Things took a turn, a left turn, when I spoke with one third of the terrifying, often paranoid podcast, Last Podcast on the Left (who you can catch at the Kennedy Center this weekend as part of the District of Comedy Festival though this show is ALMOST SOLD OUT). Marcus Parks and I started out discussing creepy places to vacation in America and ended up somewhere else. Much like their podcast, you never know when you’re gonna talk about ghost cats of the south, David Bowie and the occult or spectrophilia (you know, ghost boning).
Brightest Young Things: I like the idea of shoving gross weird things into the summer because it’s so light and airy and gorgeous and beautiful. Why shouldn’t we think about Halloween every day? Why is there a Christmas in July and not a Halloween in June? So, if people want to take a non-traditional, scary vacation this summer, where should they go?
Marcus Parks: I’d like to talk about things more conceptually. If you really want a creepy kind of vacation you should stay in America. People forget how creepy America is once you get out of the cities. Once you get out of the traditionally creepy areas of the northeast, especially New England. There are so my sights filled with ghosts and witches. The real creepy part of America is the southwest. There are so many hundreds of murders that happened in the Old West and a lot of that energy still remains. That’s where I’m from, a frontier town that’s not really old. In my town there’s a children’s cemetery. Since it was a frontier town filled with rattlesnakes, wild boars, droughts…kids died very easily. So many children died in this town they have an actual dedicated cemetery just for kids.
BYT: Any theories as to why there would be a cemetery just for children? I assume they had family members who also died and were buried in an existing cemetery.
MP: I really don’t have any idea. A lot of these children died very, very young. Maybe there was some sort of separation where you would go to visit your family you wouldn’t be reminded of such an awful memory. In the regular cemetery there are definitely plenty of children. I spent a lot of time in that cemetery staring up at the stars, writing terrible poetry, all that type of shit. It’s not just the cemeteries though, it’s the creepy people in America. Again, to use my hometown, there’s an inbred family there named The Muhles. They’re totally harmless but they’re inbred and they are creepy as fuck. They’re nightmare people and are what people imagine when they think of small town places.
BYT: Like Deliverance? Or The Hills Have Eyes? Somewhere between the two.
MP: They’re not dangerous and they have a watermelon stand next to their compound. They drive around and drag abandoned trailers to live in to their compound. I couldn’t imagine someone driving through and thinking, “That looks real nice, let me stop and get some watermelons.” But this is where the true creepiness of America lives, in these small towns off the beaten path. These big urban legends we all know…we all know The Mothman, we all know the Jersey Devil but here at Last Podcast we’ve done a ton of these cryptoid episodes and a ton of urban legend episodes. There are thousands of these across the United States. Every small town has an urban legend. Every small town has a haunted place. I think the creepiest part is to go out and look for those places that are a little less well known. The less you know the more your mind fills in the blanks. It’s the whole concept of not showing the monster in the horror movies. It’s like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, compared to the Saw movies, there isn’t a lot of onscreen death or gore. The scariest part is when Leatherface drags the girl back and closes the door. You’re not in any real danger with the paranormal.
BYT: As you were talking I remembered this abandoned church in my town we called Satan’s Church and I have no idea why.
MP: When did you grow up? The 90’s?
BYT: You’re a sweet angel. I was born in 1980, the Year of Our Lord Ronald Reagan.
MP: We both grew up during the Satanic Panic. It was very real. When we were teenagers, all of a sudden, Satan was everywhere. There were all these different cases all over America where people were being accused of running gigantic Satan-worshipping child sacrifice rings out of daycares, churches, everywhere. People got prosecuted and there are people still in jail to this day because of it. There was no evidence whatsoever except for the testimony of children. Of course the children were all coerced and rewarded for what they were saying. One child said they were flushed down the toilet where, and this is so funny, “Old grandma played the piano over and over.” This was the beginning of the Evangelical movement in the United State and when people switched from not-so-literally reading the Bible to believing Satan was real. That had a lot to do with The Exorcist. What these Satanic Panic stories created was all these small town in America that had churches where people said that’s where the Satan worshippers all get together, sacrifice goats, paint Pentagrams on the ground and the walls. There are definitely those houses but that’s just the fuck-ups in town having a good time. This is what happened with the West Memphis Three. But all these towns have those places. They have that house. It’s really fascinating to see how these things can start so small in America and can pervade every part of our lives.
BYT: It sounds like when someone says they live in a small town, it’s not really that small, but it sounds like you lived in a really small town. Now that you live in New York City, is there something similarly creepy in the big bad city? And I don’t mean crime, of course.
MP: I witnessed a murder two weeks ago. A man was coming out of a barber shop after hanging out after hours. He got into an argument with some guy and he pulled out a gun and shot him. Pretty soon after the cops came a woman showed up who had to be removed from the crime scene because she was screaming and crying. That was the part that was more disturbing than the murder itself.
BYT: Do you find that has changed how morbid you are, a little bit? Has it changed your perspective, since you’ve seen that up close?
MP: It was hard to come to work the next day and continue working on the Hillside Strangler. This stuff does get to me. It sounds like it doesn’t on the show but it very much does, especially when we do serial killer series. The episodes are really about the characters, taking these people the media likes us to think of the Boogeyman to keep us scared, but in reality these guys are nothing. They’re idiots, awful people, but they still kill a lot of people. You start to think about…with every murder you read about, “Okay, that was a real person with a real family who is still grieving to this day.” That’s a rule we’ve had from the beginning. Don’t make fun of the victims. The closest we came was making fun of the names of two of the victims in the H.H. Holmes episodes.
BYT: That happened so long ago. There is no way one of their family members is going to catch the episodes.
MP: Right, it happened over a hundred years ago. It might as well be fiction at this point. As long as no one is alive to hear it we feel a little safer. Maybe we shouldn’t, maybe it’s wrong, but we do. It’s like laughing into the abyss because life is chaos. We don’t know when the shitty things in life are going to reach out and touch us. If I didn’t have some kind of release for this type of stuff I think I’d go insane. I think that’s what the show does for a lot of people. It normalizes these awful things and we tell people you don’t have to be afraid of these things. The day-to-day things in life are scary enough. You don’t have to be afraid of the Boogeymen.
BYT: For me personally, I enjoy listening for a multitude of very weird reasons but a very real one is I have Borderline Personality Disorder, something a few serial killers have…so I find myself comforted by the fact that at least I’m not THOSE guys. I haven’t murdered anyone yet. It seems like at this point either you’re either a little more numb to the things you’ve discovered or you gravitate towards these topics because it doesn’t affect you as deeply. There are obvious exceptions, the 9/11 episodes were extremely tough. I was alive and I get the sense most of your listeners weren’t. So for you, what is the thing that goes bump in the night?
MP: My own mental illness?
BYT: Jinx! What’s your poison, maybe some depression?
MP: Bipolar and anxiety. I have a whole show where we talk about mental illness called Sex and Other Human Activities. I do it with Henry’s sister Jackie Zebrowski.
At this point we took a few minutes to go deep into our mental illnesses which helps to de-stigmatize them. YOU’RE ALL BEAUTIFUL SNOWFLAKES! Then we seamlessly shifted to horror movies for roughly 10 minutes. We’re doing great!
BYT: I’m going to reel (pun!) us back in. I was thinking about asking you who your favorite serial killer is which is a pretty standard question. Mine is…so I’ll tell you a story…I don’t like dating. My mental illness is exacerbated by relationships so I don’t date (more weird secrets!). I was on Bumble, the new Tinder, and I made my bio read: “Nothing in life is certain apart from how often I’ll talk about Jeffrey Dahmer in a day.” He’s classic but I appreciated him because I’ve always felt his motives were rooted in love and a need to be loved which is kind of beautiful. I’ve romanticized him.
MP: A lot of people do. Dahmer is a very interesting case.
BYT: He had a fairly normal upbringing and there is no reason why, no abuse. It manifested itself and that’s interesting.
MP: He was neglected.
BYT: Right, but usually with serial killers there was some sexual trauma.
MP: It wasn’t like Ottis Toole being dressed up as a girl when he was a child, the intense sexual abuse some of these people go through, or the head injuries.
BYT: That’s crazy how often that happens.
MP: It is, and I have a theory about that…but go on
BYT: Oh, now that I want to hear. So a gentleman caller swiped on my Bumble profile and proceeded to tell me that Dahmer is a little predictable and had I heard of…shit who’s the Russian serial killer, the famous one (my memory again).
MP: Andrei Chikatilo.
BYT: Yes! Thank you. I was like YEAH I DO KNOW WHO THAT IS. Are you fucking serious right now? I bet no one has ever had a serial killer mansplained (feminist term, everybody okay?) to them.
MP: Chikatilo is #2 for me. He was terrifying.
BYT: Was he the chewing on uteruses guy?
MP: Yes, he would chew on anything.
BYT: I think about that a lot, how chewy uteruses apparently are.
MP: He was absolutely horrifying, in historical context with the whole Soviet Russia thing.
BYT: Yes, the fact that Soviet Russia being a communist country contributed to that.
MP: It was a couple of things. One, you had a state-controlled media so none of these stories were getting out. And two, you didn’t have the cops really investigating it because Soviet Russia is supposed to be perfect, the model of which the rest of the world follows. You’ve got a Soviet citizen committing all these crimes that is admitting something about the system that is flawed. The historical context is fascinating.
BYT: That’s my argument FOR socialism in America! Why haven’t we made the leap Obama? Back to your theory about serial killers and head injuries?
MP: First of all let me preface by saying this has no scientific basis whatsoever.
BYT: Marcus Parks, not a scientist. Check.
MP: The injury you see on these guys again and again is the frontal lobe, the cortex. You see this especially when they’re kids.
BYT: Is that where your impulse control lies?
MP: I can’t remember if that’s impulse control specifically because a lot of these guys are extremely controlled. They have to be. Eventually they go into berzerko mode and get caught, like Bundy did. What I believe, possibly, is that part of the brain is somehow connected to the collective unconsciousness of humanity.
BYT: Carl Jung?
MP: Yes, exactly. I think when these guys are young that connection is taken away, that connection with humanity. They never fully form a connection with humanity that allows them to feel empathy with humanity. You don’t have to be a serial killer to do that type of shit. A very small number of psychopaths are serial killers. I think you mix in the head injury, abuse, the bed wetting, the animal mutilation, the pyromania…this will sometimes create a Ted Bundy or a John Wayne Gacy. That’s just my theory.
For the next 7 minutes Marcus and I talk about the collective unconscious which led to religion and how patterns develop across cultures and countries and I considered Pangaea as a theory and MESSAGE ME FOR DETAILS.
MP: It’s really fun to think about and at the end of the day it’s fun to think about it. It’s a lot more fun to kind of believe in something or at least to think about something or entertain a notion than it is to be a cynic or nihilist. For some reason people take a lot of pride in that. It’s just not as much fun. It takes a lot of flavor out of it.
BYT: I’m not a very whimsical person but I’m like WHO DOESN’T WANT TO BELIEVE IN MAGIC HAVEN’T YOU EVER BEEN TO A RENAISSANCE FESTIVAL?
MP: Yeah! They’re great. I love Renaissance Festivals.
BYT: In Maryland we have the second largest one in the country and I worked there for 3 years as a teenager. I do not care if fried Oreos are NOT a traditional sixteenth century snack. You guys should go.
MP: There is one in Upstate New York I like to go to. We’ll come down.
Recap of the remaining 15 minutes of this conversation: New York Comedy! Back to the Future! Star Wars! I have to transcribe over an hour! There is an after party at the Kennedy Center after your show! What weird documentaries should I watch on Netflix! My Favorite Murder! Gilmore Girls! Friday Night Lights! Marcus played football in high school! Varsity Blues is not an accurate portrayal of football in Texas!
Tickets for Last Podcast on the Left are NEARLY SOLD OUT but there are a TON of District of Comedy Shows you’ll love. The Last Podcast on the Left boys are GREAT FRIENDS with the Redacted Tonight fellas whose podcast you can catch before theirs THIS Saturday! Tickets are on sale but we have a FREE PAIR for you! Just tell us in the comments section below who your favorite serial killer is and why. Good luck!
Photos by Stevie Chriss, courtesy of Last Podcast on the Left