Tall Poppy Interview: Spencer Rice
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Tall Poppy Interview: Spencer Rice

2008_10_17spenny.jpgLast time we talked to Kenny and Spenny, they were headed into their third season. We heard a lot from Kenny about Kenny, a lot of Kenny’s cheap shots at Spenny, and a little from Spenny, too.
This time around, K vs. S are set to duke it out for the fifth year in a row. They are novices no more, up for their third Gemini, and both busy dabbling in their own projects. Dabbling so much, in fact, that Kenny cancelled out on our interview last-minute due to shooting for Testees, his new show about two best friends and roommates (sound familiar?) who are voluntary test subjects for a drug and product facility. Were we angry? Yes. Were we surprised? No. If the show’s any indicator, Kenny’s about as trustworthy as Richard Hatch, reality show liar extraordinaire. Instead of backing down and admitting defeat, we took this interview as an opportunity to sit down and get up-close with Spencer Rice, uninterrupted. And of course, to get all the dirt on Kenny.

Torontoist: You’ve done stand-up comedy. You’re good at breaking the ice. Tell us a good joke.
Spencer Rice: No. Stand-up comedy is to be performed in a club of people, and it’s not jokes anyways—I don’t do jokes. I could tell you a joke, but that’s not what stand-up is. Jokes are actually frowned upon in most stand-up routines. Most comedians just sorta talk about life and make it funny.
In that case, could you offer us a recent anecdote from your life?
Well, I went to Nuit Blanche with a girl, first date, and it turned out she had some kind of bladder problem. She got really drunk, and all of the sudden I’d look over and she’d be squatting on the sidewalk peeing. That was kind of amusing. That was one train wreck of the night.
Now that shooting for season five is complete, what have you got in the works?
I’ve got one show I created and shot a pilot for, and I’m waiting to find out if it gets picked up. I’ve got two shows that I want to be in, but I’m still at the stage where I’m working with them.
I’ve got a movie [Confessions of a Porn Addict] coming out December 5th that’s going to play at the Bloor for about a week and then tour Canada for a week. It’s a fictitious story starring me, it’s a mock-doc, it’s a little experimental—I’m very proud of it. We shot that about a year ago, before the season started. I’m very lucky; as long as there’s success, you get to do what you want to do. Even if it’s not successful, I’ll keep doing it. I want to write an album one day, and it might not be until I hit my 50s or 60s, but that’s my passion, to create work. The concept is that you ride the wave of this show which is very successful, and you try to leverage it into something else.
2008_10_17spenny2.jpgYou’re both working on solo projects. Does the competition stem into your separate works?
Not to me, maybe to him. I want him to be successful—we’re not going to work together forever. I’m sure some media will say one of us is a loser, one of us is a big star. I couldn’t give a fucking shit about any of that, I focus on the work I want to do, and I try and get it done.
One of the new episodes is entitled “Who can keep a dump in their pants the longest?” For how long afterwards did you shower?
I don’t know about Kenny, but I shower a lot. I’m not a clean freak or overly anal-retentive but I smell good at all times and I actually like showering. No matter what we do, after we finish a day of Kenny vs. Spenny, regardless of what episode it is I will run home and shower.
When did you finish shooting for season five?
About a month ago. We did it very quickly this year because we dicked around with our negotiations for a long time. The air dates were cemented, so we had to do the show very quickly. Production was about six weeks.
You and Kenny grew up together. Obviously you turned out a lot different. How come?
Kenny is a prankster. He grew up with an older brother and a sister. I used to go over there and it was constant conflict and pranks. I was an only child—just my background makes me the absolutely perfect target for pranksters. I have no skills to defend myself; I didn’t grow up looking over my shoulder.
If you met my family, you’d see why I was into comedy—they’re all funny. My cousin [Marjorie Gross] was my hero. She unfortunately died a long time ago, she was one of the biggest comedy writers—she knew everybody, and everybody loved her, she was extremely talented. Those are big shoes I don’t even try to fill, but this is what I grew up in.
I could have taken a totally different artistic path—I was a musician, I had a blues band [The Delta Devils Band] for about six years. I was getting paid for my music, and at some point I just said, “wait a minute, I’m not really a musician,” my talent lies more in writing and being funny. I saw a limitation in the music, but comedy was much more doable for me, much more realistic for my background. One of the best decisions I ever made was to get out of the music industry.
How would you describe your relationship with Kenny now?
Right now we’re winding down—he’s working on his show, so we don’t talk to each other that much. But in general, business, creative partnerships, the show itself—being friends for this long strains the relationship. We’ve worked together for years—fuck, I don’t even want to say how many years we’ve worked together for. We’re more like brothers, more like family than anything else. We don’t go out and party together anymore these days, but once we stop working together, then we’ll get together and party.
If you could liken you and Kenny to any other pair in the world, past or present, heterosexual or homosexual, who would it be?
I’d have to go with a comedy duo, whether it’s Oscar and Felix from The Odd Couple, or Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, or Laurel and Hardy. Everything Kenny and I do is essentially a real hard take on the classic comedy duo. That’s just who we are, and we realize that; we made Pitch and got to watch ourselves on camera for the first time and see people laughing. It grounds the show in a certain reality that otherwise wouldn’t exist if it was just Kenny, or if there was another guy like Kenny, or vice-versa. Fundamentally, it’s a straight-man, crazy-man act, but it’s not an act—that’s why I think the show’s so successful.
It’s not an act at all?
Well, we exaggerate a little bit. We’re first and foremost comedy guys—but we never went to acting school, we’re not actors. Let me put it this way: if you hung out with us in high school, you would have seen a very similar dynamic to what you see in Kenny vs. Spenny. Obviously in TV we have a budget, we’re creating ideas that could possibly be funny, so it becomes a little animated, which is fine. Over the course of doing the series, we’ve created a kind of approach to doing shows that allows for as much realism as possible, but yet actually allows us to produce shows with beginnings, middles, and ends. One of the ways we’ve gotten that is essentially I’ve agreed, for good or for ill, to sort of be conspired against, where literally everyone knows what’s going to happen but me in terms of what Kenny’s going to do to me.
You say the show’s based on the differences between you and Kenny. Do you guys have any similarities?
Um, we both have penises, we’re both human beings… I think that’s about it. I think we have a profoundly different way of looking at life, and dealing with life. I think we both like to laugh, I think we have similarities in terms of the style of comedy we mutually think is funny, but otherwise I think we’re very, very different people.
Well, since it’s just you here, and you don’t have Kenny along to interrupt every other word…
Which is so nice, by the way.
Definitely. So, how about you tell us Kenny’s dirtiest secret.
I would not do that. That’s something that, ethically, I would have a huge problem with.
Now, you will ask Kenny this question, and he will have a list of 100 things, of which 99.9% of them would be a lie. I’m not sure if it’s something he really enjoys or if it’s just a shtick for the show, but he constantly lies about me, just constantly. And some of the lies are over-the-top, you know like “I rape pugs,” and “I kissed him in Amsterdam,” or “I’m gay,” and he goes on and on and on, and the show documents it. And he has all this stuff about my mother and having sex with my mother, there’s that. And then there’s the lies that are so potentially believable, they really disturb me. In one of the new shows, he wore a picture of me sitting on Santa Claus’s lap when I was a child—there’s a reason for that in the show—and he pointed to it and said that I had herpes because there’s a shadow under my neck. I really do subject myself and sacrifice a lot to make the show work, much more than he does in my opinion, and I think that any rational person’s going to see that.
My whole ethic is to keep my side of the fence clean as much as possible. I’m like the dog you poke too many times: I’ll bark, I’ll bite. But generally speaking, to answer your question and rat out a list of secrets, I would rather not do it than look like an asshole and do it. It’s outside the parameters of what I think is ethical, even for him.
The whole series, you’re insulted, you’ve got all kinds of bodily fluids put on you, but to me, and I may be wrong, but I step back and look at the bigger picture and I see a guy who’s very mean-spirited and is so obsessed with winning that he is willing to cross almost any ethical boundary to do it.
If you walk around the streets with me, you’d see the love and support that I have from people who either feel sorry for me or genuinely think I’m funny and like me. I think in that respect, perhaps I’m kidding myself or deluding myself, but this is all based on what I feel, and what I see on the streets—I think Kenny may win all these battles, but I’m going to win the war of “who’s the nicer guy,” “who’s the guy you’d let baby-sit your kids”, or “who’s the guy you have a relationship with,” on and on. Now there will be exceptions to that rule, but usually they’re younger, bong-smoking, skateboarding guys who like Kenny’s style—which is fine, I have no issue with that.
Do you think you and Kenny have different goals in the end?
Well, I want to win the competition, but, just like I won’t rat out Kenny, I’m not going to cheat. I’ve fallen off the wagon a couple times and cheated—I’m not perfect—but that is a conceit of my personality on the show. I will approach a competition the way most people would approach a competition, thus I am the straight man. The reality is, I would do that in real life anyways so it’s not a stretch, or an act; that’s who I am.
In the show, we decided to be ourselves and that meant that I’d be the person in the competitions from a very straightforward point of view. I’m going to run a race, I’m not going to figure out a way not to run a race, like pretending my mother died, or sledge hammering me in the knees, and that’s what we do. And I continue to do it, though I don’t like doing it, and I take a lot of abuse, and it’s not fun, but I can see the value of it. Frankly, I still pinch myself that they allow us to do this stuff. I mean we do some crazy shit and it gets aired on television.
So you’d rather suffer humiliation than compromise your morals?
Yes, essentially. I wish I could say that was true 100 per cent of the time, but I’m a human being, that’s obvious. I cheated in season one. It was a cooking competition and I had no chance because he’s actually a pretty good cook. So I hired a professional chef outside with a monitor and I hid an earpiece hidden under my chef’s hat, and he told me what to do. The funny thing is, I lost anyways.
2008_10_17spenny3.jpgYou just complimented Kenny. Would he ever do the same for you?
If he’s drunk, and he’s in the right mood, then he’ll say very nice things about me. Kenny’s a façade, he’s a game player, he’s a Machiavellian figure. As such, I have no problem saying there are things that he can do that I would never be able to do because I don’t have the balls—no, that’s the wrong word—the desire to do it. He’s a character and I find him to be funny sometimes, and I don’t have a problem saying nice things about him, but he’s also a prick and a narcissist. He wants to be number one, and he wants to win. His argument is that whoever has to do the humiliation is the loser—well, I beg to differ, sometimes he outsmarts me, and I have no problem admitting that. But there are lines that he crosses, where it’s not clever, it’s not witty, it’s just cheating and losing.
Do you guys ever get complaints?
If I wasn’t in the show, the show would probably collapse and deteriorate into a Jackass show. Anybody who bitches and yells, they can yell at Kenny, not me. I say that in almost every show: send your letters to him. His comedy is really about shock. I don’t find it particularly interesting and a lot of people do and I understand that. I’m not a big fan of Jackass.
Let’s say for a second that I did care what people thought, well, too bad. Its funny, I’m into freedom of expression, as much as they’ll give us, I’ll take advantage of and I’m grateful to Showcase that they’ve let us do this. There’s always those naysayers and basically they just give us more press. The more they complain the better it is.
Have you ever really offended someone (other than Kenny) in competition?
Yeah, one of the episodes this year [Episode 4: “Who Can Piss Off More People”—we’ve aready had a sneak peek at Kenny’s exploits]. I’ve had a couple challenges where I didn’t want to do it because the premise of it was against my ethical code. And then Kenny will say, “You’re lame, you’re a wimp, just fuckin’ do it, it’ll be funny.” I give in. I don’t like those shows, but we all compromise a little bit to do certain things in the show. That’s a compromise I make in a few new episodes. I have my own ethical issues with going around upsetting innocent people so I can get a point to win this stupid show, but I did it—the buck stops here. No one forced me to do it; I did it on my own free will.
As your show becomes more popular, and more people recognize you, how are you finding the accompanying fame?
I find women are very nice to me, which is nice. At the level we’re at right now, I’m okay with it—for the most part it’s just people who say “we love your show.” It’s not like I’m Brad Pitt and I can’t leave my room without getting eight million paparazzi on me. There are always certain people saying, “I hate to be an idiot, but can I take a picture with you?” and you say, “Well, if it wasn’t for you, I’d be working at a parking lot in Mississauga.” I’m happy to do it if them makes them happy. We’re pretty big right now, but it’s nothing like hockey players—they’re the real celebrities in Canada.
What makes you so successful?
Good genes, a bit of luck, a lot of tenacity, a lot of passion…and some skills.
You’re now going into your fifth season. Are you bored with the show?
It’s a reality show. You already have a lot of creative constrictions or creative limitations. Much more so than Kenny; he can go out during any show and shoot some crazy Hitler music video and somehow fit it into the show and that’s just not within the parameters of what I do.
I look more forward to doing what I’m doing right now, which is creating more shows that are less reality-driven, because then you’re creatively opened up. Look at Southpark—they’re a comedy, they can literally do a show about anything—we can’t. We have to have something that’s semi-doable, and we’ve got to do it in twenty-two minutes.
This [season] could be it for Kenny vs. Spenny. I’ve heard that [Showcase is] going to order more, but even if they are, I feel that we’re at the point where you don’t want to run the franchise into the ground. We did a really good season this year, and I honestly believe this was our first- or second-best season we’ve ever done. We’re always worried we may have jumped the shark, and maybe we will if we do another season, and maybe we won’t.
Do you feel that you’ve grown up over the course of the show?
No, I think I’ve devolved actually. Doing this show and being an adult are two things that don’t really go together. I think this show has totally stunted my maturation. I don’t know if I will ever grow up; everything’s relative. I’m more mature than Kenny, but that’s not saying much.
When you’re so committed to the show, you’re living a different life. It’s not an adult way of life. If I was working at Starbucks, I would be writing a book at night or doing stand-up. It’s a compulsion to do something like this. You have that compulsion, and it’s not a matter of “should I do it,” it’s who I am, what I am, what I do. There’s no other choice.
All photos courtesy of Spencer Rice. Season Five of Kenny vs. Spenny starts tonight, October 20, at 9:00 p.m. on Showcase, with Episode One: “Who Can Keep a Dump in Their Pants the Longest?” You can bone up on past episodes on the Showcase website.