Is there an easier job than being an actor? All you have to do is learn hundreds of pages of lines, often in a hurry, and work incredibly long days beneath hot lights and in front of a whole crew of coworkers who are closely watching your every move. If you get good at it, you’ll be surrounded by photographers every time you step out for a shave or a taquito. (Some gas stations call them tornadoes?) Everything you do will happen under a microscope, with countless strangers constantly judging you, their fickle opinions dictating how long your career will last. Sign me up for the easy, stress-free and privileged life of a well-known actor, please!
Well, the free ride’s coming to an end. Zack Bornstein, a comedian, writer and occasional Paste contributor, is going to make you work for your fame, celebrities. Along with the production company Big Breakfast and creator/director Luke Kelly-Clyne, Bornstein brings us the new-ish Comedy Central digital show, My Least Favorite Thing. It twists the typical softball celebrity profile into a kind of punishment, forcing stars like Sam Richardson, Nicole Byer and Jimmy O. Yang to suffer through the things they hate the most in this world while talking about their work and career. It’s part American Gladiators, part Fear Factor, and part The Tonight Show, but the only game Bornstein is playing is one of pain and misery. Sweet, tender, friendly, hilarious misery.
“I love getting to know the real people behind your favorite shows and movies,” Bornstein tells Paste. “We’re all weird, gross humans. I love a format that lifts a curtain, and helps us get honest. Whether it’s running in ice socks and boxing your roommate, or games and karaoke, or getting coffee in a car, or forcing people to eat spicy chicken wings, it’s all a fun way in!”
So far Bornstein has made Richardson exercise in skinny jeans and Byer confront an internet troll face-to-face (and baseball bat-to-face). Nothing beats the particular punishment he put Yang through, though, at least not in Bornstein’s opinion. “It’s hard to beat stripping down and having Jimmy O. Yang clean me in a bucket full of oatmeal and molasses,” he says. “It was one of my favorite moments, because once we got back into the interview, Jimmy really opened up about how he prepared for a dramatic acting role portraying a living person from the Boston bombing in Patriot’s Day, but while scrubbing sticky sauces out of my chest hair at the same time.”
We don’t want you to think that Bornstein and Kelly-Clyne get a kick out of inflicting such discomfort on their subjects, though. Bornstein knows full well how unpleasant this stuff can be, and so, like a gracious host, he’ll often put himself through the wringer, as well. When he forced Richardson to exercise on a treadmill, Bornstein was right beside him on a treadmill of his own. “Our prop guy froze tube socks in an ice bucket overnight, and then Sam Richardson and I had to put them on and run on a treadmill to recreate Detroit winters,” he explains. “The socks were covered in ice cubes. Imagine running on LEGOs, but they’re ice cold, too. That was brutal.”
As brutal as that might be, Bornstein and Kelly-Clyne aren’t in it for the brutality. The goal, as Bornstein describes it, is to disarm his guests so thoroughly that they let their defenses down and act in complete candor. It’s about getting to the person inside the celebrity, stripping them of the calloused outer layer that fame forges around them, and leaving them prone and vulnerable for the whole world to see. It’s about cutting through the bullshit to get to the heart of the matter—and the matters of the heart. If it takes pain to make that possible, so be it.
“Making people do stuff they hate is just the truth serum,” Bornstein reveals. “Doing dishes together, or washing a snake, or running in stiff raw denim jeans—it’s the great equalizer, and it lets us get more honest while having fun.”
Correction, 1:50 p.m. ET, June 21, 2019: Updated to credit Big Breakfast and Luke Kelly-Clyne.
You can watch the first episode of My Least Favorite Thing in the YouTube window above. The full season is available on Comedy Central’s YouTube page.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.