How YouTube's 'Hot Ones' host Sean Evans realized hot sauce was his 'lightning in a bottle'

"Hot Ones" has millions of subscribers for interviews eating hot wings.

June 7, 2019, 4:25 PM

"Hot Ones" is the spicy interview show on YouTube that has pepper-heads craving more and guests reaching for an ice cold glass of milk.

Over the course of a roughly 25-minute episode, A-list celebrities attempt to eat a plate of 10 progressively spicier chicken wings while answering even hotter interview questions about everything from their careers paths to their love lives.

Host Sean Evans from First We Feast has gained a cult following with millions of YouTube subscribers and shared conversations with an array of guests from Shaq and Chrissy Teigen to Gordon Ramsay and Scarlett Johansson.

Evans told ABC News that hot sauce has proven to be the perfect ingredient to help diffuse a superstar's seemingly unshakeable status and give viewers a chance to see them sweat.

"For us, it's like celebrity is so unobtainable by definition, you know. But what's more common man than dying on hot sauce?" he said.

When Evans and his team set out to "make this funny YouTube sideshow" about celebrities eating hot wings, they had no idea how successful it would become.

"That takes these people who are on such a pedestal and then just knocks them down to the most common man," Evans said. "So we didn't really know that we had lightning in a bottle necessarily for us."

"But these are all unintended consequences," he added. "The hot sauce humanizes people you see people who are always on red carpets in front of flashing bulbs behind, you know, black car windows. And then here they are sweating their faces off, spitting in buckets and then trying to survive this freak show."

Evans said he could "find something a little special" about all of the episodes, but the physical reactions to the fiery flavors on the Scoville Scale – which measures the spiciness of chili peppers -- have been some of his favorites.

"I love when people take laps, which we've had happen all the time," he said. "Sometimes these guys’ll come in and they'll have a vlog camera following them around, and I remember Martin Garrix being like, 'Stop following me,' like when he's like running to the bathroom."

"There's great moments that fans love, like when Russell Brand did an impromptu song on wing No. 10 -- he did a little ode to the super fan of ours that [does the] power rankings, Brett Baker," Evans said.

With each new chicken wing, the heat level of the hot sauce intensifies, which has resulted in some wild and unexpected answers from a handful of famous interviewees.

The round of 10 spicy sauces culminates with the "Hot Ones" signature bottle called "The Last Dab."

"I think that what ends up happening is the hot sauce will take you out of your flight patterns, so if you come in with a game plan, there's that great Mike Tyson quote, 'Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth' -- and that's what the chicken wings do."

He added that his team often calls it "the most uncomfortable comfortable interview show."

PHOTO: Sean Evans visits Build to discuss "Hot Ones" on June 8, 2017, in New York City.
Sean Evans visits Build to discuss "Hot Ones" on June 8, 2017, in New York City.
Mireya Acierto/FilmMagic via Getty Images

"I think that that ends up putting people's guard down and then they end up just you know spilling it," he said.

The sauces have made lips tingle, nostrils flair, foreheads drip with sweat and even sent people in a full on sprint off-set to find relief since the show's inception in 2015.

In nine seasons, Evans' show has also helped put the craft hot sauce market on the map, and off-screen he said he has unintentionally turned into the face of the fiery industry.

"We work with all these independent small batch makers and I think that that's made the craft hot sauce craze in the United States and worldwide explode a little bit," Evans said. "And humbly, I do think 'Hot Ones' is at the center of that storm in a lot of ways ... I think that we've helped take hot sauce and move it into a more mainstream place for sure."

Evans attended the seventh annual hot sauce expo in Brooklyn, New York, earlier this year, where super fans seemed to treat the internet host like royalty.

"I never feel more famous than at the hot sauce expo," he said.

But Evans felt like a lightweight compared to the die-hard pepper-heads who came from all over the country to put their taste buds to the test.

Steve Seabury, the founder of the famed hot sauce event, told ABC News that the goal of the expo is to highlight the flavor of these unique peppers.

"It's definitely about enjoying the taste," he said. "These guys are all making artisanal blends, ingredient driven hot sauces, it's about flavor versus the heat."

The hot sauce industry has ballooned to an almost $1.4 billion industry, with the popular California creation Sriracha leading the way for the condiment empire.

David Tran, the founder and sauce legend behind Sriracha, told ABC News he never expected the brand to get so popular when he started in 1980.

He also revealed the secret ingredient is quite simple, "It's the fresh chili."

"You can make your own better than mine," he added of the sauce that's shipped across the U.S. and to 27 countries.

Tran said during peak pepper season in August, September and October, the factory receives 30 to 40 truckloads everyday filled with nearly 21 tons of peppers from all over Southern California.

The factory produces around 10,000 of the clear bottles with green twist tops per hour.

Now, the brand's popular silkscreen has made its way onto T-shirts, specialty foods, and even onto Evans' hit show "Hot Ones."

"Increasingly, I'll see commercials and every fast food chain has the new spicy fries or spicy this or spicy that and I feel like that is popping up more and more," Evans said. "Humbly I do think 'Hot Ones' is at the center of that storm in a lot of ways. So yeah I think that we've helped take hot sauce and move it into a more mainstream place for sure."