The Last Podcast On the Left is a true crime focused podcast that’s offensive, frequently mocks the sensitive topics discussed and often leaves me cringing.
Yet I can’t stop listening to it.
The podcast, hosted by Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks and Henry Zebrowski, takes a jovial approach to the darkest recesses of humanity, both real and mythical, from the Manson family and murder of JonBenet Ramsey to tales of the occult and alien abductions. The research is thorough, the host chemistry sharp and warm, and the jokes often hard to swallow. I find myself listening to episodes on the bus and instinctively laughing at a witty comment, quickly followed by a sharp intake of breath as I realise what I’ve just found funny.
I tend to cringe and groan at the so-called ‘equal opportunity offender’ brand of comedy, usually because it seems to punch down far more than it punches up. It relies on the same kind of low hanging fruit that they claim to oppose, and watching people defend it inevitably turns into a brand of myopic screeching I just can’t be bothered with. I’m not entirely sure what it is about Last Podcast On the Left that has me embracing this style. Granted, I’m a big fan of true crime stuff and have struggled with the podcasts out there on the subject. Serial did nothing for me and Sword and Scale’s moral inconsistences grated quickly. Here, while the targets are often easy and the jokes predictable, there’s at least a strong moral centre. The hosts clearly do the appropriate research – their Charles Manson episodes demonstrates a wide reaching selection of sources and the critical thinking to match – and there’s real passion for what they do. Their ability to laugh at the bleakness of it is, while not admirable, certainly understandable.
There’s a comfort to their refusal to embrace platitudes with the material at hand. There’s nothing remotely resembling tact here, even when the mood takes what could be called a serious turn. These men know exactly how off-colour they’re being, and how excruciating the topics at hand are to talk about in any manner, much less a jovial one. While similar shows struggle to retain a sense of legitimacy or folksy empathy that betrays the inherently exploitative nature of the format, The Last Podcast on the Left has no such inclinations. It forces you to acknowledge that this thing you love and gain so much pleasure from, this entertainment, is utterly tragic.
This may just be me reading way too much into something in order to justify my enjoyment. I’m fully aware of that. No doubt the Last Podcast hosts would find this hilarious. Whatever the case, there’s something to be said for confronting the worst of human nature with the stupidest of attitudes.