn’t fuck it up. We were systematically less shitty every time we did something and lucked in with Kenny vs. Spenny.
That was really just a one-in-a-million, because we’d get cancelled now. Spenny and I were fighting and hating each other.
Rice: He left out one thing. Which was out of Pitch we got Will Smith’s company, Overbrook Entertainment, and that’s how we got to L.A., we got a development deal. Like you said, we somehow didn’t fuck it up. I don’t know how we managed to do that, but we did.
Hotz: It was just very unique because I think we exposed the shitty male psyche. We’re kind of the first guys to expose the horrors of the male ego and the male relationship. Unapologetically, we aired our dirty laundry, but it was so real. There was no bullshit.
I had a girlfriend at the time who basically said, the only reason we made it was because it was after 9/11 and people were so tired of seeing bullshit and they needed to see something real. I didn’t wear makeup, like when you were changing channels, all of a sudden [you] would go like, "Why does that guy look like a vampire?"
Rice: As real and personal as it was, I’d say the live show is multiple times more personal.
Why is that?
Rice: Because in the [TV] show we competed so we couldn’t really talk about our personal lives. It was all about strategies to win a competition, but the live show, that’s what we do. We just talk about our lives together.
Hotz: I think the competition got away from what was really funny. I think the audience loved our relationship more than the competing.... The show opened with a gladiator ring and a "This is what they wanted to see," and we were willing to destroy our relationship for fame and money. That’s so sad, like my brother is Spencer, we’re childhood best friends, family! And we would just stab each other in the face, taking cash.
You mentioned something I want to touch on, masculinity. How does your show ‘expose the male ego’?
Hotz: Well, it’s embarrassing. I don’t know if there’s anybody else on the planet who would act like this in front of people. Like I don’t want my family to see [the live show]. I would never have liked my mom to go. Even though we’ve become successful, deep down inside, we have children. I don't know if either of us want our children to know what’s buying them their Roots sweatpants…
This isn’t some show we wrote and pulled off. This is a curse. This is what we do and in some ways it’s not a good thing. It’s not good to be known for what we’ve given to the world. But on the other side, girls, daughters have watched their dad die of cancer while watching our [TV] show. We’ve been systematically getting these messages from people for the past 20 years.
Why do you describe the show ‘as a curse’?
Rice: He calls it a curse, I call it a vortex. I can’t really get out. I play music, I do this and that, but I realize now I’ll always be Spenny from that TV show. And I’m not complaining about it.
Hotz: To me, it’s a dream come true. But I’m a bit of a machiavellian.
Kenny, do you have any regrets from tormenting Spenny or any of your cheating schemes from the show?
Hotz: I think it’s more about the context of the show and how I destroyed our ability to be more commercial, like Trailer Park Boys.
Rice: That’s what I wanted.
Hotz: [Our TV show] was so rude, so filthy. I think I might have done that to self destruct, to sacrifice what we were doing. Because I never really thought we deserved it. I’m not really sure why I made the show so filthy. It’s not on Netflix, HBO, we don’t have season 12. But again [without the filthiness] we might not have even been successful or had an audience.
Looking back at the TV show, in your minds, what is its legacy?
Hotz: All I see are mistakes. Producers stealing money from us. Just our inability to have the ability to make incredible art. Even though I think it’s great and we did better than we ever could have done with it.
Rice: I know what he’s saying, like why aren’t we on Netflix? All over the place? He’s right.
Hotz: Half of me is mad.
Rice: That’s the price you pay, Kenny! That’s the price to pay for being real.
Hotz: Why didn’t we win an MTV award? Or an Emmy. We didn’t even win a Gemini… But then the other part of me is like, I’m so proud of that fact that we never got an award, that our show is too brash to be on Netflix, I love that.
Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice kick off a tour across B.C. with a show on Oct. 12 at McPherson Theatre in Victoria, B.C. They’ll make stops in Nanaimo, Vancouver, Kamloops and Prince George. Tickets and info are on Facebook.