A Horror Honeys exclusive Interview by Addison Peacock
Henry Zebrowski is known for his work on the Adult Swim series Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell and, most notably, his work as a cohost (along with Marcus Parks and Ben Kissel) on the Cave Comedy Radio show Last Podcast on the Left. The podcast, which is currently on a tour of live shows across the United States, is a podcast about horrific true crime, the supernatural, alien encounters, conspiracy theories, and everything that lurks in the dark corners of society. Henry was generous enough to give up some time to chat with me about true crime, Jack the Ripper theories, and how studying the darkest parts of the world can impact our humanity.
Addison Peacock: Since what many people know you from is a podcast where you talk about serial killers and brutal murders, I wanted to ask: What was the first case that you ever heard about that really intrigued you?
Henry Zebrowski: The thing that I remember the most, and my mom recently reminded me of, is that I used to collect articles about the Zodiac Copycat killer that was happening in Queens. When I was a kid, growing up, I was a big local crime junkie at the time because New York was nuts in ’89-90, and I would just get the New York Post and cut out pictures of the Copycat Zodiac. I was way into it, I had all the letters, and I had it all cut out in a little folder, that I thought I was hiding from my family but I imagine they thought I was just waiting for them to go to sleep so I could fucking kill each one of them.
AP: Did your mom ever express any concern to you about this? Did anyone ever intervene or ask you what that was about?
HZ: We were kind of left to our own devices, and I think she just didn’t want to know what was happening. And I think she allowed it because what happened was, I got my mom’s copy of It, and I did a book report on it. I brought it to school and did a book report on it. And my mom discovered I did that because basically my teacher had a lot of concerns but also said “well, he’s very smart” so then my mom kind of equated that to “oh, he’s smart, we can allow him to read all this stuff because he’ll disseminate”. Little do they know I’m up at night just staring, just filled with terror, just afraid of everything. But then, eventually, you grow numb to it.
AP: I think that all of you guys on Last Podcast on the Left are very good at “laughing at the darkness” but you specifically are very good at looking in the face of the deepest darkest parts of humanity and just cracking jokes. How do you do that?
HZ: Well, that’s our job. And of course it’s a natural defense mechanism. I think honestly it’s a healthy thing for people. You can diffuse some of the tension. Get rid of the dark, shine a light into it. I’ve always believed in that idea of “if you’re afraid of something immerse yourself in it”, learn as much about it as possible. It takes the fear away, you get some power back. Because then you have weapons against it, you know how it works on the inside. Like, the idea that serial killers are all pretty much losers? To me, that’s a very powerful weapon against them. It’s the same for our situation today and the government, like knowing that Donald Trump is just an attention-hungry child. And you get empathy, number one, which I think is important for all of society, if you can understand even the worst human being you can learn a lot about yourself. Now some of these guys like Ted Bundy should have just been murdered, what can you do? Sometimes humankind just makes mistakes. Hopefully there aren’t a lot of those.
AP: Do you get more sensitive to it as you get older, the more you live around other people?
HZ: You have more to lose. Like I’m getting to the dumb age where kids could happen. I’m now an active part of life. I think that dark humor is really useful until it becomes self-destructive. And once it becomes destructive, which is that full nihilistic “fuck everything” thing, and then you’ve lost. You’ve already lost the battle, you’re not gonna change anything, you’re not gonna give anything to society. So at some point I said, I’m kind of done with watching people die. I don’t need any more visual reminders that we are just bags of meat with electricity running through us.
In my experience, it’s not some. Most people are interested in serial killers and true crime. I would say 75% of people are interested in serial killers and true crime. I think at some point everybody is interested in the fringe and the idea of “can my brain go there?” We are curious about what they did and why they did it, in order to 1. Avoid these things 2. Be able to dally and express yourself in a weird dark way that you can’t do in your normal life, which you can do vicariously through reading about these horrible things. The 25% that don’t, to me, are often the ones doing the real crimes. I honestly imagine that if you say “ugh, it’s disgusting that you read about serial killers, you’re disgusting for liking true crime” that a lot of the time you have another fucked-up thing. They’re the ones slowly poisoning their wife. I’m scared of those people, because I think they’re darker. They have no expression, they can’t get it out.
AP: Do you think there’s a catharsis then, in exploring dark subjects? Whether that be supernatural, conspiracies, true crime, etc? Do you think that can be beneficial for mental health?
HZ: Absolutely! In my head, accepting the funnest form of history and the funnest form of the truth, playing with the ideas and accepting them as real, it’s a great escape. A great escape from this possible idea that I am chained to this body and have no purpose but to eat shit and maybe make another. With true crime specifically, obviously it’s a catharsis, because everybody’s into dark stuff. People who say they aren’t are just pent up and strange. It’s why people like gangster movies. They think, “I like the Godfather but I can’t stand reading about Ted Bundy” The Godfather? He killed like 25 people in that movie. Everybody loves crime stories and dark stuff. It just works on a gradient. It goes from people who like to look at the crime scene photos to “I made a cthulu coaster.”
AP: Has reading so much horror, reading so much about the capacity for human cruelty, changed the way you look at the general population?
HZ: Absolutely. We’re barely-disguised animals ready to kill each other at any point. Maybe that’s a paranoid statement. But I have definitely become more paranoid. We do all these live shows, and there are times when I think “someone could definitely shoot me in the head. This would be a really perfect time for someone to come and kill me”. We walk in a room and it’s 800 people vs us three. And Kissel’s pretty big, so he’s scared of no one because he’s 7 feet tall, but I’m tiny. wHEN we have a guy in the house doing cable or something, I stare at him. Being nice, offering water, not being an asshole, but I follow him from room to room because I’m not having him put secret cameras in my bathroom so he can watch me take a shit. There’s a really good movie, 13 Cameras, a horror movie about that. This guy’s a super at an apartment just a big creepy guy creeping out this woman and he’s got a camera everywhere in her house. I cover my laptop camera now.
AP: Do you have any particular case you’ve covered for Last Podcast that even you, someone who is rather desensitized to horror and terrible things, couldn’t fully let go of? Has anything you’ve covered really gotten to you?
HZ: I mean, Dennis Rader is the most cruel. There’s a weird sort of charm with a lot of serial killers and he’s just a putrid asshole, just the worst person, and that kind of made me upset. Crimes-wise is the two guys with the hammers, they’re Russian? Those guys are rough. That’s the stuff that gets me because it’s not about the crime, it’s about them wanting to videotape it. It’s not about the murders, it’s about wanting everyone to see them do it. We have a greater capacity for wanting to manipulate and indulge in attention. It’s the easiest thing to kill in the name of. We just watched the new Party Monster documentary Glory Days. A guy who was a club promoter in the late 90s/early 2000s, and threw all these huge parties, killed a drug dealer in his apartment. He and his buddies cut up the body, put it in a suitcase, threw it into the East River. He plead guilty to manslaughter, got ten years. He gets out, and now he’s throwing huge parties just on the fact that he killed somebody. His draw is that he’s a murderer.
AP: On one particular episode of LPOTL, you were talking about a murderer you would want to play in the movie of him. If you could play any famous serial killer in a biopic about him, who would it be?
HZ: Oh, definitely John Wayne Gacy. I mean, John Wayne Gacy is kind of the dream, as a comedian and a bigger man. Honestly now, after going through it, is Jack the Ripper. The problem is that we don’t know who he was.
AP: You recently discussed Jack the Ripper on LPOTL, and theories about who he was. Do you have a favorite Jack the Ripper theory?
HZ: Marcus is big for the Australian dude who was in town doing the murders. Which is fine, but you need to know Whitechapel really well to do the things Jack the Ripper did because you’re in pitch-black alleyways. So I don’t know if it was a guy visiting. I think it had to be someone living there. I think it’s along the lines of the The Butcher Theory. There’s one person that they talk about who I think is the most compelling, it’s a guy named David Cohen. The issue there is that they called everyone Cohen who was Jewish when they heard a name that they couldn’t understand. There were records of a guy who was in a home for the infirm who was the younger brother of a prominent Jewish businessman, who was in and out of asylums for being incredibly dangerous. He was a danger to himself and other people, and ended up committing suicide. So maybe it was that guy. Also, the Royal Conspiracy is fantastic.
AP: Just in general, the film world and the entertainment world are inundated with true crime documentaries right now, and I think people don’t know where to start. Do you have any favorites or films that you think are a good place to start?
AP: To wrap up, in terms of diving into true crime, I think it’s easy to get really exhausted and afraid of everything. Is there anything that you specifically do to de-stress, take a step back, or help you focus on the positive for a bit? To mentally recharge.
HZ: I go dark on my phone for at least an hour a day, I don’t look at it. I meditate. Make dinner. Hang out with my girlfriend and friends. Choose that, choose life. Go do a thing, go do anything. Go have fun with anyone, go make a friend. It’s outside of the research. Leave research and content alone and go spend time with a human being. Reinvest in humanity.
Last Podcast on the Left, is on tour through March 25th.
Information on tickets, dates, and locations can be found HERE