Spencer "Spenny" Rice may be known as the politically correct counter-ego to Kenny Hotz in the hit Canadian comedy "Kenny vs. Spenny," but that isn't the only side of the Kingston-based actor and comedian.
Niagara Now spoke with Spenny ahead of his Saturday, Aug. 21, show at Camp Cataract in Niagara Falls to catch up with the star and find out what he's up to now.
The 59-year-old comedian has spent the better part of the last decade since the end of "Kenny vs. Spenny" pursuing music, creating online content and spending ever crucial time with his family.
Rice is currently preparing to embark on a series of four shows he's calling "Spennaissance Man: A 'Career' Retrospective." He will be performing music, comedy and giving a retrospective of his career through curated clips from "Kenny vs. Spenny" and his films.
“I think it’s going to be more music than comedy,” Rice said.
“It’s always been my struggle as a musician that most people know me for comedy.”
Two-weeks before the shows were set to begin, Rice gave into his agents pressure to include a retrospective of his career in the shows.
He’s been working around the clock to curate clips from "Kenny vs. Spenny" and his documentary films to make that happen, he said.
The show will feature Rice performing acoustic blues in between clips and audience banter.
The famous Canadian is less known for his music than his antics with childhood pal Kenny Hotz. But he has been performing his own songs for over 30 years, he said.
“I think people are surprised by my ability, which is usually the case, and which is always nice because they come in with low expectations unless they already know me," he said.
“I pretty much can surpass that, I’m confident. It’s a labour of love. I’ve been doing it for decades, you know, I love playing bars and having fun.”
When it comes to songwriting he admits it's hard to keep his sense of humour at bay.
“My song writing abilities are, for some reason, lyrically can only go to funny songs. I’ve never quite figured it out but I’m not really a writer of serious songs so that plays into the comedy aspect.”
The Spennaissance tour isn’t the only tour that Rice will be embarking on this year. For the first time ever, Rice and Hotz will be teaming up to take their "Kenny vs. Spenny" live show to the United States in October.
“We’re pretty excited about it. What’s great about it is we don’t have to create new material because we can literally take the last four incarnations of the show we were doing in Canada and pick the best stuff for the American audiences," he said.
Rice said one of the highlights of their live shows involves him giving an audience participant a prostate exam.
“It’s one of the funniest f---ing stand-up schticks I’ve ever seen. It’s gross and everything but it’s so f---ing funny. People love it.”
Rice and Hotz have been friends since childhood. They worked through the 1990s as documentary filmmakers before creating the self-centric "Kenny vs. Spenny" in which the two would compete in a weekly challenge. The winner had the privilege of choosing a humiliation for the loser.
Hotz and Rice’s friendship has had its ups and downs but is currently in a good place.
“We’re doing well. Being on the road and touring is really the only time I see him because we live in different cities. There’s still a lot of conflict on the stage but its mostly verbal," said Rice.
“Without that physical aspect and the pressure of a TV show we can breathe a little and enjoy each others company. We went through all kinds of bad times on that TV show, where we didn’t even talk to each other for a couple of years at one point.”
The agonistic nature of "Kenny vs. Spenny" did not help.
“Partnerships are difficult in the best of circumstances but when you add on to that a contentious relationship with two different personalities competing against each other - it became a lot for the relationship to handle, and that’s normal.”
Rice looks back on the show that made him famous with pride.
“I’m very proud of it. We both sort of hated doing that show, there were a lot of negatives both emotionally and physically. But we knew we had something (unique).”
The two were virtually unknown when the show started and they had little network interference at first. Once its popularity exploded the executives tried to exert more control.
“Kenny could have a tendency of, you know, we could be doing a knitting competition and he would be dressed as Hitler for absolutely no reason,” Rice laughed.
“They just wanted to make sure that if you’re going to dress up as Hitler, make the competition something to do with that.”
The shows controversial and offensive material is something Rice isn’t sure the duo could bring back to television if they were approached to do a revival.
Rice and Hotz are open to doing a revival of "Kenny vs. Spenny" – "but they’re not beating the door down. You’ve got to keep in mind how the culture has changed,” he said.
“Especially in regards to Kenny’s content. He can seem homophobic and racist at times and misogynistic but it’s all his sense of humour. I wouldn’t work with him if he was really like that.”
The duo are not actively pursuing any kind of revival of their hit show.
Most of the scenes from "Kenny vs. Spenny" are authentic.
As the comedy team's straight man, Rice says he was often kept in the dark about the things Hotz was planning to do on the show.
“I think that was one of our best decisions ever because it made those (reactionary) moments very real. He is a devious genius.”
“I had no idea what he was going to do. So when he farts on the staircase and it’s a two minute fart, I had no idea he had been blowing air up his ass,” Rice said in reference to the "Kenny vs. Spenny" episode “Who can Blow the Biggest Fart?”
Rice has also been curating content for his YouTube channel.
“I’ve got two different shows that I do, Sunday night and Monday night. One’s called 'The Web Stream' in which I pick a topic and we deal with comments and guests and all that stuff," he said.
“And then I’ve got a thing called 'Sex with Spenny' which grew out of an advice column I used to write. But it’s a comedy piece because who the hell am I to be giving advice.”
Rice plays a mixture of blues and classic rock but says his musical heart lies with the blues.
He can talk for hours about his favourite blues artists and says one of his goals as a musician is to introduce the blues to modern crowds.
“Blues can so easily get lost in this TikTok age that we live in. I feel like (educating) is a part of what I do," he said.
“People show up because they know me from "Kenny vs. Spenny," so that might be the first time that they’re hearing country blues or acoustic blues.”
“I hope they like it – but I mean I hope they like it beyond just the show and actually go and listen to other blues performers.”
He said his love for the blues started when he was living in Toronto above Albert's Hall, an old blues and jazz venue on the top floor of the late, great Brunswick House, once one of the oldest bars in the city.
“I was there during its blues heyday and I saw everyone you could imagine. I saw Albert Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Healey on stage together.”
Rice has an extensive knowledge of the blues and listed off a myriad of artists he admires, including Lightnin' Hopkins and Vaughan.
“It’s endless. No matter how many I say I’ll forget a million of them,” he said.
Rice, no stranger to fame, recounted several encounters he had with some of the biggest musical artists in pop culture history.
One time he invited blues artist Koko Taylor and her band over to his apartment after they played Albert's Hall.
“They came into my house and they were all over my Jimi Hendrix records, which I found interesting because they were playing hardcore blues with Koko Taylor but they were just all about Jimi Hendrix.”
Another incident involved Rice at a Bob Dylan concert in Toronto with his then-girlfriend. She threw a poem she had written on stage.
“He had all these flowers and stuff that were laid at his feet and he picked up the poem and read it. He started reading it. It was crazy. I called the Toronto Sun the next day and they did a little article on it.”
Rice hasn’t found life during a pandemic to be much different than his normal routine but says it has been difficult for his children.
“Coming out of COVID it’s been especially challenging with the kids. Doing online schooling was really hard, especially for my autistic daughter,” Rice said.
When Rice connected with Niagara Now for an interview he was on the way to the park to spend time with his daughter. He has four kids and lives with two of his daughters, six and eight years old, in Kingston, Ont.
For Rice, lockdown living has been status quo.
“I’m sort of built for a pandemic because I’m not a social animal. I like being at home with my music and my television and my family. So, it really hasn’t been that challenging for me,” he said.
“I’m sympathetic, but I don’t suffer from it.”
He has no patience for anti-vax groups.
“This disbelief in vaccinations is just unbelievable,” he said.
The Spennaissance tour starts in Peterborough on Aug. 18 at the Red Dog and hits Niagara on Aug. 21.
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report