It’s Getting Hot in Here: The Rise of Hot Ones

When Sean Evans thought about the perfect internet show, he decided he wanted to make “something dumb for smart people.” Thus, Hot Ones was born. The YouTube show invites celebrities to answer in-depth, well-researched, and sometimes funny questions while eating increasingly spicy chicken wings. And there’s no way to prepare for palatial battle.

Sean Evans and Chili Klaus / Kevin Hart / Sean Evans / Sean Evans and Courtney Cox
Source: YouTube

What started as a low-budget project to start Complex’s YouTube channel, First We Feast, turned into one of the top interviews on the internet. Everyone from Kevin Hart and Scarlett Johansson to Shaquille O’Neal and Idris Elba have taken on the challenge, but there are many secrets that viewers don’t know.

Sean Evans Had Other Plans

Before he even thought about doing an internet show, Sean Evans attended the University of Illinois to study broadcast journalism. His goal was to become a weatherman, so he focused on that until graduation. He then got a job writing press releases before working as a copywriter and freelancing for Complex.

Sean Evans hosts a Complex News segment.
Source: YouTube

Then Complex sent him to New Orleans for what was supposed to be a print interview. However, they were starting to focus on video content, so they put Evans in front of the camera. He was incredibly nervous about the five-minute video with 2 Chainz, but it was a success.

He Laughed at the Idea

Complex was impressed with Evans’ interview and offered him a full-time job. He quit his copywriting position and moved to New York to start working. Evans quickly connected with Chris Schonberger, editor-in-chief of First We Feast, the new Complex YouTube channel. They started bouncing ideas off around.

Chris Schonberger, Sean Evans, and Brett Baker pose together.
Source: Twitter

Schonberger thought of interviewing celebrities featuring “violently hot chicken wings.” Just the idea made Evans laugh, and he knew if that was funny without any material, then it was a brilliant idea. However, they ran into a problem because they were an unknown channel with few followers.

Growing the Show

The first episode of Hot Ones premiered on March 12, 2015, with no budget and what Evans calls a “1980s cable access set.” As a division of Complex, they had connections with a few celebrities. The first Hot One guest was rapper Tony Yayo, a former member of G-Unit.

Tony Yayo takes a bite out of a spicy hot wing.
Source: YouTube

Since Evans proved to be a good interviewer, he was asked to host the series. It was a slow start initially, but they did whatever they could to try and create a good episode. The first season included guests like Machine Gun Kelly, Ja Rule, and DJ Khaled.

A Big Breakthrough

According to Evans, the show didn’t take off until Season 2, when he hosted Key and Peele. Their first breakthrough was when they made the front page of Reddit, trending on YouTube, with millions of views. Since then, the show has reached a new level of recognition.

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele laugh, biting into a hot wing.
Source: YouTube

Initially, they had to sell the idea to anyone they wanted as a guest. It took a lot to convince celebrities to come on the show, but after it became popular, they didn’t have to push the concept so much. Even if someone hadn’t seen the show, they had heard about it on the internet.

He Didn’t Like Chicken Wings

You would think that the host of a hot wings show is obsessed with the food; however, Evans didn’t like chicken wings, but he knew that celebrity interviews could be boring and hot sauce was the cure. Therefore, wings were the most obvious vessel.

Sean Evans is about to eat a burger.
Source: Twitter

Evans is now known as “the hot wing guy,” but he gets frustrated when fans assume he loves eating wings. Some people even treat Evans to a plate of wings at a restaurant, but he prefers to live without them. It’s no surprise he wants a break.

A Grueling Process

Each episode of Hot Ones features ten hot sauces ranging from mild to painfully hot that top the Scoville scale. Choosing the sauces was long and painful, but Schonberger and Noah Chaimberg, the founder of hot sauce shop Heatonist, figured it out.

A selfie of Sean Evans.
Source: Facebook

They brought in 20 to 30 hot sauces chosen by Chaimberg and tasted little spoonfuls of each until they narrowed it down to top candidates. Then they moved on to the final test, where each season’s sauces are finalized. They change the sauces and increase the heat each season.

The Sauces Are No Joke

At one point, the first sauce was Sriracha, but Hot Ones has stepped it up over time. Each sauce is measured on the Scoville scale, which measures the pungency of chili peppers, and the sauces range from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville units.

Sean Evans drinks a glass of milk as he looks over hot sauces.
Source: Tumblr

While that sounds high, the Carolina Reaper pepper breaches two million Scoville units. As the guests make their way through the ten sauces, they are eventually introduced to the Reaper. The hottest sauce is called the last dab, and they aren’t required to try it.

Evans Conquered the Reaper, Twice

While sitting down with Chili Klaus, another spicy food internet personality, Evans ate the infamous Carolina Reaper pepper. Klaus told Evans to chew it thoroughly, or it would hurt his stomach. As he choked it down, Evans cried, burped, and snapped through the pain.

Sean Evans and Chili Klaus get red after eating the Carilina Reaper.
Source: YouTube

It seemed pretty painful the first time, but Evans and Klaus reunited to eat the Reaper again. The two ate the pepper while riding a horse carriage in Central Park to up the ante. Evans said his entire body felt like it was going to shut down.

They Knew It Would Be Big

Although it took a while for the show to take off, Evans and Schonberger knew the show would be big when Machine Gun Kelly was a Season 1 guest. The show was just getting started when MGK took the hot seat. The interview was smooth until MGK lost his composure.

Sean Evens and Machine Gun Kelly toast before eating their spicy hot wings.
Source: YouTube

MGK started pacing around the room while screaming, sweating, and spitting into a garbage can. Evans grinned with excitement because he knew Hot Ones was something special. It was unlike anything else on the web.

Eating the Wings Isn’t Easy

As comedian Gabriel Iglesias once said on Hot Ones, “For anybody watching that says it’s fake or they are not that hot, no, this is burning; it hurts.” Although they look dry on camera, each sauce’s wings are fully coated.

A poster of Sean Evans for Hot Ones.
Source: Twitter

When dressing the wings, 20 plastic bowls are filled with each sauce (10 for Evans and 10 for the guest). Each wing then takes a bath in its sauce, ensuring every part is coated. The hottest wing also receives an extra bit of sauce known as “the Last Dab.”

Kevin Hart Racked Up the Views

While the interviews are great on their own because Evans does his research and asks in-depth questions, the best episodes are the ones where the guest is in pain. One of the most popular episodes was Kevin Hart. Not only is he popular, but he struggles with the heat.

Kevin Hart wipes away a tear during his episode of Hot Ones.
Source: YouTube

Kevin Hart quickly racked up 20 million views making him the most-watched episode. People tuned in to watch the hilarious comedian sweat, cry, and sniffle through all ten wings. He seemed delighted from the heat and could barely answer questions.

Gordon Ramsay Beat His Record

While Hart once had the most-watched episode, Gordon Ramsay blew him out of the water and has held the record for three years. Ramsay’s episode currently has 106 million views, over 50 million more than the second-most-watched episode.

Ramsay is struggling with the spiciness.
Source: YouTube

Evans knew he had to get the famed chef on the show to test Ramsay’s spice tolerance. Although it was scary to see what Ramsay would say about the wings, it was worth the extra editing time to bleep out his 134 F-bombs. Like most guests, Ramsay struggled, but he came prepared.

He Had a Bag of Tricks

Most guests settle for milk and water, but chef Ramsay came prepared with a bag of things he might need to control the heat. He brought everything from doughnuts and Pepto Bismol to lemon and lime juice. Spoiler alert: none of them helped.

Ramsay squirts his wings with lemon juice.
Source: YouTube

Ramsay hilariously struggled through the spicier wings and said one of them looked like his “grandad’s f***ing big toe.” When Ramsay returned for a Christmas special, he brought a Santa sack full of things to cut the spice. Still, nothing stopped the pain.

She Sought Medical Attention

The guests usually struggle as they get closer to the final wing; some have even joked about needing a doctor. Chrissy Teigen took the joke and went to her doctor the day after her interview with an overly chaffed tongue and uncontrollable twitches in both eyebrows.

Chrissy Teigen struggles to swallow her wing.
Source: YouTube

She claims to be a “hot wing freak,” but Teigen made a mistake leading up to the taping of Hot Ones. Teigen credited eating too many salty Ruffles chips the night before, leaving her tongue “raw.” That, combined with hot sauce, was a recipe for disaster.

Bringing Hot Ones to His Show

When Evans first started Hot Ones, he never imagined it would land him a seat across from Stephen Colbert on the late-night talk show. Colbert welcomed Evans with open arms, and they even did a shortened version of the hot wing challenge.

Sean Evans and Stephen Colbert get ready to taste hot wings.
Source: Twitter

Due to time constraints, Evans and Colbert only ate four wings. However, the late-night host experienced the sheer madness of Hot Ones when he got to the third wing coated in Da Bomb Beyond Insanity. Colbert made it to the final wing while frantically pacing around the studio.

The Spice Almost Made Her Spoil Avengers: End Game

Few franchises have had fans anxiously waiting for film release dates like Marvel. Before the release of the final Avengers installment, Scarlett Johansson sat down with Evans on Hot Ones. He jumped on the chance to grill Johansson about the film’s ending while her guard was down.

Evans and Johansson clink glasses after filming.
Source: Twitter

Johansson had to be strong not to break her intense non-disclosure agreement. Evans told her not to answer the questions verbally because he wanted viewers to guess based on her facial expression. As she nodded in agreement, people thought she was just trying to deal with the pain.

The Hall of Shame

Most guests fight through all ten wings, but a handful of celebrities have tapped out before the last level. Those who couldn’t finish the Hot Ones’ challenge joined the virtual “Hall of Shame.” So far, there are 16 celebrities in the Hall of Shame.

A poster showing the faces of the members of the Hall Of Shame.
Source: Twitter

From DJ Khaled and Taraji P. Henson to Shaquille O’Neal and Ricky Gervais, these guests have failed to eat all ten wings. Although the guests didn’t finish the wings, Evans ate the rest to show he is the king of Hot Ones.

They Offer Vegan Options

Hot Ones typically use chicken wings as a vessel for hot sauces, but not everyone eats chicken. The show offers vegan or gluten-free options for those who can’t eat regular chicken wings. Paul Rudd ate fried cauliflower, and Natalie Portman got vegan chicken.

Natalie Portman holds back tears as she takes a wing bite.
Source: YouTube

The show wants big celebrities to sit with Evans, so they aim to accommodate their dietary needs. Whenever a guest eats the alternative to chicken wings, Evans eats the same thing. In the end, it’s about the sauce, not the wings.

The Crew Ignores Warning Labels

Some hot sauces are intense enough to have warning labels on the bottles. They might say, “Just one drop” or “Dilute with water,” but the crew ignores those warnings and douse the wings in the sauces. Some of the sauces can be dangerous.

Different hot sauce bottles are placed on a table.
Source: Reddit

Those who dare to eat the wings must be prepared for the after-effects. Too much hot sauce can cause nausea, vomiting, or stomach cramps, so spicy food should be eaten in moderation. Luckily, the guests only have to eat ten wings and don’t have to finish each wing.

They Tag-Team the Research

Besides the spice-induced swearing and sweating on Hot Ones, the biggest draw is the in-depth interview. Evans has stunned several guests with intelligent and original questions that reference parts of their life or work that people never ask about. But he doesn’t do the research alone.

Sean Evens is testing out Hot One's Hot Sauce.
Source: Imgur

While Evans does a large portion of the research, it is a team effort between him, Schonberger, and Evans’ brother Gavin. Gavin compiles everything he can find on the interview subject and makes a Wikipedia-like document for Schonberger and Evans, who dive deeper into the information.

They Follow an Outline

Though the show is relatively true to its taping, its editing makes the guests shine. The dramatic music and graphics enhance the episodes without making them a spectacle. Initially, Evans planned to ask the spicier questions as the wings got hotter, but he abandoned that idea.

Shaquille O'Neal starts to tear up during his time on Hot Ones.
Source: YouTube

Evans and Schonberger realized that people had trouble talking as the spice level increased, so they first changed the outline to focus on the juicer questions. This allowed them to get better answers to the more intense questions. The later questions are sillier and more fun.

The Show Has Evolved

When Hot Ones started, the first episode was just five-minutes long. The early days were different because the wings were served on a round tray with celery sticks and ranch dressing. Evans barely talked about the hot sauces, and there was little drama.

Evans poses with hot sauce bottles.
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images

Evans and Schonberger fought for a longer second episode against media experts’ advice. It still took time to gain momentum, and Evans used to joke that he was eating all these scorching hot wings, and no one cared. Luckily, the hard work paid off.

Pepper X

Noah Chaimberg has been instrumental in picking and developing the sauces for Hot Ones, but Smokin’ Ed Currie has also been a big part of that. Currie founded PuckerButt Pepper Company in the ’90s and met Schonberger and Chaimberg at the NYC Hot Sauce Expo.

A hot sauce collection on display.
Source: Facebook

Currie develops unique peppers by experimenting with crossbreeding. He has created special sauces specifically for Hot Ones and “Pepper X,” which is hotter than the Carolina Reaper. Currie grows 246 varieties, and only 10 to 20 crosses end up working.

They Had to Remove an Episode

On December 11, 2017, Hot Ones had to remove the interview with chef Mario Batali. It had been up for less than three weeks before several sexual misconduct allegations came against the celebrity chef. His is one of the only episodes that has been deleted.

Mario Batali during his Hot One's episode.
Source: YouTube

Although Batali’s interview was removed, other guests have had controversies and allegations arise. Chris D’Elia, James Franco, and Neil deGrasse Tyson have been accused of sexual misconduct or assault after appearing on Hot Ones, but their episodes are still online.

The Interview Turned Him Into a Fan

During a Q&A on Reddit, Evans admitted that he wasn’t excited to interview Shawn Mendes because the singer belonged to a genre they never touched. Evans didn’t know much about Mendes before the interview, but their discussion made him a fan and changed his opinion.

Shawn Mendes is preparing to taste a wing on an episode of Hot Wones.
Source: Twitter

After having Mendes on Hot Ones, Evans realized the singer was “the sweetest guy” and one of his favorite guests in the series. He also enjoyed interviewing Ramsay, Ricky Gervais, Paul Rudd, and Alexa Chung. Fans also want to see Keanu Reeves on Hot Ones.

A Moving Set

Fifty percent of the episodes are filmed in New York City at the Complex Networks offices, and the other 50 percent are filmed in surprising places. The simple set is easy to recreate anywhere so that you won’t notice if an episode is filmed elsewhere.

Sean Evans speaks during an interview.
Photo by J. Countess/Getty Images

Many episodes are filmed in LA because their A-list guests live there. The show also went to London, where Idris Elba promoted Hobbs and Shaw. Kevin Hart’s episode was filmed in Hawaii while he was filming Jumanji. It’s not hard to bring the show to their guests.

Evans Avoids Spicy Food

Even Evans has a limit when it comes to spicy food. He might be calm during the episodes, but Evans avoids spicy food during his downtime. He told People magazine, “When it comes to spicy food, because of the show, I try to take care of myself outside the show.”

Sean Evans is sitting in a restaurant.
Source: Tumblr

When he is not filming, Evans eats a lot of salad, juices, and cereal. He also partnered with TUMS because he keeps them handy and tries to avoid super spicy foods. However, he doesn’t get nervous when he tries a supposedly spicy dish.

His Body Has Adjusted

Many people have wondered how Evans is still healthy after eating so many hot wings. He has also eaten a Carolina Reaper but shared that he is perfectly healthy. During the episode with Ken Jeong, Evans said he got a clean bill of health from his doctor.

Evans holds up two bottles of hot sauce.
Source: Facebook

Additionally, Evans admitted that his body has adjusted to the spice over the years. The beginning episodes were hard because he wasn’t used to eating such spicy food. He also has an adjustment period at the beginning of each season to get used to the new hot sauces.

He Wants More Women on the Show

Hot Ones faced backlash early on for the lack of female guests. Some said the show was damaging to women because it pushed the narrative that wings were a masculine food. Others said the show only had women who were “cool girls.”

Sean Evans and Charlize Theron gulp down liquids to help with the spiciness.
Source: YouTube

However, Evans has worked hard to get more female guests on the show. At the end of Season 6, he asked fans to list at least five women they would want to see on the show. Since then, celebrities such as Queen Latifah and Charlize Theron have been on.

Trying to Distract Them From the Pain

There are different moving parts while filming Hot Ones, from the wind to the question to the response. All these things are happening at once, so Evans says the guests are sometimes distracted from the pain. Despite the fire in their mouths, Evans wants the interview to be comfortable.

Dave Grohl makes crazy faces during his time on Hot Ones.
Source: Twitter

He also reaches out to some guests afterward to ensure they are okay. Evans doesn’t want the show to be a cruel game that they are playing on the most famous people. However, once they have started, most guests feel the need to finish.

Evolving Beyond a YouTube Series

Hot Ones branding has gone beyond the show after fans demanded more. In 2016, it debuted its host sauce on an episode with Joey Fatone. Now Hot Ones has a variety of branded hot sauces and sauce packs through Heatonist.

Evans in an ad for Hot One's hot sauce.
Source: Tumblr

In 2020, Hots Ones launched frozen boneless wings, a Truth or Dab card game with a bottle of hot sauce, and Hot Ones Jr., a hot sauce for kids. Evans and Schonberger didn’t expect Hot Ones to evolve into the successful brand it is today.

They Filmed During the Pandemic

When the pandemic hit, Evans didn’t want to shut down. He thought the entertainment was important for connecting with the audience and providing a sense of normalcy. Although the show was filmed over Zoom, it was an interesting part of the show’s history.

Evans hosts an episode with Daniel Radcliffe over video chat.
Source: YouTube

Guests had to sauce the wings themselves; some over-sauced, and others barely put any sauce. It wasn’t Evans’ favorite part of the show, but he is glad they pushed through it and released something for people to watch during a hard time.

He Always Loved Hot Sauce

Although Evans was never a fan of chicken wings, his appreciation for hot sauce has grown with the show’s success. He is more interested and understands what goes into different hot sauces. Meanwhile, Schonberger has been a hot sauce lover for years.

Evans shows off a hot sauce selection.
Source: YouTube

Schonberger was known as “the hot sauce guy” in college because his dad would send him care packages with weird sauces to try. He was shy, and the sauces were a good ice breaker. It later helped him come up with the concept for Hot Ones.

Schonberger Eats Like a Boss

Evans might be the face of Hot Ones, but Schonberger is just as much a part of the show’s success as the host. Although he is not eating hot wings all day, Schonberger is the ultimate foodie. In an interview, he talked about what he eats in a week.

Sean Evans, Ashton Kutcher, and Chris Schonberger pose for a photo.
Source: Twitter

Schonberger shared that he indulges in cream-sauced farfalle pasta for lunch, followed by a Tex-Mex dinner. He also enjoys a meal from Made Nice, where he orders fresh lobster and muscles. Then Schonberger tops it off with curried lamb chops. He eats to live and enjoys every meal.

His Dad Accidentally Trained Him

Evans was nervous when he gave his first on-camera interview, but he had subconsciously prepared to be an interviewer since he was a child. Evans would watch David Letterman with his dad every Saturday, and he made his dad pause every time the audience laughed to explain the joke.

Sean Takes a gym mirror selfie.
Source: Twitter

He told the LA Times, “Weirdly, this was probably all created because I wanted to make my dad laugh the way Letterman made him laugh.” Evans even wrote about Letterman for his college application. It shaped Evans’ sense of humor and interview style.

People Kiss His Head

As one of YouTube’s favorite bald men, Evans has had his fair share of bald-head love. Shaquille O’Neal once kissed Evans’ head to show his appreciation for a painting Evans gave the basketball legend. But that wasn’t the most bizarre moment.

Chrissy Tiegan licks Sean Evans' bald head.
Source: Instagram/@seanseaevans

During his early days at Complex, Evans finished an interview with Chrissy Teigen, and the two posed for a post-interview photo. Suddenly, Evans felt a wet tongue on his head and realized that Teigen was licking him. It made for a unique photo, and his confusion was genuine.

A Humble Midwestern Boy

Evans doesn’t hide his Chicago roots and shares his love and appreciation for his hometown. In an interview with Chance the Rapper, the two talked about Chicago icons like Kanye, the White Sox, and the amazing food. Evans has also shared throwbacks from his childhood.

Sean Evans visits BuzzFeed's
Photo by Jason Mendez/Getty Images

He posted a photo from playing football at Crystal Lake Central High School and revealed that he had made it to the school’s underground tunnel system. Evans said his success as an interviewer comes from his midwestern upbringing, which makes him approachable, and his Chicagoan humor.

He Loves Wrestling

Hot Ones chooses its guests by looking at particular subcultures like WWE superstars. Although some people dismiss the sport as silly or fake, wrestling fans take it very seriously. As a wrestling fan, Evans supported the community by having legends like Stone Cold Steve Austin on the show.

Sean Evans and Cortney Cox drink out of water pitchers.
Source: YouTube

Evans took it further by asking questions only wrestling fans would think to ask. He questioned Chris Jericho and Sasha Banks about the origins of their gimmicks and the different companies they worked under. Evans watched wrestling while he was growing up.

A Short-Lived Show

Evans is known for hosting Hot Ones, but outside the series, he loves food. He once wrote a piece for Grub Street Diet detailing his love for specific restaurants and dishes like truffle-roasted chicken. Evans cited Anthony Bourdain as an inspiration for himself and other food entertainers.

The poster for Sean In The Wild.
Source: Twitter

He is so loved as a host that he even had a short-lived travel and food show called Sean in the Wild. The two-season show highlighted Evans learning how to eat soup dumplings properly and helping make Korean fried chicken. Unfortunately, people liked him better on Hot Ones.

Evans Has Inspired Weird Stuff

Evans’s job is to interview celebrities, but he has gained a following. His fame has led to bizarre Evan-inspired products and fan art. He once collaborated with The Doughnut Project to create a Hot One’s doughnut for National Chicken Wing Day in 2017.

Sean Evans shows off his Hot One's Doughnut.
Source: Twitter

Things get interesting when it comes to fan art. There are portraits of Evans in pain from the spice and depictions of him on top of a giant fried chicken burger. The most bizarre item is the Sean Evans prayer candle.

How Much Is Sean Evans Worth?

As the host of one of YouTube’s most popular series, Evans has amassed a net worth of $40 million. It’s not bad for someone who has been paid to eat spicy wings and talk to celebrities. He also makes a decent amount from the products created by Hot Ones.

Evans enters the stage in front of burning flames.
Source: YouTube

Evans has also been on other people’s YouTube channels as a guest because everyone has burning questions for the bald interviewer. His show has become so popular that he was nominated for an Emmy in 2021 for Outstanding Entertainment Talk Show Host.

The Anti-Talk Show

Hot Ones is unlike any other talk show and has positioned itself as such. By the power of Evans’ research skills and a bottle of Da Bomb hot sauce, you get to see what a celebrity is like when they let their guard down and aren’t in a stuffy interview setting.

Kristen Bell looks shocked that Evans is adding more sauce to his wings.
Source: YouTube

The show has allowed fans to learn more about their favorite celebrities than any other news outlet or interview show. Evans digs deep and discovers things people don’t know about, giving them a better understanding of the guests.