Despite the serious and, at times, disgusting nature of the show’s subject matter, Last Podcast On The Left is one of the most popular and beloved comedy podcasts around. Each week, three co-hosts discuss the background, the atrocities, and the aftermath of a serial killer or a large scale tragedy with a specific blend of research, psychological analysis, and humor. The results are equal parts informative, horrifying, and hilarious, which has earned the show a huge worldwide following and frequent appearances in the top 10 of iTunes comedy charts.

Anyone who has listened to a few episodes of the show is likely aware that one Last Podcast host, Ben Kissel, has strong Wisconsin roots. The now-New York-based podcaster, comedian, and political pundit grew up in Stevens Point before winding up at UW-Milwaukee, where he graduated with a degree in political science. Before Last Podcast On The Left comes to Turner Hall on July 14 for a live show, Kissel talked to Milwaukee Record about his stand-up start, being tipped in weed by people in Riverwest in college, why the Midwest might play a role in the incubation of some killers, and what to expect when his show comes to Milwaukee.

MR: When you were living here, did you ever get involved in local stand-up, or is that something you got into after you moved to New York?

BK: Well, the first place I ever did stand-up was at the Acme Comedy Club in Minneapolis, Minnesota. That was extremely fun. There was a big crowd that was actually there to see the show. I did very well my first time, and I’ve since bombed, which is really exciting and fun. I did a lot of stand-up in Minneapolis.

Then when I went to Milwaukee, I did a lot of comedy there. There was one venue called JD’s Comedy Cafe, which I believe is no longer JD’s Comedy Cafe. JD gave me a break and he’d let me come up and do announcements on the stage, basically—not even able to tell a joke. I’d just tell people the email, the telephone number, and where comment cards were located, then I’d bring on the host. That was actually a great experience when it comes to getting stage time and getting comfortable in front of a crowd. He benefited me greatly, despite the fact that JD’s Comedy Cafe had a notorious reputation for being quite a dangerous place, specifically with the bouncers. A few years previous, before I was able to get on stage there, they actually killed someone by throwing him into traffic. I believe it’s Brady Street. They had quite a notorious reputation for being comedy club bouncers. They were all strapped. They all had guns, and it was an interesting place to say the least.

MR: I listened to the Dahmer episodes recently, and if I’m not wrong, didn’t you work at a Jimmy John’s while you lived here?

BK: Yes I did. I was going through college and I had a yellow Geo Metro. And we know the winters of Wisconsin are not necessarily conducive to a yellow Geo Metro convertible, specifically when you’re a deliver driver. I got the job at Jimmy John’s, and it was definitely my favorite college job. I had it for about two, two and a half years and I would just roll around the campus and the Riverwest area. A lot of the times, college kids would tip me in weed, and at the end of the month, I can remember telling them “I need money. I’m going to need tip money because my landlord doesn’t accept weed for payment.”

MR: What were some of your old haunts? Like, what are some places you miss and are there any you might try to hit up while you’re here?

BK: Honestly, a couple of my haunts in Milwaukee, I had so much fun at all of them that I forgot what they were called. There was the Y-Not Y-Not Y-Not and I believe there was The Eastsider. That whole Oakland Avenue and North area. I had the manager of the BBC as a reference because I had no job when I moved to New York or connection to a job. I got here with $1,500 and got a place in Bed-Stuy. Obviously, all that money was gone in 24 hours with the down payment and the first month’s rent, so I needed to get a job bouncing or bartending. So I used that bar as my reference when I first got here, and then I proceeded to get fired from about 20 bar jobs once I got to New York City. It was mojito summer and I consistently broke multiple glasses.

MR: So you moved out there with nothing and now you’re on this wildly popular show. Are you excited to return under such positive and awesome circumstances?

BK: Yeah, we have a great audience out there and I love Milwaukee. It’s a nice opportunity to come back and have something to do, and we’ll be able to meet a lot of people. It feels awesome to get back there. I love Wisconsin. I don’t get to visit too much, but every time I do, I’m reminded of how amazing the people and the culture are. I really enjoy the culture of joyous celebration when it’s nice and the tough working person attitude of individuals hunkering down in the winter time. My first winter in New York, I was pissed because it was like 20 degrees on average and everyone was complaining. I had no idea that Wisconsin winters were so much harsher New York. I sort of felt enraged that these people were complaining about the winter, considering what Midwest winters live with for, like, six or seven months of the year.

MR: Keeping with that Midwestern angle, why do you think so many of the, as you called them on the show, “heavy hitters” have roots in the region? Is there any factor between the Midwest upbringing and the manufacturing of monsters like Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, and John Wayne Gacy?

BK: The Gein situation, he came from Plainfield, which is only about 20 minutes outside of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, where I’m from. It’s very isolated and very rural. Specifically when he was alive. I think with the Dahmer situation, just given the sexual norms of the times, you do wonder if there was maybe an outlet for him to express his sexual orientation if he wouldn’t have gone down the path that he did. Of course, there are many, many, many, many, many gay people who did not do what Jeffrey Dahmer did, so that might be a bit of an excuse. But I think we do have to ask ourselves these social questions regarding these actions of these individuals who might’ve felt completely disenfranchised, out of touch, and unable to relate to anybody because of the social construct of their generation.

With Ed Gein, I think it was immense amount of isolation. If you look at what he did, other than killing those two women—which is obviously atrocious—he was a grave robber with interest in the human form and a macabre sensibility. I think that’s unique to having an immense amount of land with no one around. Idle hands… And I think his hands were definitely idle and they did a lot of the devil’s work.

MR: Everyone knows the body counts and the acts, but one thing I love about your show is that you balance humor when warranted, background of the killer, and a social analysis of why these crimes were allowed to occur—like law enforcement fuck-ups or whatever. Is that a hard balance to strike? At the end of the day, you’re speaking about victims, as well as people who were capable of inhumane things.

BK: One thing we consistently attempt to avoid at all costs is making fun of any of the victims. We really want to humanize these people who you previously thought of—because of documentaries, television, newspapers, and magazines—as monsters. In reality, if you get to know the background of Richard Ramirez, Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer, or the countless other people we’ve covered, you really get to understand that they’re not the boogeyman, they’re actually weak, timid, socially-inept people who think they’ve been elevated to the status of monster. They’re beneath that, and people are the ones who can control those kinds of people. So many times in media reports and documentaries, they give them these almost superhuman powers when, in reality, a lot of them are just drifter losers. I think it’s important to look at them like that and not glorify them. I think that’s dangerous, so we’re trying to break that narrative.

MR: Can you give any hints on the killer or the event that you’ll be tackling at Turner Hall next month?

BK: Oh my goodness, I’ll tell you this live show is a lot of fun. We have one video up top that I strongly denounce. I’m running for Brooklyn Borough President and I denounce [the video] with all of my will, but the audience seems to love it. That’s cryptid-related, so we’ll touch on a cryptid and we’ll talk about a specific serial killer who does happen to be Midwest-based. I will say that it is not Jeffrey Dahmer. And Ed Gein wasn’t a serial killer, so it’s not Ed Gein. We’ll have some alien stuff. It’s kind of a nice smattering of the whole show. It’s a buffet. It’s a macabre buffet.

Ben Kissel will perform as part of a Last Podcast On The Left live show at Turner Hall on Friday, July 14. The show begins at 7 p.m. and tickets are $25.

About The Author

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Co-Founder and Editor

Before co-founding Milwaukee Record, Tyler Maas wrote for virtually every Milwaukee publication (except Wassup! Magazine). He lives in Bay View and enjoys both stuff and things.