Masochistic local YouTube series Spicy News—which invites comedians to power through a jokey news monologue after eating a habanero pepper—has a high-profile live gig at Bumbershoot next week, and to prepare they're hosting a dry run tomorrow night at the Tonic.
I sat down with Spicy News founder Craig May to talk about what makes a segment funny, what audiences can expect from the live show, and whether eating raw peppers ever gets any easier.
MERCURY What inspired you to start Spicy News?
MAY: I wanted to be doing something just so banal that no one would care about it, and be in horrible pain while doing it. It was originally gonna be karaoke, me eating a pepper and filming myself doing karaoke, but I was very self-conscious about singing in front of people, so I thought I might as well read something. The first couple videos are very bare bones, they don't have any jokes, it's just me sitting in front of a camera reading stories.
Then a couple friends of mine decided we'd pool our resources and… it became a thing. It became this hazing thing for Portland comics and comics who come to Portland.
How did you decide what pepper to use?
We wanted something that would definitely cause a reaction. A habanero has a very long-lasting reaction. I know what it feels like, so I apologize to the comics every time afterward, but they always end up thanking me.
What kind of reaction is the funniest?
I like it when they're scream-talking, basically. It's funnier when you get a vocal reaction and it actually affects their speech. You get a few seconds of them talking normally, so you get a good contrast. Timmy Williams was really great. He ended up like, takng off his shirt and was bent over the table. Danny Felts decided to eat two of them and you could barely understand him.
Have any comics totally kept it together?
Ron Funches. He said it was affecting him but nobody could tell. He seemed chill the entire time.
Is there anyone you were particularly excited to have on the show?
Kyle Kinane. I was a fan of that guy before I'd even [starting doing] standup comedy, and if you'd ever have told me I'd be doing a video with him I'd never have believed you. That was an unrealistic day. But we've become acquainted now, and it's been great.
How do you approach prospective guests?
We have a letter that we send out, a letter of intent. Usually once they find out what it’s about, that it’s just for the laughs, they’re excited to do it. But there are some comics that just aren't up for taking the pepper.
Are you doing any damage to yourself, eating peppers all the time?
There's an episode of The Simpsons where Homer takes a cannon ball to the gut—sometimes I feel like that's happening to me. I just want to believe that I'm okay. It's like once every couple months, it's not like I'm doing it constantly.
Does eating them ever get easier?
Every time, it hurts. My friends will look for the darker orange ones, because those are the spicier ones.
What do you have planned for your show at the Tonic?
We're gonna be doing a live Spicy News, a live interview, we're gonna be trying out some new things that we hope are going to work, and if they do we're going to do them for the Bumbershoot show. And standup as well, Spicy Standup. We tried that up at the Seattle Underground and it was well received. If people aren't into the jokes, they're into seeing you hurt yourself.
Spicy News takes over the Weekly Recurring Humor Night tomorrow night at the Tonic, 9:30 pm, $3-5 suggested donation