Home Blog 'Hot Ones,' Bobbi Althoff: Why we love interviews that make us cringe – USA TODAY

'Hot Ones,' Bobbi Althoff: Why we love interviews that make us cringe – USA TODAY

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Cardi B crying while eating a painfully spicy chicken wing. Jack Harlow dodging a pointed question about his type while sipping a juice box. Mark Cuban attempting a Pittsburgh accent.
If you’ve kept up with celebrity media tours over the last few years, you’ve likely come across interview shows like “Hot Ones,” hosted by Sean Evans; “The Really Good Podcast” by Bobbi Althoff (next interviewing Scarlett Johansson); or Amelia Dimoldenberg’s “Chicken Shop Date.” Though these shows’ setups vary, their strategy seems the same: Place a celebrity in an extremely awkward situation and capture as many candid moments as possible.
Cringeworthy clips from these shows regularly go viral on TikTok and Instagram, begging the question: What is it about celebrities and excruciating awkwardness that makes us feel like we can’t look away?
“There’s a reason we are obsessed with this, and much of it has to do with the fact that, whether we mean to or not, we put celebrities on a pedestal,” says Henna Pryor, a workplace performance expert and author of “Good Awkward: How to Embrace the Embarrassing and Celebrate the Cringe to Become The Bravest You.” “From where we sit, they tend to be extremely good looking, extremely successful. They’ve got talent that drips from the sky … There’s something very relatable and real about seeing them in their element and remembering they’re human.”
Pryor defines awkwardness as the emotion experienced when the person we believe we are isn’t the person who is being perceived.
This gap between the idea of the self versus the true self is especially compelling when observed in celebrities, she says, because we feel we’re getting a glimpse into who a star really is behind their carefully crafted persona.
“For a moment in time, that external reality doesn’t match the identity we painted for them, and we find that fascinating,” she says.
Ty Tashiro, a psychologist and author of “Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome,” says awkwardness can also be instructional and therefore captivating. By watching other people’s social blunders, he says, we learn what not to do.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to learn about social life and social expectations and social behavior without having to risk any of our social capital,” he says. “It’s a real advantage to be able to learn vicariously from watching other people’s awkward moments.”
People love seeing celebrities in uncomfortable situations in particular, he says, because of a phenomenon called downward social comparison. Tashiro describes this as feeling better about oneself from seeing another person feel worse.
“Hot Ones,” which shows celebrities struggling to eat chicken wings dipped in extraordinarily spicy hot sauce, capitalizes on this to great effect, he says.
“At that moment, we’re actually doing better than the celebrity is,” he says. “Something feels a little bit extra sweet about that.”
In case you missed it: Justin Timberlake dishes on iconic ‘It’s gonna be me’ meme on NSYNC’s ‘Hot Ones’
Though intentionally awkward interviews may appear to put celebrities in an unflattering light, they actually do just the opposite, says Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist and author of “How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety.” By showing their awkward side, celebrities give the impression of vulnerability, which endears them to fans even more.
As a result, a sweaty interview over hot wings may do more to bolster a celebrity’s public profile than a traditional news interview.
“When the guests put themselves in these situations and are either sweating profusely or trying to get through this super awkward interview, it’s vulnerable,” Hendriksen says. “What they’re doing is signaling we are the same, the celebrity and the viewers, because who among us hasn’t tried to play it cool or act casual when we’re suffering a little? Who hasn’t been stuck in an awkward conversation that has no graceful way out?”
Awkward interviews are also more prone to go viral, because they fit into the unfiltered aesthetic that’s currently popular on social media.
“We went through a very perfectionistic, self-presentational phase,” Hendriksen says. “The Gen-Z aesthetic is deliberately weird and ugly and cringe-y as the pendulum just swings the other way. I think we’re all sick of perfection and want to see some authenticity.”
Whether cringe interviews are a passing fad or here to say remains to be seen; regardless, Tashiro hopes that, in the meantime, they can empower all of us to abandon perfection and embrace our true selves − even if doing so feels a little awkward.
“There’s so much pressure in celebrity culture or even influencer culture these days to present this perfect self to the rest of the world. As we know, a lot of people really suffer under that kind of pressure,” he says. “I think it’s great, whether it’s in these shows or podcasts, to create these more genuine and real moments.”

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