Comedians Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice don’t so much “do stand-up,” as re-hash decades of grievances in front of a bloodthirsty audience.
The two cult comics, who grew up together in the suburbs of Toronto and had their lifelong friendship tested (if not destroyed) in their depraved reality competition show Kenny vs. Spenny, played a packed house at Yuk Yuk’s Ottawa Wednesday night.
Rice had high-minded plans for this tour, having prepared a lengthy (depending on who you ask, between six and thirty pages long) satirical routine about aliens. Hotz, of course, kiboshed that; instead, the audience was treated to several hours of the two berating each other.
Early on, Hotz announced his intention to “break Spenny’s brain.” He proceeded to drive his friend up the wall with a mix of crass jokes and uncomfortable stories (several of which Rice clearly didn’t want told). Rice responded by awkwardly attempting to defend his honour, frequently shouting over Hotz and grabbing the mic from his hands.
The animosity is their schtick, of course, but it didn’t feel like an act.
Their Yuk Yuk’s set was, as Hotz put it, “the worst car wreck,” but like a car wreck, it was compulsively watchable. The duo’s perverse mix of familiarity and contempt allowed them to play off each other perfectly, Kenny the supervillain and Spenny the bitter whipping boy.
It wasn’t always that way, Rice insisted, stressing that, in their younger years, he was the cool one. “I made him what he is!” Rice declared. “I introduced him to sex, I introduced him to drugs, and I introduced him to rock n roll!”
Kenny vs. Spenny showcased the two frenemies facing off in bizarre competitions (e.g. “Who Can Drink More Beer?”; “Who Can Wear A Dead Octopus On Their Head The Longest?”), with the less-ethical Kenny often cheating his way to victory by subjecting Spenny to sadistic pranks. (In “Octopus,” for instance, he drugged Spenny with LSD; in another, he tricked Spenny into quitting the show by convincing him his screenplay had been optioned).
Wednesday’s set felt a bit like a competition itself, with Rice and Hotz each trying to turn the crowd against the other.
Already viewed as the more evil character of the two, Hotz brought out the big guns with some deeply uncomfortable stories about Rice. In addition to charging a young Kenny $20 for some pretty horrific dating advice, a teenaged Spencer once kicked a can of paint into the dolphin enclosure at Marineland.
Rice took a subtler approach to character assassination. “I believe small moments say a lot about a person,” he noted. He went on to describe a buffet at a German hotel, where a salmon spread had been lined with lemon wedges and ornamented with a single decorative lemon, “carved into a perfect swan.”
“It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Rice said. Of course, he informed us, that was the lemon Kenny chose to squirt on his fish.
Hotz was unmoved. “It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen,” he parroted.
Getting steadily drunker as the night progressed, Rice missed no opportunity to express his contempt for both Hotz and the audience, demanding to know how anyone could be amused by his rival’s tasteless and juvenile jokes. At one point, he declared himself bored, picked up his acoustic guitar, and began silently practicing finger exercises while Hotz continued to talk (one of the few moments Hotz could speak uninterrupted).
The former friends occasionally made beautiful comic music together. One memorable moment came when they ganged up on an attendee who gave a garbled answer to a question about peanut butter and jelly. Hotz also appeared genuinely amused by Spenny’s rants, and was happy to play back-up while Rice took the spotlight.
“Spenny’s my best friend,” Hotz claimed as a frustrated Rice faced the wall on the club’s postage stamp-sized stage. “I love Spenny.”
“But I had to destroy him,” he added, turning his ire on the audience, “because you guys are so sick, you can only laugh at him when I’m destroying him.”
Hotz was absolutely right. Watching a Kenny and Spenny show is an invitation to wallow in vicarious cruelty; it shouldn’t work, and it’s a testament to their chemistry and comedic instincts that it does. As disturbing as their double act is, they must be doing something right.
Or maybe, as both Hotz and Rice suggested, there’s something wrong with us.
Line-Up: Kenny and Spenny All New Comedy Show
Venue: Yuk Yuk’s Ottawa, Bank Street, Ottawa ON
Date: Wednesday, June 20/2019