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The Con(tenders): Local comics put drive-through chicken to the test

Profile image for Lucinda Breeding
Lucinda Breeding

Denton comedian Joey Johnson bears all the signs of a man who has been deeply humbled. 

The sheepish grin. Head bowing in defeat. Surrender to the jeers and whoops of the crowd.

Johnson might be the biggest loser of "Chickengate 2017."

The whole thing — a Wednesday night blind taste-test broadcast live on DentonRadio.com (and a big audience watching at a very crowded Bearded Monk) was Johnson's doing. 

On Nov. 29, Denton resident David Eller tried the tenders at Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers. A transplant from Delaware, Eller has heard from a friend that Raising Cane's makes the best chicken tenders. He sampled them and took his opinion to Facebook. "Raising Cane's: Overrated," he declared. His favorite: Chick-fil-A.

Johnson saw it and decided to announce his own opinion.

"This started out as sort of joke ," Johnson said to the crowd that gathered to see what the taste test would bring. "I posted a joke — like three bits on Facebook — about Cane's, then I went to have a drink. I came back to see like 20 comments from [Denton comedian] Javoris James alone."

Johnson is an avowed disciple of  Raising Cane's chicken tenders. James — and a healthy portion of D-FW area comedians — are faithful to Chicken Express. 

Over the course of days, North Texas comics and their friends scrutinized Popeye's, Church's Chicken, Chick-fil-A and KFC, and they sorted them into categories like "trash," "bland," and other superlatives. Hashtags immediately captured the fervor (and fun) the diners felt: #chickenbeef, #chickengate2017, #notmytenders and others. James and his friend, comedian Nick Fields, shot and posted a loud tribute to Chicken Express, complete with cowboy hats, campy animation and twangy music. Johnson earned a tweet from Raising Cane's. 

Dallas-based comedian Lindsay Goldapp speaks during the live podcast of "ChickenGate 2017." Several local comedians gathered at the Bearded Monk on Wednesday in Denton, Texas to have a blind chicken tender taste test to determine the best quality drive-through chicken fingers around.DRC
Dallas-based comedian Lindsay Goldapp speaks during the live podcast of "ChickenGate 2017." Several local comedians gathered at the Bearded Monk on Wednesday in Denton, Texas to have a blind chicken tender taste test to determine the best quality drive-through chicken fingers around.
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Neither side was willing to yield.

So Johnson held court at the local growler bar, inviting members of Team Canes and Team Chicken Express to explain their love of their chosen tender. 

Dallas comedian De De Theriot stumped for Cane's. She recalled her days in Baton Rouge, the birthplace of Cane's.

"We would wait for hours for Cane's," Theriot said. "There would be a line around Tiger Stadium at LSU for Raising Cane's."

Someone in the crowd mentioned Chicken Express. 

"Chicken Express tenders are made of unseasoned white children," Theriot wisecracked, a nod to James and Fields joking that her favorite chicken joint is "neo-colonialism." The crowd roared in response. 

Dallas comedian Lindsay Goldapp, graduate of Chicago's Second City Improv's Conservatory program and managing director of Stomping Ground Comedy Theater, seemed to sneak onto Team Cane's as some sort of double agent, unless she was invited to the stage as a free agent. 

"I try not to get political," Goldapp said. "No, really. This year I decided to stay out of politics — I'm just a mom. But when it comes to chicken, Chick-fil-A has the best sauce. Which is what the issue is with Cane's."

Goldapp professed to be a member of Team Chicken Express.

Chicken Express supporter Nick Fields riles up the crowd in favor of his favorite chicken. DRC
Chicken Express supporter Nick Fields riles up the crowd in favor of his favorite chicken. 
DRC

"We're talking about the chicken tender, which it actually is," she said. "Cane's, which is too crispy, and there is too much breading. I'm there for chicken. I'm not ordering fried breading. Please."

Finally, the team members were seated around tables, where they listened to the rules. Denton comic Taylor Higginbotham, member of Denton comedy troupe E Third (and a vegetarian of nine years) broke down the rules while wearing a referee's shirt, a backwards ballcap and a stern expression. There was to be no talking, no noises of ecstasy or disgust. Taste testers would rate the chicken on a scale from 1 to 10, judging overall "mouth feel," or texture, and taste.  Cellphones were confiscated, and testers could cleanse their palate between samples with a bite of banana, water or a sniff of whole coffee beans in a salt shaker. 

The testers ate a bite-sized piece of chicken tender from six drive-through restaurants: Raising Cane's, Chicken Express, Chick-fil-A, Golden Chick, KFC, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and the ringer — Long John Silvers.

Higginbotham tallied each testers favorite, as well as which fast food joint fell at the bottom of each tester's list. 

Hence Johnson's humiliation. He gave Golden Chick his highest rating. His lowest rating went to the tenders he professed undying loyalty — Cane's. 

"I think this goes to show that sauce really makes a difference," Johnson said to guffaws. 

Theriot gave Cane's her highest rating, and both Fields and Goldapp could identify their favorite tender when blindfolded. James suffered some humiliation when he voted Popeyes as his top tender. 

The results:

Seventh place: KFC

Sixth place: Chick-fil-A

Fifth place: Long John Silvers

Fourth place: Raising Cane's 

Second place (tie): Golden Chick

Second place (tie): Popeyes

First place: Chicken Express

Johnson and the other comics took the results in stride, admitting all of the taste testers almost certainly will hit the drive-through they'd claimed as a favorite in the future.

Joey Johnson, center, laughs as he hears his own results and discovers he doesn't like Raising Cane's as much as he thought. Denton comedian Javoris James, right, enjoys Johnson's humiliation, and David Eller, left, laughs. Several local comedians gathered at the Bearded Monk on Wednesday in Denton, Texas to have a blind  chicken taste test to determine the best quality drive-through chicken around.DRC
Joey Johnson, center, laughs as he hears his own results and discovers he doesn't like Raising Cane's as much as he thought. Denton comedian Javoris James, right, enjoys Johnson's humiliation, and David Eller, left, laughs. Several local comedians gathered at the Bearded Monk on Wednesday in Denton, Texas to have a blind  chicken taste test to determine the best quality drive-through chicken around.
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"What gets me," Johnson said, still wearing a giant gold chain with a gold chicken drumstick dangling from it, "is that of everything I've ever done, out of all the standup gigs I've put together and all the shows I've done, this has gotten the biggest crowd."

Johnson co-hosts Nobody Knows, a weekly show on DentonRadio.com, with local musician and magician Ritchy Flo. Their show airs and streams live at 5:30 p.m. each Wednesday.

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.

FEATURED IMAGE: Local comedian Joey Johnson, a supporter of Raising Cane's, speaks on air for a podcast and video aired live on DentonRadio.com. Several local comedians gathered at the Bearded Monk on Wednesday in Denton to have a blind chicken taste test to determine the best quality drive-through chicken around. Jake King/DRC photograph