by Ryan Meehan
Ben Kissel is a host of several shows and podcasts in NYC. Since 2010 Ben has explored true crime, paranormal research, sports and politics on Cave Comedy Radio and has appeared weekly on The Last Podcast on the Left, Roundtable of Gentlemen, and Abe Lincoln’s Top Hat as well as many guest roles on the popular network. Outside of hosting he has written for MTV, MTV2, CMT, TLC and has appeared on Al-Jazeera America, Sirius XM and has currently produced his project: Lawbreaker. He’s also a new member of the bizarre and dark corner of the world that is Team Red Eye, and he’s my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: At what point in your life did you realize that you might be funny enough to do stand-up? How long after that did you actually get the confidence to get up and try your hand at comedy; and how would you best summarize your first two years on stage?
BK: In High School I was voted “loudest”, “rowdiest” and “class clown” but all I really wanted was to be “class rebel” which I lost by a handful of votes. I was always getting in trouble in school beginning when I attended Good News Fellowship in 1st grade. After a particularly boring lecture about religion the “teacher” asked me what I wanted to discuss so I climbed the 3 stairs to the stage where the pastor preached on Sundays and began singing “All Along the Watchtower” and playing air guitar. I was immediately sent to the Principals office, he was a pervert who seemed get off on spanking kids. So he spanked me. I have no idea where I got the idea to perform such theatrics but most likely from watching one of the Time Life music collection infomercials. Anyway, the kids laughed and at that point I figured I could do comedy. My first two years took place from the ages of 21-23 and I mostly worked in Madison, Wisconsin and Milwaukee. At this point I was really into David Cross, Doug Stanhope, and Bill Hicks so probably just channeled their energy and most likely came across as too angry or something.
RM: You’re six feet seven inches tall…How do you go about doing comedy in some of these smaller rooms here in NYC without hunching over your whole set or heading home with several bruises on your dome? Do you ever feel that there have been times in your professional life where your height has actually been a disadvantage?
BK: Believe it or not 6’7 is not the ideal size for a comedian, shocking right? But everyone has his or her own hurdles to get over in life and I’m not going to complain about being 6’7. God knows there are far worse things to be like 6’8. Again, I am not complaining but the reason I chose to invest so much energy and time into podcasting is because it’s an audio medium where people judge you based on your ideas not your physical appearance. Radio is a great window into the soul; it removes all artifice and reveals who you truly are. That’s why my fans truly love me because they know who I am and I love them because they accept me. When it comes to acting being 6’7 is not ideal. Actors are very tiny and my roles are slightly more limited, but at the same time I’m one of only a handful of performers who is 6’7 so at least I break out of the cisgender white dude pack. I believe my size will be a benefit in the future, God knows it made my childhood more difficult than it had to be.
RM: When did you first begin to notice that you had a strong interest in politics? Do you feel that many of your political beliefs are significantly influenced by your friends and family, or more so by what you’ve seen or read about various sociopolitical issues?
BK: I got into politics heavily during the lead up to the Iraq war in 2001/2002. Obviously 9/11 was a life-changing event that forced a lot of people to pay closer attention to world affairs and the United States Government. My grandfather was also very into politics. I didn’t get to see him much but whenever we traveled to Germany to visit we’d watch Larry King. My grandfather was a fascinating man of the world.
RM: How did you initially come to be involved with Cave Comedy Radio? Who are some of the individuals that are behind the success of that channel; and how many hours a week would you say you dedicate to providing content for those shows?
BK: I met Marcus Parks through Mike Lawrence and I’m forever grateful to Mike for making the connection. At the time Marcus was working at an Internet radio station and producing a show called “Portrait of a Comedian”. Mike told him about me and we met at a Hipster bar in Williamsburg Brooklyn called “Legion”. Marcus and I had a great conversation and became fast friends; we bonded over a movie called “Cannibal Holocaust” and our love of scary movies, politics, and an overall thirst for knowledge. Marcus is an encyclopedia of knowledge whether it be emotional intelligence or scholarly.
I met Kevin Barnett and we wanted to do a podcast. We reached out to Marcus and the Roundtable of Gentlemen was born. As we began the show we added Jackie Zebrowski, Ed Larson, and Holden McNeely. Along the way we had to kick a dude out for not taking it seriously enough. Which sounds strange but it’s serious business to get drunk and be funny with friends. After Roundtable was born Marcus began CCR with the wonderful owner of the Creek and the Cave Rebecca Trent. Following Roundtable, Marcus and I decided to do a political show called Abe Lincoln’s Top Hat followed by The Last Podcast on the Left.
RM: For those who aren’t familiar with the program, what do we need to know about “The Last Podcast on the Left”? With so many podcasts in the politics and comedy genres today, what makes that show unique; and what can it offer that listeners might not be able to get elsewhere?
BK: The Last Podcast on the Left is a show that covers intense subject matter with an amount of levity, heart, humanity and intelligence never before heard. Henry Zebrowski is the best character alive today and he shines in the subjects we discuss on the show. Whether it is true crime, paranormal, or my personal favorite episodes surrounding the events of 9/11, Henry is simply a comedic genius. Marcus should receive an honorary doctorate from Harvard for the amount of tedious and in-depth research he does for each episode. No other podcast has those two men on it and that’s why Last Podcast on the Left is making such waves around the world. Also, I have an amazing voice and people love it. Haha!
RM: In a paragraph or less, how would you introduce us to “Lawbreaker”? Where did you come up with the concept for that project; and how long has it taken you to develop into what it is today?
BK: Lawbreaker was a short documentary I made in order to shed light on the fact that there are too many laws in this country. There’s a great book by Harvey Silvergate that explains how the average American is constantly breaking the law because they’re too many of them and they’re too vague. The book is called “3 Felonies a Day”. I chose to break the law in Haddon New Jersey, where it was illegal to cross dress. I’m very proud of the documentary because we legitimately got a law wiped off the books and I showed that one person could make a difference at a local government level, which is where all policy begins. All politics are local and anyone can make a difference, and I hope to wipe hundreds of laws off the books before I’m done.
RM: Your first appearance on Red Eye was back in late August…Does that show move as quickly during taping as it looks on television? What’s the coolest thing about getting to do that program?
BK: Yep! It’s a fast moving show, which I love! Keeping things fast moving is as skill I’ve honed over the years of doing podcasts. It’s been a total honor doing that show! I’m a political nerd so I’ve had an opportunity to meet many of my favorite “stars”. As most people would freak out meeting Taylor Swift or Matt Damon I freak out meeting Lou Dobbs.
Quick side note: Kennedy has also been absolutely amazing and being on her Fox News Business show is unbelievably fun and one of those “pinch me” moments in this business.
RM: You also appeared on “The Greg Gutfeld Show” the day after, and it was probably the best episode of that show to date…How does the flow of that program differ from that of “Red Eye”; and what was your favorite segment from that show?
BK: Thank you so much! I love Greg Gutfeld more than Leatherface loves a chainsaw. He’s an incredible author, host and his opinion is needed now more than ever. The show has a very similar vibe to Red Eye but the couch lends to the feeling of a relaxed conversation that people have with their friends. Meeting him was one of greatest thrills of my career so far.
RM: Did you already know Kat (Timpf) from the circle of New York comics before the taping of those two shows? Given that a lot of your political opinions are probably very different, how often do the two of your discuss politics when you hang out?
BK: Yep! Kat and I met after a show at in a bar in NYC. We became quick friends because we both come from loud midwestern families and I’ve always enjoyed hanging out with sassy, opinionated people. Kat and I regularly talk politics, she’s extremely smart, beautiful and funny. Katherine Timpf is already a star and when it’s all said and done she’s going to be one the most influential journalists, authors, and television personalities in the world. I think it’s fair to say we both agree government needs to stay out of people’s lives and would like to see the entire political system reformed.
RM: She did an awfully powerful interview on your show where she shared the experience of losing her mother…What was the most important thing you learned about how people respond to death from that episode; and why would you consider that to be a must-listen for anyone who is going through a similar situation?
BK: Kat is the strongest person I’ve ever known. Her story is so powerful and it resonated with millions of people who have gone through or empathize with her going through such a horrific ordeal. The most important thing I learned was to reaffirm my belief in the power of humor. Kat’s limitless wit is truly something to be in awe of.
RM: How would you best describe the attitude Americans have towards politics a little over a year away from the 2016 presidential election?
BK: The American people feel the entire system is bought by big corporations and therefore have disengaged with the political process. Washington has failed the American people for decades and hurt job creation through NAFTA, TPP, repeal of Glass-Steagall, and the Telecommunication Act, just to name a few. So, the American people are pissed and that’s why Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina are doing so well in their respective parties.
RM: I heard Dick Cheney not too long ago state in an interview that he “would love” to see Vice President Biden run in 2016…Do you buy that he has any sort of genuine interest in that happening, or do you just think he just wants to see Hillary’s number’s dip in the polls?
BK: I can’t talk about Dick Cheney right now, THEY’RE listening.
RM: The Electoral College: Keep it or dump it? Why?
BK: I’m very conflicted on the EC. I do enjoy the idea of a popular vote as did Andrew Jackson and as DOES Al Gore but I also think there are more important reforms that need to happen. We must end rogue gerrymandering and redistricting in order to diversify congressional districts so that politicians are forced to compromise and actually legislate on behalf of their entire constituency.
RM: Which portion of the comedic writing process do you loathe the most and why? Conversely, which aspect of that procedure do you think is your specialty; and why do you think you excel at that particular part of your craft?
BK: I don’t really loathe any of it. I really enjoy writing with Henry Zebrowski; we have a pilot and a screenplay. My favorite writing to do is with friends, when we can just get together and play around. I’ve always surrounded myself with very talented, quick-witted people. I suppose the main thing I excel at is maintaining great company.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we need to know about?
BK: I have no idea what the future holds but as far as the rest of 2015 I’ll continue to grow my podcasts and perfect the craft of radio. I hope to continue appearing on Fox News and Fox Business, the network has been very kind to me and I’d like to grow with them more in the future. And with stand up my goal is to continue making audiences laugh.
Official Website: http://benkissel.com/
Ben on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ben.kissel.3
Ben on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BenKissel
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