Ever since I was young, I have loved anything that scares me. From watching Tales From The Crypt to convincing my fourth-grade class there was an evil doll living under our school, it’s always been my thing. However, this thing hasn’t always been met with resounding positivity. In fact, some people still think it’s strange to marathon horror films all year long and choose Black Christmas over Miracle On 34th Street, and then there’s the LAST PODCAST ON THE LEFT — an outlet that satiates a need for said thing with morbid comic relief.
Every week, comedians Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, and Henry Zebrowski use their podcast to dig into the darkest corners of history. Their research-driven show is a dark but light, gruesome but hysterical take on serial killers, war crimes, alien abductions, werewolves, and whatever seemingly took place with the Waco siege of 1993 and much more. What the guys do best is “defang the monsters” — shattering the preconceived notions that Netflix documentaries and mainstream media continue to shell out while focusing on who they really are: lonely, pathetic humans who more than likely smell like spilled milk.
To figure out if they are really worth crying over, we recently caught up with the Brothers Grimm of Last Podcast in Toronto to take a thorough deep dive into everything “true crime”.
How would you describe the podcast to someone who has never listened to an episode?
Henry Zebrowski: I’d say it’s difficult. It’s an expert level show where you have to be at an expert level to know not to pull the wheel of your car into oncoming traffic.
Ben Kissel: I think it’s a content-driven show; it’s an intellectual show and it’s obviously very dark in nature. It’s the perfect podcast for anyone who is interested in true crime.
Henry: We’re gallows humour. We are below dark comedy in terms of the colour scale — like in terms of how bleak a thing could possibly be while joking about it.
Ben: The thing is we do learn from it as well. That’s the key.
Henry: That’s where we get ya.
You don’t know you’re necessarily learning something.
Henry: Exactly. All of a sudden you’re saying facts that make you an isolated human being but then there’s more and more people out there that are interested in this information. So actually it’s a great conversation starter for me, warranted it’s also a conversation-ender. But then those are usually people I don’t want to talk to anyway.
Ben: I’ve found there are so many people who are into true crime and they were just not coming out of the woodwork for such a long time, so this has been an opportunity for those people who might have felt isolated in their fascination with all things macabre to come out and actually find a community. It’s for those people who maybe if you’re… a parent trying to reach your son…
Henry: Oh god, don’t — you sound like my mother. My mother listens to the podcast and is like (uses Queens, NY accent), “You never tell me anything. I can’t understand you so I listen to your show.”
Ben: It’s just a great way to get information on true crime and it’s palatable and funny and full of characters.
Henry: The whole point is we try to make fun of a very scary topic and what we talk about all the time. We are “de-fanging” a monster and we’re trying to do it in a different way because a lot of true crime is very, very serious.
Ben: You know, that seriousness almost props up these serial killers. It makes them the monsters and makes them superhuman but in reality, they are all such losers. David Berkowitz smelled like rotten milk. They are all so lonely. They’re the world’s saddest ninjas.
Henry: That’s why they had to murder because they couldn’t make friends. Isn’t that sad?
They had to do something.
Henry: Exactly. They had to equalize.
Ben: Especially with Henry’s characters, that’s how we bring them back down to earth and make them look as pathetic as they really are.
I was actually just listening to the Ed Gein episodes and they are truly hilarious.
Henry: I didn’t realize how much there was to him until we really got into that episode and then you start realizing some crazy things. I spoke to a taxidermist about how difficult it would be to work with human skin; in the way you would know that would be to work with pig skin because it’s very similar. That’s what they use for tattoo school, like big chunks of pig meat.
Ben: Do they tattoo little people on the chunks of meat?
Henry: That’s cute. But apparently to do what he did, he’d have to be very skilled.
It was tough to make a nipple belt.
Ben: Not easy at all. It’s really a show for people if they are scared of the subject matter. It’s great for them because as Henry said, it defangs these monsters. It makes them laughable. If you’re into it, you are just gonna love it and you might enjoy the more, cryptic side of it as well.
Henry: We’re also very immature, so you have to have a pretty low bar of what you’re willing to accept as content.
Ben: Because there are so many episodes there really is something for everyone. Honestly, with our 9/11 episodes and stuff, if you are more into history and a very serious person, you could just listen to that Part 1 episode and it would be moving and compelling content.
Henry: Every once in awhile, I get faced with a kid who is 12 or 13 and is like, “I love LPOTL” and I have to be like, “You shouldn’t listen to that”. But honestly, that’s what the show is built for. It’s built for a 10-year-old.
I guess I have the sense of humor of a 10-year-old then.
Henry: That’s the only thing I laugh at anymore.
Ben: But that was back in the day — “pre-internet” days — and we didn’t realize it was normal to laugh at horror movies like they were the funniest things since Tommy Boy or whatever.
Henry: Still, when I go to see horror movies alone, I cackle to myself and then everyone looks at me and I’m like, “Fuck you. You tell me? You tell me what! Policing my emotions.”
Ben: Like Robert DeNiro in… what’s that movie?
Henry: Taxi Driver. When he takes the chick to the horror movie on a date.
How did the podcast come to be? Were you playing around with any other ideas?
Ben: Well, it was Cave Comedy Radio and now it’s Last Podcast Network. Marcus and I started a podcast, The Round Table of Gentlemen, and then that’s just weird stories. Like disgusting, completely lewd. I wouldn’t even call that one “edutainment”.
Henry: No no no no.
Ben: You might get dumber listening to that one but it’s a lot of fun. Then we did our political show, Abe Lincoln’s Top Hat, because politics are a passion of mine. Then we bonded over serial killers. Marcus and I bonded over Cannibal Holocaust, a movie we watched. That’s why it’s called Last Podcast On The Left because it’s a play on The Last House On The Left. It was really more about horror movies at the start. Then Henry was like, “I’m coming on the show”, and that sort of changed everything.
Henry: We were friends for many years doing comedy in New York and then I just put myself on the show.
You’re just like, “I’m coming in”.
Henry: I just really wanted to do the show and then it became about really horrifying things.
Ben: I think it was around episode 50, the “Toybox Killer” episode. That’s when it all changed.
That was such a fucked up episode.
Ben: It scarred me. Henry’s impression of him… first of all, we were in a room the size of this table. It was like 5×5 and Henry was shirtless. As soon as Henry gets close to hot, he’s preemptively like, “I will be hot in five minutes, time to take it off”.
Henry: That’s just how I think.
Ben: So when Henry started doing that episode, we got into such great details about everything that I didn’t want to go into. I thought that was a turning point for us — when we realized we were going to go there. It made me uncomfortable, but you know, that’s perfect for the roles we all share on the show. If all three of us were super comfortable with the disgusting situations that arise in that episode and many other episodes, then it would be a problem.
Henry: There a parts of that speech the Toybox Killer makes that are still in my mind. I found out they actually do have the audio recording of it. You can get it as it’s on YouTube. So you could just watch it and I’ll tell ya — he sounds exactly how you think he would sound.
I was listening to that episode at work and I was like, “No no no, I have to turn this off”.
Henry: If I have to look at Helen all day, I can’t be listening to this.
Ben: So yeah, that is kind of like how it all started, and then Marcus really got invested in the research aspect of it. You know, just about 40 hours of research a week and about a 10-page outline. It wasn’t an overnight thing by any means. There was about a good year and a half before we kind of hit our stride.
Marcus: No, longer than that because Toybox Killer was episode 63.
Ben: That was episode 63? I thought it was 50.
Marcus: Nah, it was around the 60s. BTK was around the 50s. But yeah, it was about two years because our recording schedule was pretty sporadic at the beginning.
Henry: Yeah, we would just kind of like put it out whenever. But then once we got consistent that’s what really grew the show. And a part of it was that we had an excuse to become experts in this shit and that’s what I kind of wanted — an excuse to become a total unlovable person.
Marcus: For me it was the episode on the Satanic Panic. That was the first episode where I kind of brought a book into it. I found that I really loved it and that it was really fun to read up on this stuff and tell the story in the way we wanted to tell it.
Ben: We’re going to cover the West Memphis Three very soon, which I cannot wait for.
Henry: We’re doing Robert Pickton next and it is going to be good. That’s for your people, for your country [Canada].
You guys have turned your childhood predilections into what some people would call a “unique” career. When did you realize you could make this a thing?
Ben: Well, it didn’t exist before. So we created this entire comedy horror genre in the way that we do it.
Henry: It’s honestly just a natural extension of the spook show hosts that have always existed. It’s very similar. In my mind, we are three versions of the Cryptkeeper in terms of that it’s an old troupe, it’s if the guy from Faces Of Death was real, and that it started off as this VHS that was passed around and then it got bought and purchased into a series of things that showed “real death”. Like people actually dying and committing suicide and on it there was this announcer, and what would happen is that a guy would jump off a roof and the announcer would go “That last step was a doozy”. Like those really morbid, late-night whacked out stories.
Marcus: It’s like “World’s Greatest Accidents” and shit like that, that’s on TV now. That was the really insane version of it.
Ben: Yeah, they would sell those at Family Video and Hollywood Video and places like that.
Henry: I remember because they used to keep it with the porn.
Ben: Which is like, why would you want to cross those two streams? How do we really create a sociopath? Well, put these fucked up videos next to Big Butts Of Texas.
Henry: I still don’t know if it’s a thing or not. I’m still constantly surprised.
Ben: There have been other offshoots and different versions of what we’ve done, but we’ve been the first ones to do it. And our show is without a doubt the most heavily researched one.
Marcus: I also think when we finally realized that people were really paying attention is when we started doing these live shows. We’ve been touring now for about a year and a half and the thing is we were doing New York shows for a long time. It’s been like two or three years but it’s New York and no one there really gives a shit about anything.
Ben: I mean we were selling out and everything but it’s just pulling teeth in New York because everyone thinks they should be the ones onstage.
Marcus: But then we went to Baltimore and did a room of 75 people and we sold it out and we went to do it and we were used to doing New York shows where people don’t even acknowledge our existence. There were people lined up out the door who were genuinely excited to meet us and that was really the first time we thought, “Man, like maybe this is something that people really care about and are really into”.
Ben: For me, as of this year I was able to quit my job. I was producing a show called Red Eye for Fox News in 2016 and I was a dog nanny for seven years, and then this was the first year where we got to make a full living off of “talking”, which is a total dream come true.
Is there a topic you haven’t covered on the podcast yet that you’re dying to talk about?
Ben: Well, we will never cover this one topic. I don’t even want to mention their names.
Marcus: The Cartel.
Ben: We will never do the Cartel because they just murder people if you say something negative about them on Twitter. So I love the Cartel. I’m a big fan of the Cartel.
Henry: We love the Cartel. If there’s a live show they want us to do in Juárez, we’ll be there.
Ben: Free VIP passes to all Cartel members. That’s the only one Marcus was about halfway through researching and then he was like, “No, we can’t do this”.
Marcus: I was like, “Sorry guys, gotta pull the plug. Gotta do a creepypasta episode instead”.
Well, today I read about how the producers for Netflix’s Narcos have been receiving threats from the Escobar family.
Ben: Yeah, it’s not a fucking movie to these people.
Henry: It’s not a movie. They will fucking kill you.
Ben: The other interesting thing is, not to get all political about it, but there were 36,000 deaths in Mexico last year. The only worse country was Syria and the Cartels were… I’m not gonna say they’re worse than ISIS because that would get us in a lot of trouble but they do run a country. They run Mexico and we don’t even think about them in the same way that we should be because they will mess you up. AGAIN. FREE VIP TICKETS TO ANY SHOW.
Henry: Just show up. Just show us your gold gun with the Holy Mary on it or whatever. I think that’s how it is. You have to have Mary on your gun like John Leguizamo in Romeo + Juliet.
Marcus: The one I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time that we are going to be doing soon is Jonestown. Like a full episode on it. For me, my favourite episodes are the cult ones.
The Aum Shinrikyo episode was amazing.
Ben: Oh yeah, those poor… what were they? Goats? Or sheep?
Henry: They were given a meaning. They were given a fucking path.
Marcus: Cults are one of the most fascinating things in the world to me, so I’m really excited to delve into one of the most famous ones.
Henry: I would love to do something on Jimmy Savile and his connections to the parliament and all that shit going on.
Ben: Well apparently Justin Bieber just came out and said that he was…
Henry: He basically said the entire music industry is run by pedophiles and he basically came out and said it. Then everyone went, “Nope!”. But there’s a bunch of stuff surrounding that topic that is very interesting and it will be very depressing. We’ll save it for Christmas. I like doing something very depressing around that time.
Ben: You have to find the right angle on stuff. We don’t really want to depress the audience as we want everyone to learn and have fun.
You should do a Detective Popcorn Christmas Special on that topic.
Ben: We did a Detective Popcorn Christmas, didn’t we?
Henry: I did but that’s actually a really good idea.
Marcus: We did 24 straight hours of producing on that one. It was super fun to put together but then there was building all the stuff. Building the sound effects, finding all the royalty-free music, and taking all the takes of Henry and Eddie and everybody and putting it in all the right places. It was super fun to construct but I don’t want to do it again.
Ben: But one of the coolest things about this show is seeing all of Henry’s characters come to life — like Terry the Gnome and all that stuff. We get a lot of dolls and drawings from fans too. It’s like chaos magic, you know? He’s just putting it out there and people love it.
Henry: It’s really cool. We’ve had a lot of dreams come true over the last couple of years and it’s been daunting. Now since we see the people come to show, we’re like, “Oh now we actually owe them”.
Ben: We get incredible gifts at these live shows and everyone is so sweet.
Henry: Like the dude that gave us a vile of blood.
What’s been the weirdest thing a fan has sent to the podcast?
Ben: We’ve got ashes of someone’s father.
Marcus: We have the ashes of Phillip Melon. This brother and sister brought us the ashes of their father in little airplane vodka bottles. They’re in my office with the vile of blood.
Henry: See I was not allowed to bring the blood back home. That was not allowed.
Marcus: My girlfriend has a more liberal policy on bodily fluids in the home. The one thing she will not let in the house — and I totally understand because it’s one of the weirdest things we’ve ever received — was a gift we got in Seattle. Again, it involved blood, but a woman did a painting using her own menstrual blood.
Henry: It’s really cool.
Marcus: It’s super cool. Like she saved it in… what are they called? GoCups or Dixie Cups?
Marcus: Yeah! So each month she would collect a little bit in her DivaCup and she would put it in the freezer in little ice cube trays and when she had enough, she’d take it out, defrost all of it, and do little finger paints. She like drew a pentagram.
Ben: “Hunny? what are you doing in there?”
Henry: “Shut up! I’m painting!!”
Ben: “Okay. Well, the Indian food is here.”
Henry: I love that shit.
Ben: We also got a Dybbuk Box.
Marcus: It’s really cool but I knew it was fake because someone gave us this box and it had all of this lovecraftian type of poetry to go along with it. There was all this really cool stuff but then in the middle of all of it, I was just like, “These are Explosions In The Sky lyrics”. Like I went to college in the 2000s, I know Explosions In The Sky songs.
Ben: We have even gotten some huge paintings that we try to get back to our studio.
Henry: One woman painted a picture of the three of us with knives and then her completely nude with one of her breasts or with one of her nipples cut off with her viscera exposed to the elements. My girlfriend and I are just sitting there going “Do we take it to our house?”.
Marcus: I took it to mine (laughs).
Have you ever received any backlash concerning certain topics you have discussed or opinions you have held on a particular topic?
Henry: Well, we’ve gotten a lot of push back about how we pronounce the state “Oregon”. It’s become a thing where they don’t particularly understand that as a person, I’m an antagonistic person, like very deep down inside of me. So as soon as you start…
Ben: It’s a beautiful place.
Henry: Oregon is wonderful and the people inside of it are wonderful. Both fans and the people. I have friends from Oregon. Everyone’s really sweet but they are very particular about how that state is pronounced and I don’t know why.
So how is it pronounced?
Henry: “Or-a-gun”. I don’t know why they get so mad. Also, we recently just did the Norwegian Black Metal shit and Marcus said the wrong metal subgenre for one of the bands.
Marcus: I was not wrong about that metal subgenre.
Henry: It just sounds like it’s more of a “grey area” opinion.
Marcus: It is a grey area opinion but I expressed my disdain for a certain band and a certain genre called metalcore. Metalcore is like As I Lay Dying and, you know, all those bands. I put Hatebreed in that group and these fans were like, “Dude, Hatebreed is not a metalcore band”. But that’s what we get, we get little nitpicky shit.
Henry: It’s really just that. It’s crazy that out of all the topics we’ve covered, it’s like that was the most push back we’ve ever gotten for an episode. They were going crazy about it because I get it, it is a very intense community that are very emotionally connected to what they listen to and they’ve built an identity into it. But otherwise, there’s been surprisingly little backlash.
Ben: You get the normal blowback, but whatever. We live in the internet world so there’s always going to be somebody complaining about something.
You can’t have an opinion on anything.
Ben: I don’t care about any of the criticism whatsoever as I will defend our show until the end. I think the mainstream narrative of serial killers has been much more offensive. You look at how the media covered Columbine — thinking that Eric [Harris] and Dylan [Klebold] were bullied even though they were the bullies. As far as I’m concerned, we’re setting the record straight and I’ll defend the show until I die.
Henry: Calm down, don’t yell at the lady.
Ben: I’m just saying! I actually think we cover it with a lot more dignity.
Henry: But at the same time we’re very inappropriate people at the base anyway so when it comes down to it, it’s like we’re probably going to say something that gets us in trouble.
Ben: It is what it is and Henry does characters so we can’t start limiting ourselves.
Henry: It’s not me saying these things, it’s the characters saying these things.
Ben: I tell people this on a regular basis.
Henry: Like Daniel Day Lewis — no one got mad when he made Lincoln sound like an idiot (laughs).
Ben: Besides the whole internet nonsense, everything has been super chill. I think the quality is so high and the intellectual nature, like the backbone of the show, is made by intellectuals and it’s all information-based.
Henry: Oh yeah, we’re totally intellectuals.
Ben: Well, technically we are.
Henry: I went to college.
Ben: I used to drive by a college.
What’s the weirdest creepypasta you’ve ever come across?
Henry: The newest one with the dick going in backwards when the Big Foot starts cumming on himself. Easily.
Ben: My favourite one is still “Who was phone?”.
Henry: Oh man, “Who was phone?” is always the best.
Ben: Then what’s the one where it’s just like, “Fuuuuuuuuuuck!!”.
Marcus: “Pac-Man vs. Child Protective Services” was a funny one too. “The Day Of All The Blood” is also a personal favourite of mine.
Henry: Creepypasta hasn’t evolved. It isn’t good anymore. Sometimes I used to read them and be like, “Ohhhh!” but it does not do that for me anymore.
Ben: Honestly, it’s been good to have those episodes as a palate cleanser every now and again because sometimes there will be six episodes in a row that are so intense and so heavy.
Henry: Especially when we are doing episodes like the Oklahoma City bombing. So while there is a lot of racial tension happening in the country, we’re deep into reading about white supremacist groups over and over again.
Ben: Well, you’re gonna have to put that into context now.
Henry: Well, not that it’s good! I’M READING IT FOR RESEARCH! NOT BECAUSE I CHOOSE TO READ IT! NOT BECAUSE I LOVE IT!
Ben: I’m pretty sure Pete Townshend claimed he was also doing research.
Henry: No, Pete Townshend was an art collector! He was collecting art. Woody Allen was raising his wife.
What’s the most frustrating part of putting an episode together?
Ben: I’m late to the airport all the time.
Henry: He is late but I would say in terms of our show, we are all deeply self-deprecating. I think there’s a part of us where there are many times when I don’t think I’ve done a good enough job and I would talk to Marcus, and he would say that I was insane and then he would say the same thing to me and I would say that he was insane. Or there’s an episode where I think “Man, I killed it” and then I’ll listen to it and I’m like, “Oh I did not do well”.
Marcus: All of us are our own biggest critics. No one could ever criticize us as much as we tend to criticize ourselves.
Henry: Well there are people who could criticize us worse and they do (laughs). Because at the base I do really like me and there are people that really hate me.
Ben: We all come from working class families as well. My father was a trucker driver, Henry’s the son of a cop, and then there’s Rancher Parks. But no matter what, we get it done. We never stay angry with each other and truly I don’t even remember the last time we were really angry with each other.
Henry: We have a surprisingly low amount of drama.
Ben: We also have very intense personalities but we have different side interests as well. I don’t know… it’s just really good chemistry. We always have a great time when we go on a tour.
Henry: It’s kind of like a built-in “boys night”. We get to go and have boys nights but in different cities throughout the country and we get to experience all of this bullshit together. Like this touring thing is very intense; it’s a lot of traveling and man, people who never leave the road… this is by far one of the most rewarding and hardest years of my life.
Why do you think listeners are so drawn to your particular brand of true crime?
Ben: I honestly think it’s because they get to confront their fears and we get to laugh at the face of the monster and feel empowered afterwards.
Henry: I’m gonna say this. There is a lot of fake metal out there and a part of our job is to be real metal instead of false metal. So it’s like “death to false metal”. If you could get into that concept all the time, we want to be the real deal for you. We want to be as funny as humanly possible and we’re really fucking hungry for it, and I think people get that.
Marcus: I hope your facetious tone on false metal translates, my friend.