Competitive eating has come a long way in the last few years — there are television shows (Man V. Food, Food Wars), documentaries, even video games. And check one more thing off the list: The "sport" is getting its very own off-off Broadway show called Hot Dogs: the Competitive Eating Musical, brought to you by Kristyn Pomranz and Katherine Steinberg, the creative duo behind Sauce and Co. that wrote and produced last year's NYC Fringe Fest hit, I Can Haz Cheezburger: the MusicLOL.
Taking inspiration from the annual Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Competition at Coney Island, Hot Dogs is set to debut in Manhattan late summer/early fall 2010. But if you're truly curious, you can check out a staged reading in NYC on May 10th. We recently chatted with the Kristyn and Katherine about the genesis of the show, what the production will be like, and the state of competitive eating today.
What is Hot Dogs: The Competitive Eating Musical about?
Kristyn Pomranz: Well I think at the heart of it, you know, it’s about competitive eating. It’s inspired obviously — I hope obviously — by the Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Competition that happens at Coney Island every year.
Katherine Steinberg: I think it’s about the lives of the eaters and the interplay between the relationships of all the eaters. And it’s all sort of leading up to and culminating in our version of a hot dog eating contest.
Are these characters based on actual competitive eaters?
KP: Yeah, they’re based on, you know, sort of the key players in the International Federation of Competitive Eating circuit? Like, you know the greatest eater in America is —oh my goodness, I’m forgetting his real name, I can only think of his character's name?
KS: Oh my god, I can only think of the fake name too – Chestnut?
KP: Joey Chestnut! Joey Chestnut is like the greatest American eater, so in our version we have a guy named Johnny Cashew. And, instead of Kobayashi, we have Adakoshi.
KS: They’re familiar names, but I would say their experiences are completely made up by us.
KP: Completely made up.
KS: There are resemblances to their character archetypes, but we completely invented new personalities and events for them.
KP: We were definitely inspired by them. I mean, I’m a huge competitive eating fan, I’ve gone to Coney Island a bunch of times, and I even —is this embarrassing? —I used to go to other little competitions, like stops on the circuit. So I’m a huge, huge fan of these eaters. We have nothing but respect and love for them and you can see that in these characters that we built, you can tell how much we love these guys. So yes, it’s inspired by the people, but not based on the people.
It seems like competitive eating is getting more popular these days, especially because of shows like Man V. Food and Food Wars. Why do you think that is?
KP: I think that one of the reasons that it’s picking up steam is because of Joey Chestnut. I think that Kobayashi dominated that circuit for so long that people were interested and they thought it was weird, but that was kind of it, because he just seemed untouchable. But when Joey Chestnut brought the mustard belt back to the states, it was interesting because hot dogs are so American. And all of a sudden it was like “Yes, the mustard belt is back, it’s in the states, it’s American, it’s patriotic to love this.” And once he beat Kobayashi, and it sort of became this head-to-head, I mean I think it really did blow up. I think it went from ESPN 2 to ESPN.
It almost sounds like — and this isn’t a great comparison — but, was Joey Chestnut sort of the Tiger Woods of competitive eating? Like he got people to care about the sport?
KP: I think that’s why we’re seeing an up tick in interest in competitive eating. I mean there was that book that came out about competitive eating – Horsemen of the Esophagus? It came out like a few years ago, right when the competition was being turned upside down. I don’t think that could entirely be a coincidence, because this contest has existed for a while, but the in the last five or six years, you heard people talking about it. I went to the contest like two years ago or something? I had to like get a hotel down there so I could get up early enough. And that professional line sitter, the guy who’s at the front of every line, for like the iPod and the iPad and stuff was there – it suddenly went from “Oh that’s weird” to, “Oh that’s something I want to be a part of.” So, I do think that Joey Chestnut had a big hand in that. We kind of talk about that a little bit in our show, but that’s not really the focus of it at all.
Does any of the cast have any experience with competitive eating?
KP: Ha. No, but I wish they did! That should have been part of the casting call – how many hot dogs can you eat, right now!
KS: There will be eating in our show.
Will they actually be eating in some sort of competitive fashion on stage, or will they be eating in some sort of simulated way?
KP: That will be our director’s call. But I imagine there’s no way.
KS: I mean, they have to sing. They can’t really sing with a hot dog in their mouth – or can they?
So, when Hot Dogs: the Musical makes its debut, you will have produced two musicals with fast food themes. Is this some sort of trend you see yourselves continuing on?
KS: And our company’s name is Sauce and Co. So, make of that what you will.
KP: It was totally an accident.
KS: It was an accident, and our first musical was legitimately about the Internet.
KP: We are not trying to pigeonhole ourselves as the fast food musical writers, and I hope that people don’t see us like that.
KS: No, we’re not doing McDonald’s: the Love Story next.
KP: We could, though.
KS: I think that I would characterize us as more like a pop culture company, I just think we’re really invested in what’s going on right now, and I think we find a lot of humor in things that are popular, and we love it. It’s always like a loving homage.
What's the best eating competition that you’ve been to?
KP: Well, let’s see. I would have to say, I guess I mean I feel like it would be wrong not to say that Nathan’s is the best. Nathan’s is the best, period. You can’t do better than that. That is the event of a lifetime. You should fly in from San Francisco to do that if you’ve never done that.
Why is that? Is it because of the theatrical nature of it, or the history, or because that's where the competitive eating stars come out?
KP: To me, if you’re going to experience competitive eating, that’s the way to do it. It is the largest, or the most largely attended competition in the U.S.. And it is, of all the major players, the biggest prize you can win. I’m not sure about internationally, but stateside, that is the biggest prize you can win. It’s like, to me, the Nathan’s hot dog eating competition is more “New York” than like the Empire State Building. It’s something about the fact that 60,000 people go to Coney Island for it. I mean, who goes to Coney Island, ever? People go there during the summer a little bit to ride the Cyclone, if it hasn’t been shut down yet. Suddenly there’s one day, the 4th of July, the most American day of the year, with all these people showing up to Coney island. You can’t even move, you can’t even breathe, and everyone has these – I don’t even know what you call them, these noisemakers. And people are just going bonkers, because people are just eating as many hot dogs as they can in ten minutes. Like, just chew on that for a second. That is just so ridiculous. There is nothing more ridiculous than that. Sort of at the heart of it, I’m a Kobayashi fan, but at the end of the day, we’re all rooting for Joey Chestnut because we’re all American. I’ve never felt so patriotic in all my life.
To purchase tickets to one of the staged readings of Hot Dogs: The Competitive Eating Musical in NYC on May 10th, head over to Smart Tix.