When Canadian comedian Spencer Rice picks up the phone at his home in Kingston, Ontario to talk about his upcoming shows in B.C., another Canadian comedian is the first topic of conversation. Just a day earlier beloved Canuck comic Norm Macdonald had passed away, much to the dismay of his devoted fans, who weren't aware that he'd been battling cancer for years. Earlier that morning Rice had done an interview with a Calgary radio station about Macdonald, who he'd once hung out with in Santa Monica.
"We had a mutual friend," says a downcast-sounding Rice. "I'd seen him live several times, and yeah—I was surprised and upset by that news, because like everybody else I had no idea that he was ill. In fact I thought he was working, and I think he was working pretty much up till the end with his Netflix show. And I think he was even planning tours still.
"Sarah Silverman tweeted that he is his own genre within comedy," adds Rice, "and I kind of agree with her. He was very experimental, and as a comedian myself I try to understand the math of people's acts, and his was very interesting and complicated in many ways. So yeah, [his death is a] terrible blow to the comedy world."
Rice's own comedy was inspired by the work of edgy artists like Macdonald and Silverman—not to mention Richard Pryor, Andy Kaufman, Tom Green, and Sam Kinison. He's taking his latest show, Spennaissance Man, on the road to Western Canada, with six B.C. dates scheduled.
"It's basically a comedy show where I talk to the audience, obviously, and I show clips of my career. I guess the modus operandi, creatively, is to sort of get out from under the reputation garnered for myself from Kenny vs. Spenny. There's some comedic songs and the clips and my version of standup."
When things like a worldwide pandemic don't slow him down, Rice does quite a bit of touring—so much so that his previous gigs are "a bit of a blur". That's was definitely the case with his last appearance in Vancouver, when he got too baked to boogie.
"The last time I performed in Vancouver I was on tour with a couple of the bit players from the Trailer Park Boys," he recalls, "and my show was interesting in that I was given what's called a—I don't know if you smoke dope, I'm not a big dope smoker—but I was given what's called a 'dab'. And they kinda screwed me and gave me a two-gram dab in one inhale, and I couldn't play guitar because I was so high. It was awful. And I was pretty upset about it, but I ended up walking on stage and just telling the whole story about how I got 'dabbed', and that seemed to be enough."
For those who may not be aware of the Spencer Rice story, he's best known for costarring with Kenny Hotz in the aforementioned Kenny vs. Spenny, the cult Canadian comedy show they created, which ran for six seasons, first on CBC Television in 2003 and then on Showcase from 2005 to 2010. The format of the show had lifelong friends Rice and Hotz facing each other in various lamebrained competitions, with the loser of each episode having to perform an act of humiliation, usually selected by the winner. The show was often shot inside the house they shared in their hometown of Toronto.
Since Kenny vs. Spenny ended, Rice has been involved with several other projects, including the 2011 Showcase series Single White Spenny, 2013's documentary series X-Rayted, and last year's quarantine-shot CBC Gem offering, Kenny and Spenny Paldemic Special. He had to keep working, because it wasn't as if he could just rest on his laurels and those fat stacks of Kenny vs. Spenny cash.
"Without getting too into my personal life," he explains, "I had some issues with money and a divorce and I'm not as wealthy as people think I am or what the internet says. But I did make a lotta money. Lawyers got a lot of it, but regardless, I just love working in the creative world, so it doesn't really make a difference to me. Although I'd love to have some of that money back."
When it comes to explaining the popularity of Kenny vs. Spenny, Rice has a pretty good idea what drew people to it in the first place—and kept them coming back.
"I think it works almost subliminally on sort of the good-versus-evil battle," he says, "and people relating to friends they have that might be a little like me or a little like Kenny. And then of course it was funny. And it was funny, I think, because both Kenny and I are comedy nerds who grew up watching a lot of British comedy, being Canadian, and then SCTV and just all of the comedy that we got to ingest. I guess we put it into our computer banks in our brains and we discovered that we were a real-life comedy duo in terms of he was sort of the wild- and I was sort of the straight-man. And it wasn't an act. We really were those guys, which is good—and pathetic at the same time."
When asked to name his favourite Kenny vs. Spenny episodes, Rice points to "Who Can Blow the Biggest Fart?", "Who Can Keep a Dead Octopus on Their Head the Longest?", and "Who Can Stay Naked the Longest?". "Those three could go toe-to-toe with any comedy shows in the history of television," he claims. As far as which humiliation was the worst experience for him, dedicated KvsS fans would be forgiven for thinking that the one where Spenny has the bacterial scrapings from Kenny's tongue transferred to his might be top of the list.
But they'd be wrong.
"I obviously get this question a lot," says Rice. "And you have to take into consideration that in the early years I wasn't accustomed to being on TV—never mind doing a humiliating act on television. So there was one episode, I don't remember the competition, but I lost--or he cheated, that's a whole other argument—anyways I had to do the humiliation and they took me up to this little dingy apartment and there was a transvestite who tied me up to a rack and then he whipped me.
"And I just remember.. it was very early on in the series, and I'm in my underwear, strapped to this thing like a crucifix, and we've got this guy—a man with a wig and dress on, just whipping me—and then Kenny says 'I'm gonna pull your underwear off'. There were cameras there, obviously, and I was just absolutely terrified. He didn't do it, but he pretended to, and I got so upset that I broke the guy's rack, which I think cost about two-thousand dollars to replace."
Those who pine for the days of Spenny's rack-busting ways will just have to keep on pining, it seems. The 58-year-old funnyman offers no good news when asked when the next season of Kenny vs. Spenny starts shooting.
"Well we always thought it would be hilarious if we're in our seventies or eighties and we're still running around in our underwear doing stupid competitions, but, you know, the reality is that people—and I know this from being on social media for years—they seem to think that we can control things. That all we have to do is want to do a series and we can make it happen. Nothing could be further from the truth.
"You have to remember," he adds, "society has changed, and show business has changed a lot since we've been off the air. There's been the Me Too movement, all the snowflakes and the justice warriors. That's another huge thing, for me, the sort of muzzling of comedians really makes me angry. I've always liked edgy comedy. And a lot of the stuff we did, I'm not so sure any network would want to risk airing it."
The Spennaissance Man tour includes stops at the American in Vancouver on September 28, the White Hart Public House in Surrey on September 29, the Main Street Nightclub in Chilliwack on September 30, Darcy's Pub in Victoria on October 1, the Queen's in Nanaimo on October 2, and Buffalo Bill's in Whistler on October 3.