From 2002 to 2010, two childhood best friends competed for dominance in a Toronto apartment house. Those friends are Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice, and on the Canadian reality show Kenny vs. Spenny, these competitions and their outcomes would be recorded for posterity. Each program, the loser would be subjected to a humiliation of the winner’s choosing. It provided a clearer picture of the male psyche than anything on television before or since.
Men think in terms of winning and losing. We see humiliation as undesirable but often inevitable. This runs counter to the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality. You want a trophy? You better walk through fire to earn it. Otherwise, what does it mean? And why should your trophy be on the shelf with the others?
Even though the competitions in KvS are often simple, they become psychological endurance tests, and because Hotz and Rice have such magnetism as a team, we get a complex picture of the struggle for victory. Kenny is conniving and will resort to cheating; Spenny is guileless and strives to compete honestly and respectfully. They’re a compelling yin and yang, and since they’re Canadians, they are to funny what birds are to flying. There are cameras trained on them because they are funny simply being.
The entirety of the KvS series is worth watching*, but I whittled it down to my ten favorite moments, which I would call the best. It’s a show that rewards repeat views, and the camera crew guys are almost as funny as the star pair.
*Avoid Comedy Central’s releases, which add intolerable beeping over the adult language (which is constant).
(3.9, “Who Can Stay In A Haunted House The Longest?”)
Against the advice of paranormal experts, including the lovable Mysterion, Kenny and Spenny spend a weekend in a house allegedly haunted by a murdered child and her adoptees. While Kenny spends all night taunting the dead family and trying to spook his opponent, Spenny remains calm (mostly), finally handcuffing himself to a radiator so that he can’t be removed. Kenny resorts to donning a robe and performing a black Sabbath routine.
Then suddenly there’s a noise that sends everyone except Spenny sprinting into the street.
It’s a legitimate recording of mass male flight instinct. Even when they find out what it was, it’s still terrifying. No one knows what Spenny’s reaction was because no one else was in the house to capture it.
(1.13, “Who Can Stay Handcuffed The Longest?”)
Before Kenny is handcuffed to Spenny, he uses fish sauce and shrimp paste as mouthwash, and rubs onions in his armpits. He reeks so badly you can smell him through the screen. Spenny counters with Vicks Vaporub under his nose, and Kenny has to conceive another plan. The crew drives the shackled couple to the airport, where they pick up a man named David Wolfish.
The most annoying man on earth. Whom Spenny apparently owes $10,000.
Wolfish takes up residence at Spenny’s free ear, and he and Kenny begin a ceaseless harangue. The music is almost funereal, as Spenny endures this endless nattering, in full stereo, in public. I’ve never seen anything like that, anywhere.
3.”ARE WE GONNA GO FOR THIS?”
(2.5, “Who Can Dance The Longest?”)
Somehow, Kenny gets a gaggle of high school cheerleaders to do cheers for him, in the gym. Through a megaphone, he berates them, and tries to make them do dirty cheers about him, which they refuse on principle. He gets them to bend over in front of him, before which the lead girl says “Are we gonna go for this?”
Then you look at Kenny and think, I’d have done the same damn thing.
These same cheerleaders utterly emasculate Spenny for this episode’s humiliation, and wow, that’s a lot to take. You tend to forget how much power rests in young girls screaming in unison.
4.KENNY FALLS OFF A SEGWAY
(5.5, “First Guy To Touch The Ground Loses”)
Spenny ends up trapped in a harness chair when Kenny knocks all his methods of staying off the floor away, using a basketball and a wheelchair. As a rule, one competitor couldn’t fuck with the other’s stuff, which Kenny bent by means of the ball, and an electric eel in a tub he placed underneath Spenny. Kenny puts on a tux, and glides around on a Segway with a rye loaf he’s glued googly-eyes onto (“Ryen”). Kenny torments Spenny for hours, repeatedly zipping to a seafood market to buy crabs and other sea creatures for throwing, and quipping like a James Bond villain, until at last the Segway betrays him and he tumbles to the carpet.
It is a shattering depiction of a man swung low by his own hubris. It’s also pants-shittingly funny.
5.SIXTY SECONDS OF BAD BREATH
(1.9, “Who Can Stay Blindfolded The Longest?”)
For this show’s humiliation, Spenny is duct-taped to a table and forced to breathe through his nose, which Kenny will belch into after consuming the previously mentioned fish sauce cocktail, plus onions and anchovy paste.
Not long into the torture, Spenny begins to let out this sad little weep. You can tell he wants to breathe so badly, but the air is so foul. It’s both endearing and mortifying.
6.HUGO GIVES SPENNY A BONER
(4.1, “First Guy To Get A Boner Loses”)
To end the contest, the boys go to get lapdances at a strip club. Kenny would have lost, as his stripper “Jersey” was definitely arousing, but previously he’d had his genitals injected with novocaine by his doctor brother, secretly. Spenny goes in cold, and it seems like he’s going to catch a break when his stripper turns out to be a dude, named Hugo (Kenny’s meddling again). However, Hugo is all business, and he was paid to give a man a boner. That’s exactly what he does.
Even Jersey is impressed as Spenny dashes for the bathroom, desperately trying to conceal his erection. Hugo winks at the camera. All business.
7.”I HAVE ARMS”
(1.23, “First One To Use Their Arms Loses”)
Both Kenny and Spenny put tremendous forethought into spending three days without the use of their arms; they plan out how to eat, make coffee, and wipe their asses. Again, Kenny thinks “outside the box” to work around the rules, by attaching his dwarf friend Alan to his abdomen. As Kenny rises to his feet, Alan instinctively begins to cackle, and Kenny exclaims “I HAVE ARMS. I HAVE ARMS.”
It’s like watching the birth of a new being in a science lab. Spenny’s reaction is appropriately defeatist. As Alan and Kenny giggle away after exiting with Spenny’s poking-stick, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
8.SPENNY THINKS HE HAS AIDS
(2.7, “Who Is Funnier?”)
To kill Spenny’s motivation as a stand-up comedian, Kenny forges a letter from the Canadian Ministry of Health that informs him of the likelihood he is HIV positive. It works like a charm; Spenny stinks up the stage before confessing his situation to the audience. After he leaves, the emcee says “How about a hand for a guy who’s got AIDS?”
To avoid his murder, Kenny is nowhere to be found when his opponent learns the truth, so Spenny slashes all of Kenny’s clothes with a butcher knife in retaliation. This is one of many “I can’t believe this show continued” moments.
9.KENNY GIVES SPENNY CANCER
(3.8, “Who Can Produce More Semen?”)
When an insane jizz-lobbing contest proves unwinnable, Kenny dresses up like Osama bin Laden and borrows an X-ray machine from a dentist.
Like I said, this was the greatest reality show of all time.
Wearing a radiation suit, Kenny rolls this monster into Spenny’s bedroom as his friend slumbers unaware, and blasts him with radiation to lower his sperm count. As a contingency plan, Kenny had sodomized a pound of ground beef that Spenny, unaware it was befouled, later consumed for potency.
Spenny notices a lump on his arm, and consults Kenny’s doctor brother. Dr. Hotz injects a local anesthetic, grabs a scalpel, and proceeds to express a grotesque mass from Spenny’s forearm that looks like Poltergeist. The music goes psychedelic, thundering drums in sync with rising nausea. It’s seriously fucking hard core.
10.KENNY DOSES SPENNY WITH LSD
(3.3, “Who Can Wear A Dead Octopus On Their Head The Longest?”)
The boys have dead octopuses secured to their heads at an outdoor fish market, and the clock is ticking until someone takes the cold, reeking things off. Kenny immediately can’t stand it, so he secretly chops the tentacles off and pins them to a Rastafarian cap (“It’s a GOOD PLACE to keep me TENTACLES MON!”), but Spenny still seems able to bear it with relative ease.
So, Kenny acquires four hits of acid and dissolves them into Spenny’s Five Alive.
Once Spenny starts to peak, Kenny suggests that the octopus ink is seeping into his brain and poisoning him. Spenny refuses to remove his octopus, and rides the wave, rotating through all the classic acid scenarios (“I FUCKIN’ WAS BORN, MAN! HOLY SHIT!”), much to Kenny’s chagrin. Finally Spenny wanders off, making his way in the rain to the shore of the lake, where he throws back the octopus and loses the contest.
Over the closing credits is a recording of Spenny reading Kenny the riot act for dosing him, claiming he could have died. Kenny retorts that Spenny put acid in his sandwich in 9th grade, when they went to the Cinesphere and saw Tron.
Spenny: That was Blake!
SECOND-BEST EPISODE: “WHO CAN SMOKE MORE WEED?” (5.10)
What seems like a vacation turns into a nightmare. Both guys display advanced skills as tokers, and it completely works against them. The pot they acquire knocks them on their asses at first, and the crew- many of whom are longtime smokers- have to fuck with them to make the show work. You could argue this episode makes smoking weed look as bad as it does good.
There are too many laughs in this one episode to recount here. Kenny becomes Maurice Del Taco, his flamboyantly queer alter ego, and improvises a Village People song about marijuana right in Spenny’s face. Spenny retreats to the backyard, where he says “I hear monkeys.” For a required anti-drug PSA, the boys do a series of hilarious gags with a giant joint. They light it, Spenny nearly passes out because it’s filled with Roman candles and newspaper, and it sets off the smoke alarm, summoning the police. Spenny frantically scampers about the house, as Kenny calmly deals with the law outside. If you’ve been a pot smoker for longer than a week, you know this scenario all too well.
BEST EPISODE: “FIRST ONE TO LAUGH LOSES” (3.1)
The best way to introduce someone to the concept of You Laugh You Lose is to show them this episode, and tell them to try and watch it without laughing. I have never made it. It’s impossible. I mean, unless you’re clinically depressed. Then get help, please.
Anyway. What makes this so fantastic is that Kenny is like me, and cracks up all the time, and Spenny does not laugh. It becomes all about how to make a sadbrain laugh, which is a challenging task, let me tell you, but it’s also the most rewarding.
Everything Kenny pulls on Spenny to make him laugh backfires and almost costs him the competition. Meanwhile, Spenny glares at the camera like Droopy Dog, and you think how would I do it? Can it be done? Spenny watches a Holocaust documentary, and Kenny enters with a dildo hanging from his trousers. Spenny reads quietly about Princess Diana in his room, and Kenny barges in wearing a wig, a tux with tails and a rubber replica of a woman’s crotch on his face.
Kenny: (French accent) Do you have a breath mint?
Spenny reads about colorectal cancer, and Kenny climbs a ladder to say “that’s da sphincter.” The two of them literally go face to face, and somehow, Spenny keeps from cracking up as Kenny looks him right in the eyes and says:
“Mama mia papa pee-a, baby’s got the diarrhea. Poo-hole. Cunnilingus. Pineapple.”
Spenny pulls two stunts that nearly knock Kenny out of the ring. First, he dresses up like Little Bo Peep and dances in front of Kenny with a giant lollipop, in tap shoes, crying “meester have you seen my poo poo?” Kenny makes an exaggerated expression of disgust, because that’s one way to keep from laughing. I’d have lost by this point.
Later, Spenny contracts a comedian with extreme dwarfism, has him wear a diaper, and surprise Kenny by squawking:
“Waaaaaaah. Where’s my milk? Yaaaaahhh. I’m a baby, I’m a baby. Gimme some titty.”
Kenny only escapes by convincing the comedian that Spenny is cruelly exploiting him, and dashing upstairs to his bedroom.
This episode also demonstrates the difference in humor between men and women; women can withhold laughter easily. Despite this, they often get the “infectious” laughs. Men and old ladies are the ones who laugh at stupid shit, and can’t hold it in. Women are the ones who say “oh, that’s nasty.”
Especially when Kenny has to eat Spenny’s booger as a humiliation, one of the worst in the series. The absolute topper is the humiliation from “Who Do Black Guys Like More?” (6.7-8), which I can’t describe here. It’s even worse than “Who Can Drink More Beer?” (2.1), where Kenny tricked Spenny into eating his vomit.
Aside from Trailer Park Boys, also Canadian, no other TV show captures the male experience and lust for friendly combat as accurately, or as hilariously. Kenny is a dead ringer for a young Oliver Reed, and Spenny would make a fantastic Fletch.