Most competitive males will admit to taking part in a ridiculous challenge at one point in their lives. Who can shotgun a beer faster? Been there. Face slapping contests? Done that. Most contests of this nature involve alcohol or poor judgment (sometimes both), and usually result in physical injuries and terrible hangovers—perfect entertainment for close friends and boozed up houseguests.
Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice are masters of friendly competition, and have parlayed their sophomoric stunts into a successful television career. The stars of the Showcase hit Kenny vs. Spenny, Hotz and Rice mentally (and sometimes physically) clash in a wide variety of bizarre battles. The winner receives nothing more than the glory of victory, while the loser suffers a terrible humiliation.
“People want to see two best friends destroying their careers on television,” says Hotz about the series, which hits airwaves for a third season October 19. “It’s the gladiator ring, it’s simple. I am surprised no one didn’t copyright the idea before.”
Lifelong pals, Hotz and Rice first teamed up on the short film It Don’t Cost Nothin’ To Say Good Morning before moving onto the 1997 film Pitch, a ballsy documentary about the duo’s futile attempts to sell a script to agents in Los Angeles and at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film showcased around the world, including the Atlantic Film Festival, and made Hotz and Rice a pair to watch in the film and television community.
“We never wanted to be on camera,” explains Hotz, “but we did the documentary because we couldn’t afford actors and documentaries are cheap and easy to do. The film made us realize how dog-eat-dog it is, but when we went all over the world with it people were laughing at our dynamic. It was a blueprint for the show—the first one to sell the script wins.”
Kenny vs. Spenny debuted on CBC in 2003. A PG version of the current product, the initial incarnation was targeted to a much younger audience. “The CBC version was a kids’ show,” Hotz says bluntly. The pair shot 26 episodes for the Canadian broadcaster before moving to Showcase in 2005. “Once we moved to Showcase the gloves were off,” he says. “The competitions are a little more on the ridiculous side.”
Despite Hotz’s reservations, the CBC version laid the groundwork for all future episodes. The good (Spenny) versus evil (Kenny) approach was nicely textured with shades of grey—Kenny is diabolical but hilarious, Spenny is simultaneously sympathetic and neurotic—which left viewers shifting loyalties from episode to episode. Add to the mix some outrageous competitions (who’s the best figure skater, who can survive in the woods the longest) and Kenny’s frequent bending of the rules (he once locked Spenny in a room to avoid a boxing match), and you had the makings of a cult hit.
“We’re different, and we both know each other backwards and forwards,” says Rice. “That’s why it works.”
“We’ve been doing this since we were five years old,” adds Hotz. “We just didn’t start filming it until 2001.”
Hotz and Rice are especially pleased with season three. Currently in editing mode, the season features racier material and many entertaining, yet uncomfortable, situations. While the episodes probably won’t please everybody—portions of the population may be turned off by men producing a week’s worth of semen and shooting porno films—Hotz says he isn’t worried about offending people.
“Who can get offended by our show?” he asks. “And who cares? There will always be people who send angry letters. People send letters about The Polka Dot Door, it’s like ‘what the fuck?’”
With the show currently airing in 40 countries, and format rights sold in 23 countries (England has Ed vs. Spencer, Germany has Elton vs. Simon), Hotz and Rice are now entertaining and offending people all over the world. Will the two raise the bar for future man vs. man challenges? Only time will tell.
“I think we’ve tapped into something that runs through all humans,” says Rice. “There’s a Kenny and a Spenny in every friendship.”
Kenny vs. Spenny premieres October 19 on Showcase.