In 2011, Henry Zebrowski, Marcus Parks and Ben Kissel — three friends who met more than a decade ago in the comedy world — formed The Last Podcast on the Left (named after the 1972 Wes Craven rape-revenge film The Last House on the Left) back when hardly anybody had a podcast.
Originally, it started as a means for the friends to drink together and “fanboy out” about horror films — the first episode discusses Friday the 13th — but it quickly evolved into heavily researched episodes on serial killers, Josef Mengele, sexy ghosts, 9/11, UFOs, MK-Ultra, JonBenét Ramsey and other weird phenomena, all with a comedic imprint.
“I had a manager at the time and I was telling him that I wanted to do podcasts, and he looked at me like I had eight heads and was like, ‘What? What do you mean? How can you just make a living off of that?’” Kissel says. “And I was like, ‘I think it’s going to be big because you can go all around the world, but you can sit down in a chair in Queens when you do it.’”
Almost 400 episodes later, The Last Podcast on the Left has not only found its niche in a now-saturated world of podcasts, but in 2017 it also finally became a lucrative move for the trio. Patreon, a membership service, states they have 10,106 patrons who pay the podcast $53,400 per month — proof that you can make money from podcasts.
“People say the show was a hobby, but we were already performers,” Zebrowski says. “Every single thing was featured into our life already. Doing The Last Podcast on the Left is an extension of us saying, ‘Here’s another viewpoint of the world.’”
Since 2016, the guys have done a live tour with the show (Parks and Kissel live in New York City, but Zebrowski lives in Los Angeles). On March 20, they’ll come to the Taft Theatre, their first time in Cincinnati. Kissel describes it as “a three-person stand-up show.” Zebrowski’s background is in sketch comedy (Murderfist) and as an actor on the HBO comedy series Crashing, and Parks has worked in radio since he was 18. Before forming The Last Podcast on the Left, Kissel and Parks worked together on the podcast Round Table of Gentlemen. And all three of them run The Last Podcast Network, which features 11 shows, including Kissel and Parks’ political show Abe Lincoln’s Top Hat.
A few days before they hit Cincy, fellow true crime podcast My Favorite Murder will perform a sold-out show at Aronoff. Even though the guys beat My Favorite Murder to the true crime punch, they consider co-hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark to be friends, not competitors. “If you really are competitive in this world, you’re very dumb,” Zebrowski says. “It’s much stronger to have allies.”
Pop culture is currently experiencing a true crime boom, and Kissel theorizes it’s because crime is at an all-time low.
“It used to be a much more dangerous world and a much more dangerous country,” he says. “The feeling of fear is really energizing. It makes you feel alive, I think. So, people just go from their house to their car, to their job to their car, to their house. It’s a strange thrill in a way. True crime breaks up the monotony of a lot of people’s jobs.”
However, Kissel wants to make it clear they aren’t glamorizing serial killers like Ted Bundy.
“When it comes to The Ted Bundy Tapes, they make that necrophiliac piece of human garbage seem cool and that really bothers us,” he says. “That was one of the complaints that we had about true crime media in general when we were doing the show. We’re like, ‘Let’s not make these guys seem like they’re good or cool or someone to emulate. These people are losers.’”
Which makes Bundy et al. rife for roasting.
In reflecting upon the past eight years of recording The Last Podcast on the Left, Zebrowski feels he and the guys are where they need to be.
“I really love doing our show,” he says. “We’re making money doing the podcast and we’re having a really good time. Our audiences, we get to go out there and see people. I don’t know what else to ask for.”