Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

They’ve got 2 studios now, but Last Podcast On The Left are still basement-dwellers at heart

Photo: Jason Kempin (Getty Images), Graphic: Allison Corr

There are two types of people in this world: Those who like to stay up late reading stories that make them want to get up and check the locks on their windows every five minutes, and those who don’t understand why you’d do that to yourself. Members of that first group are probably already aware of The Last Podcast On The Left, a show whose subjects are niche, but whose appeal is not. Started in a literal closet in 2011, the podcast—which covers a range of horror-adjacent topics, from serial killers to alien encounters to cults and conspiracy theories—gained enough of a grassroots following to move exclusively to Spotify earlier this year, where it currently sits at No. 2 in the U.S. following NPR News Now. And that’s both strangely heartening and kind of hilarious, since it’s not a show that you would recommend to just anybody.

That’s because LPOTL blends unblinking, meticulously researched deep dives into the most outré subjects imaginable (episodes that are especially gory are marked with “gold stars”) with a wicked sense of humor. Both their research skills and comedic sensibilities have evolved over the years, as co-hosts Marcus Parks, Ben Kissel, and Henry Zebrowski freely admit. That’s why they’re revisiting some of their earliest material and giving it a fresh look in The Last Book On The Left, a compendium of nine tales of serial murder featuring infamous names like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Richard Ramirez.

Although the book is very scary at times, you won’t find any myth-making about evil geniuses in its pages. LPOTL’s intent is to de-glamorize these killers by mercilessly mocking them, offering a darkly funny pressure valve for goths and the goth at heart while doing so. In fact, the book was explicitly designed to lure young people with an interest in the macabre into the fold: “I’m truly hoping it gets a 14-year-old in trouble,” Zebrowski says with a laugh. Presented in a large format with full-color illustrations that depict Parks, Kissel, and Zebrowski as grinning ghouls in hooded robes, it’s a throwback to the serial-killer trading cards Zebrowski remembers staring at in the back of a magazine when he was a teenager.

But while LPOTL does delight in telling creepy campfire stories, over the years the show has deepened into something more than that. Aside from the research that goes into the show—that’s Parks’ department—there’s also the chemistry between the hosts, who met as twentysomethings doing stand-up and sketch comedy in New York City and are close friends in real life. If you’re not already a fan, here’s the bare outline: Ben is the tall one who’s into politics and wrestling, Henry is the impressionist who really wants to get abducted by aliens, and Marcus is the Texas transplant who’s into history and bones.

The A.V. Club spoke with the Last Podcast crew at length over video chat on the eve of the release of The Last Book On The Left, and the dynamic between the three was delightfully similar to what you hear on the show. Our conversation was split into two parts, first talking about the book and then looking back on some significant moments in the show’s 400-plus episode run. If murder isn’t your bag, we also cover the life story of (and Henry’s bizarre obsession with) L. Ron Hubbard, the paranoia of covering aliens, the rich historical tapestry surrounding Rasputin’s rise and fall, and some filthy (and funny) cryptid erotica.

The A.V. Club: Why you decided to go back and cover big-name serial killers that you had already done series on in the book?

Marcus Parks: We went back to cover a lot of those killers because when we originally did those episodes, we were nowhere near the skill level that we’re at now when it comes to research and when it comes to writing. We were still trying to figure out what the show was back then, just looking at internet sources and picking out fun facts. We weren’t really telling the story just yet, at least not as well as we eventually came to tell stories. We had talked about possibly going back and redoing some of those episodes, but instead we figured the book would be a better place for retelling those stories the way that they were actually meant to be told.

Henry Zebrowski: For the three of us, the way we got into true crime in the first place was [books like this]. I remember getting my first serial killer encyclopedia and blowing through it—the little yellow one, that I believe was Harold Schechter’s work. I wanted to make our own version of that, an underground comics version of a beginner’s serial killer encyclopedia. I was hoping to make the kind of thing where it would make your mom upset that you had it.

MP: By the way, Henry, that yellow serial killer encyclopedia is by—let’s see here—Brian Lane and Wilfred Gregg. I have it here on my bookshelf.

Ben Kissel: Two sexual dynamos. [Laughter.]

And also for us, this is the first book we’ve ever created—especially Marcus, who was writing the majority of it—so it’s good to go back to the OGs and re-introduce them to the audience.

AVC: These stories have been told so many times, but there was still stuff in this book that was new. Was there any one chapter in the book where you were surprised by what you didn’t know?

HZ: The [Soviet serial killer] Andrei Chikatilo stuff was very illuminating. Going more into the context of Russia in his time period really set up the societal factors that allowed that monster to blossom, and how he thrived within the Communist system.

MP: For me, it was the BTK chapter. I did not know that Dennis Rader never stopped [preying on women], because the prevailing opinion is that he went into hibernation for years between crimes. And that’s not true. He just didn’t find anyone that he thought was worth killing during that time. That, to me, was terrifying. He was still going out and doing what he called “projects.” That was definitely the most surprising.

HZ: Marcus, you know what my mom said to me? “When you say ‘can’t,’ you mean ‘won’t.’

BK: That’s really what the book is all about. It’s a motivational tale.

HZ: There were several serial killers [in the book] where you hear how hard they worked towards perfecting their M.O.s, and you think, “If you had just put a couple of hours of this work towards being an accountant or learning to design clothes or something, you could have actually given something to society!”

AVC: I’m glad that you underlined what a piece of shit Dennis Rader is.

HZ: Yeah, we hate him, man.

MP: Oh yeah.

HZ: Obviously, they’re all bad, but there’s just something about his attitude that makes me hate him so much. Even Marcus talking about him pontificating about how he never stopped and none of these victims were ever good enough—it’s like, “Oh, fuck you.” My years of researching serial killers has made me believe that once they’re caught, 90 percent of what they say is bullshit. They’re expanding their crimes after the fact now that they have everybody’s attention.

MP: That was one of the thrusts of the Ted Bundy chapter [in the book]. How much do you believe? How much is actually real, and how much is just these people trying to freak out the squares? You just don’t know.

AVC: In the book, you go into the backstory of each of the serial killers. That’s something that you guys do a lot, talk about backstory.

MP: At first, we thought, “people are listening for the blood and guts.” But as we kept doing the show, we found out that people are extremely interested in the psychology of these guys. And then as we did more episodes, we started to understand it all a little bit more, so we could talk from a position of authority rather than just out of our ass.

HZ: I mean, we’re still vaguely talking out of our ass—

MP: Oh, definitely.

HZ: We talk a lot about how you become an accidental expert [in something] just because you read so much about it. That is one thing about serial killers, they do fall into patterns, and they fall into subgroups. And you start to realize that, especially as the years went on, they became inspired by the crimes of other serial killers. Take someone like Israel Keyes, who we covered at the beginning of last year. He was a student of serial killers as a serial killer who prided himself on amalgamating all of the “lessons” he learned from the crimes of the others and using them for his crimes.

BK: BTK really considered himself a celebrity. We were entertaining the idea of interviewing someone related to him, and anyone BTK-related really takes themselves seriously when it comes to their own version of celebrity in their minds. You have to fill out a huge questionnaire. The way that it’s treated to try to get in contact with these people—it’s more difficult than getting in contact with Nicolas Cage.

AVC: As people who are interested in this stuff who don’t go on to use it as inspiration for crimes, does knowing that make you feel weird or uncomfortable?

HZ: Our goal is to roast these pieces of shit. Something that we point out when we do serial killer episodes—quite often, we talk about how it’s a crime born out of extreme mediocrity. You don’t become one of these people if you live a fulfilling life, or if you’re willing to put in what it takes to lead a fulfilling life. So, for us, it’s about the interest in the psychology of it. [The information] is already out there. Our take on it is to humanize it. Obviously, I like our approach, because it’s not true-crime voice going, “and this monster, this ultimate predator…” [Laughter.]

We are trying to show that they are people, which is why most humans are so fascinated with serial killers. You can marry someone and live with them for years and have no clue what they’re doing in their little office. That’s a fun thing to think about in the quarantine! [Laughter]

BK: We’ve learned a lot of lessons. If there’s a room in your house that you’re not allowed to go into, you need to go into that room. Because otherwise, it’s John Wayne Gacy’s murder shed. You need to be able to go into every one of the rooms in your house.

AVC: Henry, you referred to the book as “evil Mad magazine” earlier. Can you guys talk more about the illustrations?

HZ: I didn’t want it to look like a normal podcast book, or some comedy book. I wanted it to be a real collector’s item. We wanted cartoons to be a big element of the book, and Tom Neely is an incredible technical artist, but he also has his own sense of humor. And he just nailed it.

MP: We were amazingly lucky to have Tom. For an artist to be able to draw in as many different styles as he can—it looks like there were 10 artists working on this book. Me, I’m a huge Mad fan. I still read Mad magazine and fucking giggle to myself. And Tom was able to go from style to style, just like Mad magazine. One of my favorite illustrations—I think it’s one of everyone’s favorite illustrations—is John Wayne Gacy on his last day of freedom that Tom drew like one of the Family Circus maps. It’s fucking brilliant.

BK: He totally brought the book to the next level. It’s such a visual book, and if I was a kid, I would totally buy it.

HZ: I’m truly hoping it gets a-14 year-old in trouble. I want it to be a thing that if you find it, it’s like, “ooh, what are you looking at?” We speak to a lot of 15 year olds, unfortunately, with our show. So [there an element of], here are some lessons we can sneak in about how, If you do something with your life, you won’t live in these dark places.

Episodes 122-125: Jeffrey Dahmer, Parts I-III

[Content warning: The above embed contains explicit content.]

The A.V. Club: Were you still in the basement of the Mexican restaurant then?

HZ: We were in the basement until 2017, and then we found our own space.

AVC: Really?

HZ: Yeah, we were there the whole time. We had just graduated from a closet. I remember moving from the closet, where it was the three of us touching knees in our bathing suits, to us crammed around a table in a tiny office. And then we were allowed to move to the basement, where we had to take out a bunch of shit covered with septic water. We were in total, absolute filth.

AVC: What was the setup like? I’m picturing you down in this dank basement sitting around a card table with mics on it.

HZ: Close to that.

MP: Yeah, fairly close to that. The original closet, it was a room that was—four feet wide by 10 feet long? In order to soundproof the room, I went to one of the discount stores on Graham Avenue and bought a bunch of discount comforters for like $15, $20 each and stapled them to the wall. Of course, we got out of that room after I developed claustrophobia from recording too many shows in there. Those sorts of phobias can, ah—definitely manifest as you get older.

And then we moved into a bigger room. You had to walk through this weird long hallway in the basement of this restaurant, and the floors were always filthy. There was a big metal grate that led out to the sidewalk, and every time it rained, the entire basement would flood. You’d hear the honking of horns, all kinds of bullshit—people outside, people upstairs running around, construction, all kinds of weird shit.

But yeah, we’ve always been DIY. I went to school for FM radio, so podcasting was something that we had to figure out little by little. Eventually we did figure it out, and we would record once a week, just like we do now. The Jeffrey Dahmer series was when we were starting to figure out what actually worked. That was one of the first episodes where we used a book for research, I think it was called The Man Who Could Not Kill Enough

HZ: It was. And I remember reading My Friend Dahmer.

MP: The fantastic [Derf Backderf] graphic novel. But yeah, that might be one of the reasons why that one does hold up as a narrative, because we did real research on it.

BK: And the Mexican joint that we recorded from for a long time—for us, that was a step up. Originally, we started in the basement of the house where Marcus lived at the time, in Bushwick. And now we have two studios, one in New York and one in Los Angeles. It’s amazing to think about how much has changed over the years.

AVC: Was the restaurant open while you were recording?

HZ: Oh, it was open.

MP: Oh yeah, all the time.

BK: We were tucked away in the corner of shame, no one was near us. But it was actually a really cool place, with a lot of good energy around it. It was a venue at the time, and there were a lot of open mic comedians and a lot of shows. It was cool to be around all these other artists. They were working on stand-up, and we were perfecting radio and podcasts.

HZ: What I also loved at that time was that Marcus used to ship out chunks of bones from his parents’ horse farm—

MP: It’s a cattle farm. It’s not a horse farm!

HZ: It’s all the same.

MP: No, it’s not!

HZ: It’s all the same. But you would pop up like a fucking serial killer yourself in the restaurant—

MP: It wasn’t in the restaurant.

HZ: It was literally six feet from where people were eating.

MP: No, it was not! You weren’t there! You were in L.A.!

HZ: No, I watched you do it. You didn’t even have a mask on!

MP: I eventually got a mask. I mean, I might end up getting bone cancer.

HZ: Yaaay! Bone loss!

BK: The reason Marcus was sawing all those bones—it was not just for sexual pleasure. [Laughs.] It was for a Patreon bonus. He had this bone saw—

MP: [Chuckling.] Yeah, it was a lot of fun.

BK: There was this bloom of bone dust all over, and I’m like, “Marcus, what the hell, man?” And he’s like, “I’m sawing bones for the fans!” And I’m like, “uh, okay?”

HZ: Did the fans ask for this? Did the fans want this?

BK: I’m pretty sure Marcus proposed it. I don’t think they even wanted the bones!

MP: I absolutely proposed it. I had a lot of extra bones because I was using cow bones to make bone armor for the band I was in, the Cowmen, to wear at live shows. And I did make a pretty good helmet, but I had a whole bunch of leftover ribs and a couple of pelvises, and they gotta go somewhere.

It’s funny, I still have a big black Tupperware box full of bones. It’s sitting out on my terrace right now. I don’t know what to do with them.

AVC: Well, um, speaking of bones—Jeffrey Dahmer. The interesting thing about this story is the idea that he’s a relatively sympathetic serial killer. Comparing the original series to the book, did your feelings on that evolve over time?

MP: I view him less sympathetically now. Yeah.

HZ: Now that time’s gone by—I agree that he’s become the poster boy for the sensitive weirdo serial killer, but when you really look at it, you realize how many things that he could have done instead of that.

MP: There were a lot of paths that Dahmer could’ve taken. He could’ve gotten help any number of times, and just didn’t. I think that that’s what the evolution was, is that you eventually realize that he just did not get help. He took no responsibility for what was wrong with him. He knew shit was wrong from a young age, but he chose to go deeper and deeper [into his delusions] because he was an enormously selfish person, like all these people are.

The Dulce Facility, Parts I & II

AVC: Is this episode the origin of Marcus and Henry’s nicknames Dogmeat and Too Real?

HZ: Too Real came out of us seeing Straight Outta Compton. But then Dogmeat—I forget why I started calling you Dogmeat. It’s a fun-ass nickname, I think.

MP: I think you had just watched A Boy And His Dog, the post-apocalyptic movie with Don Johnson.

HZ: I literally just called you Dogmeat. I haven’t seen that movie since I worked at Hollywood video in high school.

MP: I love it because Fallout 3 is one of my favorite video games ever, and the dog companion is named Dogmeat.

AVC: Ben, were you upset that they didn’t give you a nickname?

BK: I think that it’s important not to be nicknamed horrible things. I’ve always said that’s more something for Marcus, because he’s got Chupacabra face.

MP: No, we did give you a nickname! We called you houses for feet.

BK: That’s what happens! Usually nicknames are mean! So I was happy not to have one, and then they give me one and it was houses for feet, which is really kind of mean. [Laughs.]

AVC: There’s some talk up top on both episodes about how you suspected that someone was recording your phone calls. Do you remember that?

MP: Hell yeah.

HZ: We’ve dealt with that several times. I still have no clue what the hell that means, or why that happened. It sounded like clicks on the phone. But then I had a guy who worked at the NSA tell me that we wouldn’t even hear the clicks! Back in the day, if you were using a landline, you’d hear a click. Now, you don’t hear clicks anymore.

But it was really weird. When we started talking about our material for the episode, you’d hear these clicks on the line, and then when we started talking about our normal life, you’d hear another click. It got to us. We were like, “this is boring now? You’re bored now?”

I don’t know, man. What if there was some kind of tabs on me? What would be the point? We just did a whole JFK series, and I was reading through CIA assassination manuals that you can find online. It’s like, man, this is just the end of my week. There’s so much shit on this computer. They gotta know at some point—oh, he’s one of those enthusiasts. He’s one of those comedians that does this. We’re not going to kill him.

MP: We also disseminate everything we know every single week. It’s not a secret what we know.

HZ: No, it’s not a secret. It’s a fast turnaround, too. If they were to take us down before [we revealed any secrets], it would have to be a very fast operation. I don’t think the U.S. government works that fast!

Episodes 200-202: H.H. Holmes Parts I-III

AVC: Poking around on Reddit a bit before the interview, the H. H. Holmes series came up several times as a fan favorite. Everyone loves Minnie and Nannie! 

HZ: Everybody loves Minnie and Nannie. It’s really, incredibly nice, the type of support I’ve gotten from those stupid characters. They’re so funny, and it’s very dumb.

MP: Well, what I had to cut out of that episode is when Henry did those characters, I didn’t stop laughing for a minute and a half. I kept trying to start again, and every time I tried to start I’d hear the voice in my head and I’d start laughing again. I couldn’t contain myself because I thought it was so fucking funny, and Ben got annoyed at me.

BK: I never got annoyed! I love Minnie and Nannie, they’re one of my all time favs! That’s my favorite thing about all of these series, especially H.H. Holmes. Henry does such a good job of bringing these characters to life, and often times it is the side characters that steal the show. They’re the Jesus from The Big Lebowski—they only had one scene, but it was a big one.

HZ: But now we’re finding out all of this new information [about H.H. Holmes]—we talked with Harold Schechter this year, and he said he thinks half of the H. H. Holmes murder hotel shit is fake, which is such a bummer.

MP: I read an AMA from Erik Larson, the guy who wrote The Devil In The White City. And it’s so funny to see this information disseminate through the world. Someone asked them on the AMA—they said, “Harold Schechter recently said that he doesn’t believe that the H.H. Holmes castle was a reality.” Erik Larson is a serious historian and a wonderful writer, and now he has to answer questions because of dumb bullshit we said.

He’s standing by it, though. He said, “No, all of the sources that I read said that it was all real.” It’s funny to see that we’re causing fights amongst historians now.

HZ: I want to believe!

AVC: Well, the site of the murder castle is a post office now. Supposedly, the foundation is the same.

HZ: Oh, hell yeah. I’d go see that. The chutes! I love the chutes, man.

BK: It’s like the mansion from Nothing But Trouble.

AVC: The Devil In The White Cityeveryone in Chicago read that book. It’s like it comes with your lease when you move here.

MP: I love the book, but actually I like the World’s Fair stuff better than I like the H.H. Holmes stuff. Honestly, Harold Schechter did a much better job with that stuff.

HZ: Yeah, he’s got a flair for character. He’s good at setting a tone. That’s what he taught us. Now, especially when we think about these types of stories, when we do a serial-killer series, it’s really about tone and trying to sort out, “what’s the main thread of this person’s life that we’re going to try to illuminate through character building?”

AVC: I think that comes across really well in the book, honestly. Each chapter paints a specific character.

MP: That was another thing we wanted with the book. We wanted each chapter to have a perspective and a point of view. And I think on some of these chapters, we did look at these things a little differently [this time around]. For example, looking at Jeffrey Dahmer partly through the perspective of white privilege. [That was] the reason why Dahmer was able to be as successful as he was as a serial killer, because he was a white guy in a Black neighborhood and the police saw him as a person to protect, rather than somebody to fucking arrest!

AVC: It’s true, though. There’s that story about the boy who escaped, and the cops returned him!

MP: Yeah, and all of the neighborhood kids were trying to yell at the cops, “This isn’t right. This isn’t what is supposed to be happening,” and they were told to shut the hell up and go home.

Episodes 261-264: L. Ron Hubbard, Parts I-IV

AVC: Okay, So. L. Ron Hubbard.

HZ: [Whoops.] LRH! [Laughs.]

Yeah, man, they just twisted his pure message, how pure and handsome L. Ron Hubbard was. No one talks about the uncontrollable, unbridled sexual energy that comes out of L. Ron Hubbard.

MP: I don’t know how, but I have suddenly gotten on the Church Of Scientology New York’s email list.

HZ: Wasn’t me!

MP: Every Sunday they do—a webinar, is what they call it. You can attend the Scientology Sunday service webinar every week at noon. This Sunday’s service is “Conditions Of Existence” by L. Ron Hubbard, with live entertainment from Julius Dilligard Jr.

HZ: Oh, I love him. He’s great. I love his ice cream.

BK: Yeah, he’s really talented.

HZ: We wanted to tackle Scientology, but the way we wanted to do it was to go at the man himself, L. Ron Hubbard. What we started to discover reading about Scientology is that everybody has negative things to say about David Miscavige. Everybody’s got terrible things to say about the current state of Scientology. But even people that had gotten out, they had a hard time saying that LRH was wrong, or that LRH had anything to do with why their money got drained and why they got taught all this bullshit.

They thought that L. Ron Hubbard had creative ideas and he was a pure man, but his shit got twisted, which is absolute horseshit. From the beginning, L. Ron Hubbard was trying to make cash money—which, to me, is almost sort of refreshing in the world of cult leaders. He wasn’t trying to take your penis, and he wasn’t trying to kill everybody. He just wanted your money, and your adulation. He wanted you to be scrubbing his boat while he got to wear a captain’s uniform.

MP: And you got to play with all those corgis!

HZ: He knew the hard part was to make money, and to make money you’ve got to get into what? Franchising.

But he was a criminal from the very beginning. He was always a con man. He never said a real thing in his life. And he was very dangerous, especially in the beginning in the time period where he was fake attacking Mexico and doing all of this stuff. But honestly, he could have been worse.

BK: Oh yeah. He could have been much worse. As far as the cult leaders that we’ve covered, I think he might be the least nefarious. And he’s pretty horrible.

HZ: He was forward-thinking. He understood.

BK: I mean, honestly, I’ve said this before, Henry—whatever you’ve got to do to get on the next season of Superstore.

HZ: They don’t have the same Hollywood connections anymore. You don’t think I would have joined? I went to one Scientology party, and they were all very positive, very energetic people. But they all truly think on some level that they’ll be able to turn invisible or walk through walls or see the future. That’s the stuff that they save for the very end. You’ve got a group of people all in a vacuum chamber, all trying to explain to each other, “No, I really think I can walk through walls.” And you know, Debra will try to do it and then you’ll have one person be like, “I think you made it at least an inch through, actually.”

BK: We’re not really susceptible to being in cults. At least for me, they’re way too nice up front, and then at the end I don’t want to blow up the city, because we got so much stuff to do! There’s no part of being in a cult that’s interesting to me.

MP: I think the L. Ron Hubbard series really taught us how to cover cults, because in a cult, everything is so wrapped up in the leader’s personality that to really understand the mentality, you’ve got to understand the guy up top. Everything that there is to understand about Jonestown can be found in the life of Jim Jones, from him being five years old and going to every single church service in Lynn, Indiana, and taking notes and seeing what people responded to and what people didn’t like. If you just look at the culture [of a cult] as a whole, it’s not going to make much sense. But if you look at the man behind the madness, that’s where the answers lie.

HZ: A cult is really just a business with an end date. [Laughter]

You get there, whether you set it up or not. Scientology is still trying to go. I have no clue what’s going on there now. I would love to cover Miscavige; I think that’s the next level, to do latter-period Scientology.

MP: They’re just landowners. That’s where Scientology’s true power lies now.

AVC: If you really want people to follow you around, investigating David Miscavige seems to be a good way to do that.

HZ: Man, I thought I was going to get some squirrel busters on me, man. But they didn’t come for me. We didn’t get sued by Scientology. I was really excited for it, and we got none of it.

AVC: That’s kind of a bummer, honestly.

HZ: I was like, come and get me! I’m in fucking L.A.! It’s the center of it! But, you know, they’re tired.

MP: Me and my wife had plans. We were like, [whispers] “We’ve got to watch our backs. We’ve got to make sure no one’s following us to and from the studio. We’ve got to make sure no one’s hanging out in front of the apartment,” and—nothing.

BK: I’d love to be hunted down by those nerds.

Episodes 310-314: Rasputin, Parts I-IV

AVC: I think Rasputin is when you guys really started pivoting into history. Would you agree with that?

HZ: I think that history can be very boring, but Rasputin showed me that history can be fun! It’s also just, again, a story about a boy with a dream, and he took it all the way to the top, and he, ah—he really fucked up a bunch of stuff.

This was an example of something I love, which is when we decide to cover a story and then it turns out to be like something different. For example, when we started covering the Donner Party, I remembered seeing the story in history books. Historians are constantly saying, “People are only interested in the Donner Party due to its cannibalism, but that is not the most interesting part of the story.” And then they go off about their fucking supply manifests or whatever. And I was like, “You’re wrong. The most fascinating part is the cannibalism.” But getting into the story, you realize that it was so much more involved than that.

And with Rasputin, it’s the same thing. I only knew Rasputin as a guy with hypno eyes and a huge dick. And then, as you look into the history of it, you’re like, “Oh, there’s this incredible tapestry of characters.”

MP: I mean, he’s one of the most consequential figures of the 20th century. One thing we talked about in the series is that if you take Rasputin out of the 20th century, it’s possible that everything looks different. The way his actions have reverberated through history make him absolutely fascinating.

He should have been an inconsequential figure. So many of these small things had to happen, so many of these great characters had to come in and push him along at every point to get him to the point where he was at the right hand of some of the most powerful people in the world. And all he wanted to do is cause chaos. In controlling his own piece of the world, he ended up influencing the lives of millions, if not billions, of people.

BK: He was also one of the first people to be nicknamed Tripod, so that’s kind of fun.

MP: But getting into the history of it was a big challenge for us. I’ve always been interested in history—Hardcore History, Dan Carlin’s podcast, is my No. 1 influence as a podcaster.

AVC: That tracks.

MP: But history always seemed too big for us, especially something as big as WWI. I was nervous about getting everything right, and I fucked up on the very first sentence that I said. I corrected it on the second episode, but that’s the thing. We’re not historians, but we’re fascinated with history, and this series was a way to showcase that fascination the best that we could.

HZ: I think that our audience is kind of like us, and I think that people who have been listening to us for many years have grown up with us, too. And I think hearing us learn as we go is a part of why the show works. If you’re listening to us to be super correct, I think that you might be in the wrong place. But if you want to listen to people comb through this information and find what’s interesting to them and show it to you? I think that people appreciate that. I love to learn now that I’m an adult and I can choose to. I was very bad in school.

MP: We’re not a trusted news source. If you hear something on our show that you think is extremely interesting, be sure to verify. Trust, but verify, always. Not just with us, but with anybody.

AVC: I feel what you’re saying about history, because when I look back on my life, the thing that makes me think, “Maybe you’ve always been kind of a weird, morbid person,” is that when I was a little kid, I was obsessed with the Salem witch trials.

HZ: I think there are a lot of us out there. You didn’t know you could be a history nerd, but actually you already were. At Last Podcast, we have the fun jobs, telling only the stories that are fun for us to hear.

BK: History is very interesting, it’s just hard to find someone that makes it exciting, and I hope we can do that for people with some jokes and stuff like that. And Marcus is being humble, there’s so much research that goes into our show and we really do try to be as accurate as possible.

We’ll get messages from people being like, “I cited you in my thesis is for college,” and I’m like, “I hope you pass!” That’s a huge compliment for us.

HZ: Yes, it really is.

BK: We’re just three goofball kids, and to have people who are much smarter than us cite us is a pretty high compliment.

MP: Don’t get me wrong, we are not careless in any way. That’s not the problem. When we say something, it’s because we believe it to be true. It’s just that sometimes we’re wrong, and sometimes we misspeak.

HZ: And sometimes the fake fact is a better, funner fact. You’re going to be mad when you find out that H.H. Holmes didn’t have a goddamn murder castle. You got to tell a story.

MP: When we talk about the legend, we always say, “This is the legend. This is what people have believed to be true for years. It might not be true, but it might also be true.” We’ll always differentiate. Especially in an episode like Rasputin, there was a lot of legend to get to. All that shit happened a long time ago, so there are a lot of conflicting reports. You just have to say, “this is how one source puts it. This is how another source puts it.” And then, again, you have to decide which one you think is true.

HZ: Yeah. In 2125, they’re going to say that we were all stuck in our houses in 2020 because of friggin’ gremlins or something, just to sell books.

MP: But they’re not going to have any idea, because the solar flare is going to come in about 10 years and wipe out all the electronic records.

HZ: Yay! Get ’em, solar flare!

Episode 319: Creepypasta XIII—A Meat’s Dream

AVC: Now let’s talk about something completely made up, which is Creepypasta XIII, a.k.a. the one with the erotic Slenderman fan fiction.

HZ: We like to mix up our heavier informational episodes with lighter episodes, so we do creepypasta every once in a while. They were actually creepy when we first started. But then as you get to the bottom of the barrel, there’s less out there that you’d really want to put together for a show.

MP: Let’s be honest. There are five good creepypasta stories on the entire internet.

HZ: We are going to get so much shit just from you saying that.

So creepypastas—in the beginning, Marcus used to find them all and send them to us. But then it got to a point where we’re like “we’re big boys, we can find our own creepypastas.” For a while, I was trying to find stuff that was genuinely creepy. But then it got to a point where it’s like, “Well, I’m not scared by any of this stuff right now. I don’t know what to find.”

I just decided to type in, “Bigfoot makes love.” I started thinking about how there’s erotica for everything, for every creature and every character in every movie, so there has to be cryptid erotica. I started looking up Mothman and Slenderman erotica and, man—was I pleasantly surprised to see that there was so much [of it].

BK: Slenderman is one of the hotter cryptids. He’s got big long fingers. Underrated part of the human body, from my understanding.

HZ: If you’re a person out there who writes very intricate, graphic Slenderman porn or Bigfoot porn or Mothman porn, please keep doing that. And send it to us, because we will read it. I love everyone’s creativity, because you know what? The world needs more making love, less making war.

BK: I don’t know if anyone actually thinks it’s erotic. I wonder if some people actually, like, use it.

HZ: They have to! It’s why they write it.

Episodes 400-405: JFK, Parts I-V

AVC: What a weird series to do during quarantine.

HZ: No, it was perfect. It gave us so many hours to just sit and watch [the Zapruder film] again and again. You wonder what’s real, what’s not real. Is there any such thing as real? I don’t think so. I actually am firmly of the belief that that there were 12 shooters there that day, and Lee Harvey Oswald just got him first.

BK: Officially, my stance is that JFK died of natural causes. Totally organic.

AVC: This series is a great example of what you were talking about, Marcus, with sources. You lay out very clearly in this series, “This is what is accepted to have happened, this is what some people think happened, and this is what we think happened.”

MP: Me and Henry worked very closely on the JFK series for a long time, really trying to figure out exactly what we wanted to do with the series. And I think we ended up doing a fucking great job.

HZ: We cut our own narrative because there are literally 2000 different books about the JFK assassination, and every single conspiracy book has a different angle. In the end, we could have done 20 episodes on just JFK. If we wanted to go through each storyline, it would take an hour and a half to cover each of them.

We hurt ourselves for the listener by reading as much as we could to try to see through the cobwebs and find a story. What you start realizing is that most of these books are just he-said, she-said, with no research to back it up. You get to a point where you’re like, “I just read fiction. It’s literally fiction.” So we took the stuff that popped up again and again and pieced it all together.

MP: And it’s combining that with existing knowledge, right? The things that we know about how the government works, how intelligence services work, and just also applying what we know about human nature to all of this. We’ve done so much research over the years into conspiracy thought—not just into the conspiracies themselves, but how they have been created.

One of my favorite series that we’ve done is on Bill Cooper, one of the originators of supermodern conspiracy theory in the ’80s and ’90s. I’m personally fascinated by the people that created the conspiracy culture that we live in, from the hollow moon people to the flat earth people to guys like Bill Cooper. Bill Cooper believed that a secret service agent turned around and shot JFK with a blowfish poison dart to paralyze him, and then someone else took the shot. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but that’s the Cliff Notes.

In studying all these conspiracies, we try to give a perspective on what conspiracy theory means,, because ultimately that’s almost a bigger story than JFK’s death, America’s—and the world’s—reaction to this murder.

HZ: I don’t know what the hell went on on November 22, 1963, but nothing’s been the same ever since, including us. We’re all fucked.

AVC: You refer to this in the series, that it’s kind of the uber-conspiracy theory that all these other conspiracies have spun off from.

HZ: The next big locus was 9/11. And then there’s Jeffrey Epstein, and whatever happened with him. There’s always a new thing to hang your hat on. I can’t imagine what the conspiracy theories are going to be [about COVID-19]. I’ve done a little bit of research, and it’s something about 5G technology, that it’s activating the RNA inside of the virus.

When you say that you think 5G created COVID, do you understand that you’re basically saying, “I’m afraid of phones?” And if you’re afraid of phones, you’re not going to be able to deal with any of the challenges that life throws your way.

AVC: JFK had to have been on your list for a long time. Do you have a master list of every weird thing you could possibly think of?

MP: We do.

AVC: How much is left on this list? You’ve done 400 episodes already.

HZ: Hundreds of items.

MP: We have enough ideas to keep this show going for another five years.

HZ: Who knows what’ll happen? We could cover every serial killer in existence if we wanted to. But we try to choose ones that are inherently interesting—an example is that we tried to put together an episode on Harold Shipman, who was the most prolific serial killer of all time. He was a killer doctor. And you want to figure out what’s at the center of a man who kills 250 people, but the story’s actually incredibly dull. He’s a jerkoff, obviously. But he did it for money, and money is kind of a boring motive.

Now what we’re going to try to do—especially this summer—is a lot more weirdo topics. But we have a contingency of all different stripes, ready to go.

MP: It’s on a spreadsheet that’s categorized. We have a category for history, a category for weirdos, aliens, demons, ghosts, serial killers—

But the funny thing is that we keep getting ideas, and those ideas get moved to the top of the list. And then all the rest of those ideas are just sitting there. There’s shit we’ve been meaning to get to for years that we haven’t tackled yet, because we keep getting ideas for things that we really want to talk about. But that’s fucking great. We’ll never run out of shit to talk about.

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