In June, when Jennifer Lawrence was promoting her latest film No Hard Feelings, she sat down with Amelia Dimoldenberg of the YouTube series Chicken Shop Date over chicken nuggets to swap deadpanned punchlines. Eight days before that, she appeared with Sean Evans, host of Hot Ones — another YouTube series centered on celebrity interviews over food — to chat while eating spicy chicken wings. Both videos, filmed prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike, went viral due to their candid, outrageous nature.
“Can’t believe two of the most critical elements of any press cycle now involve eating chicken,” wrote X user @ohheybrittany on June 28. And although the tweet was viral gold (it has more than 186,000 likes), there is some truth to it: Television hosts have sat down with boldface names for a beverage or bite before — like when Rihanna went day drinking with Seth Meyers or James Corden had Harry Styles eat cod sperm — but now late-night shows aren’t the only ones leaning into the low-key voyeurism of watching stars eat. Series like Hot Ones and Chicken Shop Date are infiltrating the celebrity news cycle in a very real way — and finally getting their flour-dredged flowers in the process.
Chris Schonberger, the creator of Hot Ones, says the show’s memeable nature was never the point. In fact, back in 2015 when he thought up the idea, it was pretty hard to get talent on board. “As sort of a Hail Mary, I threw out the idea of eating incredibly spicy wings. Just thinking it would be a kind of funny way to shake up these boring celebrity interviews that felt very rote,” he tells Bustle. “It was an incredibly hard sell at the beginning, because just on paper it sounds completely insane, and, well, it kind of is.”
Though Schonberger gives props to the celebs who participated in the show before it had the loyal audience it does now, he says guests like Kevin Hart and Key & Peele, who were featured back in 2016, paved the way for what the series is now.
“I give so much credit to the people who first did it even before the show really started to do impressive numbers; they saw something that they thought was funny in it,” he says, but it was difficult to get A-list female Hollywood talent on board because of the Jackass-like nature of it all. It wasn’t until Charlize Theron gave the whole concept a go in 2018 that Hot Ones was able to break into that demographic of talent. But even in the world of TikTok trends and Twitter threads, Hot Ones hasn’t changed merely to feed the beast of the Internet. It strikes the right chord for this current moment when candid content rules TikTok. Appearances from actors like Jenna Ortega and Melissa McCarthy have gone particularly viral on the platform, with 42.6 million and 11.6 million views, respectively, on short clips from their Hot Ones episodes.
With 21 million followers across social platforms and more than 2 billion lifetime views, Hot Ones has found its groove. According to Natalie Rose Allen, a registered psychotherapist, clips that show actors eating food on camera, especially something messy and down-to-earth like chicken wings, are the antithesis to what we typically see when Hollywood pulls back its curtain — which is part of the reason why they’re so appealing.
“We’re always told about celebrities’ extreme workout routines and nutrition regimes and things like that. [These videos] might just be creating this cognitive dissonance between what we expect celebrities to be eating versus what they are,” she tells Bustle.
Sure, most celebrities probably aren’t ordering chicken nuggets on the reg. In fact, according to etiquette expert Elaine Swann, spicy snacks and finger foods are some of the worst things to order if you’re trying to make a good impression. And that’s exactly the point: These celebrities aren’t trying to make the perfect impression viewers have already seen time and time again; they’re trying to hit the combination of candid and comedic that the general public wants from them.
“[These videos] might just be creating this cognitive dissonance between what we expect celebrities to be eating versus what they are.”
“People would like to see celebrities as normal folks. Celebrities themselves might be trying really hard to be relatable [in instances like these eating interviews]. And so they may even go beyond what’s normal for themselves just so that they can connect with other people. But this is not real,” says Swann.
Of course, eating food on camera as part of a press junket is inherently contrived, and as Swann said, many stars probably aren’t really taking ridiculously large bites out of hot wings when it’s not for a viewer’s entertainment. While the food choices and eating etiquette may be exaggerated for the camera — the information celebrities are willing to share while under the pressure of Scoville ratings is very real.
“The fact is that when they’re going through something so physically challenging, they’re less guarded and more likely to blurt something out that’s funny or feels authentic,” says Schonberger. “The Internet is going to do what it does and have its way with it. And memes are just a by-product of that.”
Natalie Rose Allen, registered psychotherapist
Elaine Swann, etiquette expert