On a recent fall morning, I met Kenny Hotz at The Good Neighbour, a sleepy coffee shop in Toronto’s west end. He ordered a cortado. I went with black coffee. We sat side-by-side near the window and watched people amble down Argyle Street in their toques and scarves. Hotz, 52, was feeling tired. Since retiring 10 years ago, after Kenny vs. Spenny earned him millions of dollars and cult celebrity status, he’s been focused on raising a family. Hotz has three young daughters with his wife, Audrey Gair, a former model who he met on Facebook.
“I was scummily trying to find hot girls online and we clicked,” he said, with his signature dry humour. “She’s amazing. I wouldn’t waste my time marrying some loser or being with someone who’s an idiot.”
These days, when he’s not changing shitty diapers or having a tea party or “being a fucking Roomba,” Hotz sneaks away to his computer and browses obscure websites. At night, he drinks red wine to deal with the craziness. He said this is a good chapter in his life, though.
“Before, I was so narcissistic and egomaniacal that if a car was coming towards me and my mom, and one of us had to die, of course I would push my fucking mom in front of the car,” he said. “But now, I’ll die for my kids. To finally have something I love that much is incredible.”
Hotz is the type of person who emanates warmth. It’s in the softness of his voice. His relaxed body language. There’s a sweetness underlying his schlubby exterior. At the cafe, he wore a blue sweatshirt, Levi jeans, and brown-framed glasses. His hair was mid-length and messy. Basically, he looked like a cool Jewish dad. On K vs. S, Hotz adopted a “bad boy” persona while Spenny played the clueless victim. But in real life, according to Hotz, the roles are reversed.
“Spenny was the pig who banged all those girls. I never really did that, because I’m just the nice Jewish guy. He’s the fucked up single rich kid,” he said. “The show ended because he was in a dark place, he got some horrible divorce and now he’s exactly where I want him. Totally depending on me for a living so he can feed his kids.”
This seemed a tad harsh, so I asked him something in response: “What would Spenny say about you?”
“He’d probably say I was a control freak. But I had to be because everyone’s so bad and stupid that when you’re making your own art, you can’t rely on anybody else. The more work you do, the better your stuff gets,” said Hotz. “So, I was extremely protective and anal about making sure it was the best show possible.”
Hotz wants to bring back K vs. S, but with a twist: something like Kenny and Spenny, in which the embattled best friends solve Herculean problems, like building a school for orphans in Argentina. It could be impeccable timing. The show has been dormant for long enough that a return would deliver fans a delightful dose of nostalgia. Perhaps Canadian television, with its awe shucks earnestness, once again needs the subversive content that made K vs. S so irresistible when it first aired in the early 2000s. Hotz’ willingness to shock and provoke could be the antidote to our current culture of puritanism.
“I always felt like if I’m not getting canceled I’m doing something wrong. The more you don’t get canceled, the better your work is,” he said. “I don’t really wanna have to go out there and stay awake for a week and see how much fucking weed I can smoke or booze I can drink. It’s fucking torture.”
Hotz’ antics were the highlight of the show. He cursed, danced, belched, and cheated his way to victory in more than 70 percent of competitions. He was terribly immoral but the audience still loved him, which made him the perfect antihero. The reason that viewers sympathized with him instead of Spenny was simple, according to Hotz.
“It’s just happy vs unhappy. The fact that I didn’t care made Spenny a loser, because anyone who cares—to us and our generation—is a loser,” said Hotz. “My brand is cool. I cared about not being humiliated, whereas he cared about the morality of competition. I don’t think I cheated. I just didn’t give a shit and he did.”
My theory is that audiences preferred Hotz because he represented a specific type of freedom. He acted however he wanted and still won, a state of being that’s attractive to both kids and adults. His actually deplorable behaviour had positive consequences, which is exactly the opposite of what I was taught to believe as a teenager—there was pleasure in watching Hotz undermine everything I’d ever learned from my parents and teachers. Whether I knew it or not, he shaped my comic sensibility—or at least revealed a predilection toward mischief.
For Hotz, the popularity of the show can be explained in a couple ways. It taught the audience something about the male psyche, mainly how horribly guy friends treat one another. He also said the grittiness of the project—its low production value, sadistic challenges, and grotesque humiliations—reflected society more honestly than most of the stuff on TV during that era. The vulgarity was a form of realism.
“You’re watching these Canadian movies and they make you want to puke because they’re so shitty and moralistic. They had no truth. You don’t have to mention Saskatoon in a fucking comedy show to be funny,” he said. “I think 9/11 killed the sitcom. After seeing that or the OJ chase, people couldn’t handle bullshit, they just had to see reality.”
Hotz grew up a poor Jewish kid in Forest Hill, one of Canada’s most affluent neighbourhoods. His father was an unsuccessful real estate lawyer. “He was the greatest, sweetest guy in the world, but the worst fucking businessman,” said Hotz. “Which scares you because everyone took advantage of him.” His family lost their house in the 80s and had to move in with a relative, until they got accepted into municipal housing. At the time, Hotz sold marijuana to help subsidize his parent’s rent.
“Now it’s called an entrepreneur,” he said. “Back then, I was just a shitty weed dealer.”
Hotz was the type of teenager who got his education watching movies. He stole a film projector from his high school and put it in his basement. Then he grabbed reels of film from the Toronto Public Library. Before long, his basement became a kibbutz (a Hebrew word for gathering place). He smoked while watching classic film—the works of Renoir, Tarkovsky, and Polanski.
“You’re stoned out of your gourd and totally inspired because that’s what you want to do,” said Hotz. His storytelling career began in earnest. During his early teens, Hotz started as a photojournalist, doing hardcore photo essays because it was cheap. He shot Auschwitz, a German concentration camp, and the Gulf War. Traveling the globe as a photographer offered more fulfillment than getting high and masturbating in his parent’s basement. He finally had a purpose.
“I’d come back and feel like, ‘Oh fuck, I’m not a loser. I might be something. I don’t have to kill myself,” said Hotz. “And then I was like, ‘Okay, like, what else am I gonna fucking do? Go to Rwanda and get chopped up by some fucking Hutus?”
So, he started making short documentaries. Hotz liked the genre because it involved the least amount of prep work and he could rely on his spontaneity to turn boring interviews into interesting moments. Things changed in 1997 when he and Spenny released a documentary called Pitch. It’s about two friends trying to sell a movie script at TIFF. You should watch it if you get the chance. It’ll help you understand that Kenny and Spenny aren’t just two idiot friends that got famous making a low-brow competition show. Instead, they’re wildly ambitious filmmakers who tapped into a weird genre that Hotz described as “Cockumentary,” a combo of comedy and documentary.
Pitch made it to a few big festivals. Then Will Smith saw it and gave them $40,000 to move to LA. Yes, it was the Fresh Prince of Fucking Bel Air that gave two Toronto Jews a nudge toward Hollywood.
When he first got to LA, Hotz was living behind Chelsea Handler’s ex-boyfriend’s house. There wasn’t much to do. He mostly drank coffee and played video games and watched TV, which lasted for nearly a half-decade. During that time, he accidentally hit Barbara Streisand with a glass door at a sushi restaurant and got advice from Joni Mitchell about happiness, among other it-could-only-happen-in-Hollywood stories.
“Joni Mitchell told me once, I was sitting with her, not that I want to name drop, but I do, because fuck you—it’s Joni Mitchell. She’s literally blue blood royalty. It’s like sitting with Hendrix,” he said. “She said there are two types of people in the world, happy and unhappy, and you gotta pick the type of person you are. And I said, ‘Oh, thank god. I’m a fucking happy person.'”
In 2003, when K vs. S finally aired on CBC, it received a terrible review in The Globe and Mail. “Don’t let the youngsters watch this show and you’d be wise to avert your own gaze, as well,” the article read. “Kenny vs. Spenny is perhaps the most annoying new half-hour on television.” I feel bad for the writer, who was reviewing the show when it appeared during the pre-dinner block (5:30pm), meaning his job was mainly to warn parents about what their kids would digest on TV before dinnertime. Of course, it was the best review Kenny and Spenny could’ve hoped for. There’s nothing cooler than being too edgy for legacy media organizations like the Globe.
My grandmother appeared in the “Who Do Grandmothers Like More?” episode of K vs. S, which is part of the reason I wanted to meet Hotz. In the episode, Hotz pretended to have a brother with down syndrome, in an attempt to win the affection of the old ladies. Of course, the charade helped Hotz win the challenge. But it pissed off my lawyer uncle, who thought my grandmother had been taken advantage of in the pursuit of good TV. So, he filed a nasty lawsuit, which I also found cool. Not only did I have a familial connection to the show—my no-nonsense uncle had the big Jewish balls to take a big network to court.
(At least I think that’s what happened. When I asked Hotz, he knew nothing about the lawsuit.)
In 2008, when the housing market crashed and property costs were low, Hotz decided to buy a house in Toronto. The timing felt right. He’d already gotten rich. The show had been picked up by Comedy Central after Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, decided to attach themselves to the project. For Hotz, a return to his hometown was the next logical step.
“I made a conscious decision. I could’ve stayed there and done Vicadin and rammed fans,” he said. “But I fell in love with Audrey, she plucked me out of LA, and I figured, ‘Oh, fuck, I’ll live an extra twenty years, come back to Toronto.'”
In the time since coming home, Hotz mostly stopped making stuff. He’s been doing live shows with Spenny and trying to improve at stand up comedy, but otherwise, he’s laying low. He hardly posts to social media anymore. Hotz got fed up with the entertainment industry because the executives never really seemed to understand the popularity of the show. K vs. S never won any major Canadian awards, either.
“I always felt like we were ignored,” said Hotz. “I fought it and kept doing work for so long. Eventually, it was just like, ‘Why bother?’ My brother calls it Van Gogh syndrome. He says the world’s great artists like Mozart and Van Gogh are the ones who end up in the pauper’s pits, covered in limestone like peasants.”
During the interview, I asked Hotz a few random questions, some of which address humanity’s most pressing issues. Here they are:
Trump or Satan?
“I love Trump because of the incredible television it’s giving me. I love the car crash, I love to see OJ Simpson in his car driving away. I kinda like people getting their just desserts. I also like the establishment getting douched. I like politicians and lobbyists—people in institutions—getting totally fucked. Yeah, I think the States deserve him and I love seeing the fallout.”
Pornography or Marvel Movies?
“Oh, porno all the way. Porno, yes. My dick looks like Freddie Kreuger. I’ve got three kids. I’ve got third-degree burns from having sex and I’m on my twelfth skin graft from masturbating.”
On Global Warming
“Get rid of money, and Walmart, and plastic, and cars. Stop driving cars, defecating, eating meat and buying shit. And then you can save the world. But we are so done. We are such a shit species. We don’t even deserve to live on this fucking beautiful Eden, unfortunately. Maybe in the next world.”
LA or New York?
“LA without cash, New York with cash.”
Leafs or Raptors?
“Neither. I’m not a sports guy. Not at all. I think sports are the problem with humans, the competitive nature is offensive to me.”
But you’re on a show about competing?
“That’s why it was stupid. I was making fun of that. I think, you know, the Spanish, they all come together and build a tower and throw a kid on top. Like, why can’t we get together and see what kind of submarine sandwich we can build? Sports should be us coming together and accomplishing some task, as opposed to some plastic ball ending up in a net. I always hated sports. I never liked it. I like MMA. You want to kung fu the shit out of anybody, that’s great. That’s cool. Aside from that, I’ve never been into sports.”
“Money’s a cult. I don’t think you really need money. You can always just move to India and live on, you know, twelve cents a day. I spend money on Uber Eats and restaurants. There’s nothing that me and my wife want. I don’t really like cars and everything is just shit from China. Because I was so broke, you know, I learned to buy bulk years ago in LA. And so, I’m really, really careful with my cash.”
On Writing for South Park
“The second I started, I didn’t want to be there because I was bouncing off the walls, because I never liked working on other people’s shows, which is really the truth. Trey Parker writes everything, basically. They just want guys in there to laugh at their shit, whereas I wanted to actually contribute ideas. Even though it was fun and crazy and I was making tons of cash for the first time in my life—it’s like $5,000 a day. That’s why I haven’t worked in ten years.”