Toronto Through the Eyes of Kenny vs. Spenny

Ask the average twentysomething Canadian who Tommy Douglas was and, chances are, you will be met with a blank stare. Shame.

Mention to the same doltish dunce, however, the names Kenny and Spenny and, more likely than not, you will be greeted with enthusiastic blabber about two of our nation's most (in)famous citizens.

"Dude, remember that time Spenny got covered in cow shit?"
"Yo, what about the first episode of season two, when Spenny ate Kenny's puke? That was awesome!"
"No, man, the best was when Spenny had to bite off Kenny's toenail. Now, that was cool."

It seems like everyone has a favourite tale about these two hometown heroes. ("We're Toronto boys, born and raised," they boast.) Forget Margaret Atwood, forget Glenn Gould, forget Leonard Cohen, and say hello to Canada's current red-hot exports: a guy (Kenny) who, on their show just last week, ingested his best friend's (Spenny's) freshly harvested snot balls. (Though, to be fair, not all famed Canadian exports have us beaming with pride: Vegas showgirl--errr, songstress--Celine Dion comes to mind.)

The primer for those who have been living under a rock for the past few years: Kenneth Hotz and Spencer Rice are two best friends with a Gemini-nominated TV show, Kenny vs. Spenny. Each episode, the childhood pals engage in a competition of sorts--past ones have included "who do old people like more" and "who can kiss more women". The loser then endures a punishment of a degrading and/or humiliating nature, as chosen by the victor.

The show, while simple in premise, has skyrocketed in popularity due to the humdinger gags and hilarious interactions between the two friends. Kenny is Machiavelli reborn and delights in scheming and finagling his way to supremacy--his W-L-D record is 24-14-3--then torturing Spenny in the most extreme of ways. Spenny, a nervous breakdown waiting to happen, struggles to be Virtue personified, though frustration has led him, at times, stoop to Kenny's level. Indeed, largest selling format series in Canadian history has even spawned imitations abroad: Ed vs. Spencer in the UK and Elton vs. Simon in Germany. Yet, despite all the international attention, Kenny and Spenny remain steadfast Toronto lads at heart.

"I grew up in downtown Toronto, Spenny grew up in The Barn," Kenny says, a matter-of-factly, over a cup o' joe at the Bloor Street Diner.

I had assumed the rancor between the two friends were simply fabricated--or, at the very least, hammed up--for the camera. "The Barn?" I ask innocently.

"Yeah, you know. The Barn," Kenny sneers. "That gay joint on Church and Granby, where all the homosexuals hang out. It's a famous gay institution, Spenny loves it."

Spenny refuses to look in the direction of his best friend. "Actually, I grew up in Rosedale in the Summerhill/Yonge area," he explains patiently. "Kenny often likes to say things that aren't true."

"Bullshit. Spenny doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about," Kenny retorts.

And so this goes, back and forth, for the next hour. Juvenile? Perhaps. Comical and entertaining? Most definitely. I marvel at the two characters sitting before me: Kenny, always the instigator, merrily jabbing and poking his best friends with the harshest of words; and Spenny, trying so very hard to maintain his cool despite the snide name-calling and unremitting provocations. Why does he put up with so much?

"Sometimes, when I walk down the street and someone yells, 'Hey you, you're a loser,' I feel hurt. But then I realize that there's a reason that I'm doing the show the way I do. That's why I put up with all the shit from Kenny: I want to show people that with goodness and virtue, you can win the game. Playing by the rules is important, and cheating is unnecessary. That's what keeps me going, knowing that I'm sending out this important message. That's why I still do the show."

While these are noble words, I question the sincerity behind them. Spenny loses the majority of the competitions and usually ends up looking like a wretched fool by episode's end. If anything, he's a shining argument against playing by the rules. I arch my eyebrows and glance over at Kenny, who is chuckling to himself. I look back at Spenny, searching for a hint of a smile, just a crack. No such luck--the man is dead serious.

These days, the boys divide their time between Los Angeles--"It's great there, all our friends are these really famous people," Kenny boasts--and Toronto, where they film the series. Their set is located in Cabbagetown.

"Why? Well because we like cabbages," deadpans Kenny. "I just love cabbage."

"It's a nice area," Spenny offers. I think I see a half-smile.

"Spenny doesn't know what he's talking about. Ignore him," Kenny snaps. The inkling of a smile I saw on Spenny instantly fades. "It's actually in the bad area, because, in the past, so many neighbours complained about us living next to them. But now, we're amongst murderers and crackheads. It's fucking great. Crackheads don't complain. They're probably the only people that won't complain about us."

I look back at Spenny, waiting for a response. He gives a resigned sigh. "What's the point of me saying anything anyway? You're just going to take Kenny's side and use all his quotes, anyway."

My heart breaks for the little muffin. And things don't get better for him as the two discuss their favourite T-dot gems...


Kenny and Spenny on Toronto

My favourite place...

...for breakfast:

Spenny: I eat fruit for breakfast so it doesn't really matter. But if I'm forced to eat a more substantial breakfast, I like The Senator (249 Victoria, 416.364.7517) and cold Chinese food leftovers.

Kenny: Spenny's lame when it comes to breakfast and eating out. But I, well I do a lot of eating out, but not at restaurants. [Kenny laughs. I muster a grin. Spenny rolls his eyes.] I love Zoulpy's (244 King E, 416.594.3737). Everything is the best there, I love it. I get the club house sandwich with only two slices of bread and a Caesar salad. It's so awesome.

...for lunch or dinner:

Spenny: There are so many great places to eat in Toronto. Lee Garden (331 Spadina, 416.593.9524), Zoulpy's, House of Chan (876 Eglinton W, 416.781.5575), Sushi Inn (120 Cumberland, 416.923.9992), California Sandwiches (various locations), Shanghai Cowgirl (538 Queen W, 416.203.6623), Nataraj (394 Bloor W, 416.928.2925), Scaccia (55 Bloor W, 416.963.9864), Terroni (various locations)...

Kenny: Agreed. Toronto just has so, so many great places to eat. Favourites...let me think. I like having lunch at The Coffee Mill (99 Yorkville, 416.920.2108)--I like my wieners with cabbage salad. For dinner, I love Lee Garden, it's the best. I get everything there, I get everything and anything I can."


Spenny: Artful Dodger Pub (12 Isabella, 416.964.9511), Graffiti's (170 Baldwin, 416.506.6699), Hemingways (142 Cumberland, 416.968.2828), to name a few.

Kenny: Yeah, those are alright. Personally, I like more happening places and I like pubs with really good beer. I like Belgian beer and Guinness. The Queen West area is good. I like The Beaconsfield (1154 Queen W, 416.516.2550) and Czehoski (678 Queen W, 416.366.6787).


Spenny: Not in this lifetime.

Kenny: Please excuse Spenny. He's just antisocial and doesn't like to go out.

Spenny: No, I just like to do other things with my time.

Kenny: No, he's just antisocial. Me, I have a lot of friends and I love to go out. I try to drag Spenny along sometimes but he doesn't like to. He's just so damn antisocial. Now, for dancing? Well, I don't dance anymore; like, I'll only dance when I'm really, really drunk. When that happens, Supermarket is great. But otherwise, nah. I'm just getting too old and I don't do crazy drugs anymore. I stopped doing ecstasy.

blogTO: Yeah, having some of that serotonin thing might come in handy some day...

Kenny: Exactly That's why I stopped after about the 40th time. And, these days, I like actually tasting food.

...to unwind:

Kenny: Spenny's mom's house. With his grandma watching.

Spenny: Don't talk about my mom like that.

Kenny: Okay, fine, just your grandma.

Spenny: Stop it.

Kenny: You know she likes it.

Spenny: [Making a pointed effort to ignore Kenny] To unwind, I like my bath tub, pubs, massages--the legal kind--and long walks with my iPod.

Kenny: Bullshit. The mental hospital is where Spenny goes to unwind. I go to my living room to play Xbox a lot, but Spenny, nah...he goes to the Queen Street mental centre. I visit him sometimes because I'm just a good friend like that.

...to get inspired:

Spenny: I like taking long walks--Toronto is really great for walking around. I also enjoy reading books, watching movies, therapy and a good night's sleep.

Kenny: I get inspired almost anywhere. I love Kensington Market.

Everyone should know about:

Spenny: The late, great Paul Rimstead, all the incredible restaurants Toronto has to offer, Chippy's fries and curry gravy, California Sandwiches and Kensington Market.

Kenny: Way to sound like a boring guide book. Me, I love coffee and Ideal Coffee (84 Nassau, 416.364.7700) and The Bulldog (89 Granby, 416.606. BARK) are both great. Yeah, tell people about those.

Biggest pet peeve about Toronto:

Spenny: Winter

Kenny: I don't know why so many people go to Starbucks and Tim Horton's when there's so many great coffee baristas in Toronto.

My ideal day in Toronto:

Spenny: I would have nothing to do but wander all over the city on foot, meeting up with friends, and eating and drinking all along the way.

Kenny: I love Yonge Street, I grew up on Yonge Street. So my ideal day would be walking down Yonge Street with Spenny, Bloor to Queen, and then seeing him get hit by a car. That'd be great.

Finish the sentence "Toronto is...":

Spenny: Home.

Kenny: Lightening up.

Kenny vs. Spenny airs on Showcase Thursdays at 9:30 pm ET/PT. A glimpse of the competitions in upcoming episodes:

November 2, 2006: Who can wear a dead octopus on their head the longest?
November, 9, 2006: Who can win a 10 mile races?
November, 16, 2006: Who can make a better porno?
November, 23, 2006: Who can lift more weight with their genitals?
November, 30, 2006: Who can produce more semen?

For a full listing of this season's episodes, see the Kenny vs. Spenny website.

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