In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people the same 11 interesting questions.
Henry Zebrowski needs an outlet for his yelling. That might seem harsh, but we’re not saying anything he doesn’t. On his podcasts, the comedian—who you may recognize from his roles on shows like Superstore, Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell, and Crashing—often worries out loud about whether his obsessions with aliens (if it’s an episode of Last Podcast On The Left) and Frank Herbert’s Dune series (if it’s his new series, LPN Deep Dives: Dune) make him difficult to live with. But Zebrowski’s intensity is a blessing as well as a curse, lending passion and sincerity to his heavily researched explorations into the things that excite him.
When it comes to Dune, what excites Zebrowski is the philosophy behind the story—and, of course, the trippy sci-fi elements. (“This is a really good episode for some high-powered sativa,” he says at the beginning of episode five.) With co-host Holden McNeely (Wizard And The Bruiser) serving as the bemused straight man, LPN Deep Dives: Dune nails the balance between having fun with the material and making fun of it. Eight episodes of this 12-episode limited series are out on Spotify now, making it a good time to catch up if you’re not already listening.
Henry Zebrowski: As a kid, I would say the most memorable time I ever had was very similar to Michael Keaton’s Batman experience. My family used to go to Lake George, New York. And my family was always at a high stress point during vacations. We weren’t very good at vacations. But we used to go to the cabin at Lake George, and we loved it.
And I remember as a little kid, I was obsessed with bats. I wrote a big report in elementary school about bata. I kept hitting up a biologist named Merlin Tuttle, who was the preeminent bat biologist in America, with letters. I was very excited to talk about bats. And one time we went to Lake George, and we went out to do this, like, crawdad night fishing trip. And as we went out on the lake, we discovered that the whole place was filled with bats. We had bait in on our boat, and all of a sudden hundreds of bats were dive-bombing us. Everyone was screaming, but I loved it. I remember my mom going like, [Queens accent] “Oh my god! Oh, god!” But I was laughing. I absolutely loved it.
2. What’s something that’s considered a basic part of your current career that you struggled to learn?
HZ: Preparedness. I went to acting school at Florida State University, and they were only so thorough. We did script breakdowns and stuff like that, but I had to learn how to be truly prepared for a show, really knowing my part as an actor, because up to a point, you can get loose on it where you don’t do the pre-pro work. And I have discovered that every single time that I’ve struggled, in art and in life, it always came from from lack of preparation.
I don’t know if you can call it discipline, but I had to learn how much work has to go in before the words can come out. And that the prep going in is just as important as the words coming out. And that how you prep is also incredibly important. You need private time. You really need to devote time to it. You can’t be like, “I’ll wing it.” You really have to create your own discipline. And that really came into play during quarantine. I was like, “This is all about me really making sure that the podcast is as good as I can get it.” And it takes pre-pro. But it took a long time to learn that discipline, if you want to call it that.
For a while I thought it should always be on the fly. Everything should be organic and loose. That’s what freedom is. But it’s actually the opposite. The freedom only comes when I’ve created the safety net of the work. There’s an entire structure you have to create so that you can be super loose on top.
AVC: I agree with that, for sure.
HZ: That’s after a long time of fucking around. Many years of fucking around.
3. Did you pick up any new skills, hobbies, or get into something you hadn’t before during quarantine?
HZ: You know what I did get into? Doing yoga. So, yes, in quarantine, I do about three hours of yoga a week, three to four hours, and I feel younger than I’ve ever felt. I think my face is aging 10 times faster than it would have [otherwise], but my body feels better than it ever has because of yoga. That’s really the only thing I’ve done. Everything else has just been me and my wife sitting around like, “When can we get the fuck out of here?”
4. What restaurant do you not live near, but make a point to hit every time you’re in the right town?
HZ: Atlanta is my one of my favorite culinary cities in the country. Gunshow is always at the top of my list. It’s this restaurant in Atlanta that’s done by Kevin Gillespie and is out of control. I always hit them if I can. Also in Atlanta, there’s Holeman And Finch, which really taught me how much I can love balls. I love to eat testicles, and they make them great there. All the organ meats, really. That’s where I really learned to love organ meat. And I should mention The Optimist in Atlanta, because that place is also essential. And in New York—I will catch COVID to go to Katz’s. I will eat it with a ventilator on if I have to. Katz’s is still out of control.
AVC: How did they prepare the testicles that made you come around on eating them? Did they fry them?
HZ: I’ve had fried balls. Those are really, really good. I’ve also just straight up sauteéd balls. But this was when I was really opening up to adventurous food for the first time, and Holeman And Finch showed me that “discarded meat” can be treated in a really elegant and beautiful way, and a really tasty way. I remember I went one time—my favorite thing in the world is going to restaurants alone, because you can get into the hottest spot in any city if you’re willing to eat alone. You can just walk in and just be like, “See how lonely I am?” I’ve talked my way into restaurants by saying, “Can you put a stool over there and I’ll just sit by the bar?” And they will do it.
So I was sitting at the bar [at Holeman And Finch], and the guy was explaining about how they had all of these suckling pigs. There was a pig roast thing that they were doing. So they had piles of pig organs that they didn’t know what to do with! And they said, “The chef whipped up this Texas Toast deviled pig kidney [dish]—would you want to try that? Would you want to experiment with that? Because we don’t know if people are going to like it.” I was like, “Give it to me!” And it was just out of control. It was so good.
AVC: Do you have a preferred organ meat?
HZ: You can’t eat them all the time, but I still love sweetbreads. They’re so tasty. There’s something powerful about eating something’s inner guts. You get a buzz from it.
AVC: Given the interview subject, I’m going to include alien technology that is not available to the general public here. I’m going to make a caveat.
HZ: That would be great, because, first of all, how cool would it be to fly around in an orb? I would love to drive an orb. I already push the limits of my car, so it would be nice to have something that pushes the limits of gravity and sound so you can really make good time on the 405. I’d scare people as I go, so everybody would feel my presence. That’s my main thing.
But you know what else I would really love? A piece of fucking software that, when you agree to something in an email, or you set a meeting in an email, it just automatically goes to your calendar. I feel like that’s doable. Like if you say in a text, “We’ll meet at this time,” it takes that information and puts it right into your calendar. That would be useful to me.
AVC: How do you feel about the surveillance state in general?
HZ: My perspective on that is skewed, because I’m a performer and I want everybody to know where I am. I want you to know my face. Not all the time, but I gave up a certain amount of privacy by having a job as a paid performer. You don’t have the same anonymity that other people have. That’s your goal in your career, to not be anonymous! But I think people should be able to opt in. I think that there should be an option where people can leave. My prediction is that future generations will actually become more like Luddites, and that there will be more and more people opting to get off the grid, even as a style. It’ll be cool to be off the grid at some point.
AVC: I think that’s totally true. You’ll see people now who have a flip phone as an affectation.
HZ: I think it’s already happening. But, you know, they don’t need to outwardly track us, because we give up our information all the time. Just by having a smartphone, they can track you at any time. If you watch that propaganda series on Netflix called Spycraft, they talk about how how jazzy it is that they can take a picture of your credit card from space if you hold it in your hand. And you’re just like, “That’s a real casual drop. You’re acting like it’s super cool, but it’s not necessarily cool.”
So when people say that they need to collect a bunch of AR-15s to fight the government, I don’t know if they understand that the government has robot soldiers that will kill you. They have swarm drones that can go into your house that they operate remotely. They don’t even need to show up to kill you. [Sighs.] There’s a lot of shit going on.
HZ: I’ve honestly had a lot of cool experiences. People that are very famous, for the most part—at least the ones that I’ve met—have been relatively chill. Straight up, Leonardo DiCaprio was incredibly inviting and nice and put a lot of time into our little group of Wolf Pack guys. He was as advertised. [Zebrowski played Alden Kupferberg, a.k.a. “Sea Otter,” in The Wolf Of Wall Street. —Ed]
Just being in his circle for a tiny period of time was wild, because he does live like a pharaoh. But he was also incredibly nice. He never talked down to anybody. He knew everybody’s names. He’s that type of person. He has that thing where you can see why everyone gravitates towards [him]. Also his head weighs fucking 20 pounds. His head is huge. His hands are huge.
He gave us this view into his life, and we went to the club with him and sat at his table—I know it’s ridiculous, but for someone like me? I was such a goober. It was 2012. I had no money. I did not belong there. And he was like, “Sit here at this table with us.” I’m like, “This is incredible.” I got that—you know that type of silent drunk where you’re just sitting in the corner, like, [Slurs] “Wowee wow, look at all this action?” But he was very gracious. He couldn’t have been cooler.
AVC: Maybe I’m being cynical, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect that from Leonardo DiCaprio, because he’s been famous for so long.
HZ: I had no idea what to expect, but he was so down. He’s super funny! We improved together. We did weeks of rehearsal, and he was really funny and he was really into input and he worked so hard. I think that was a part of it too, watching someone functioning at that level in his craft. Watching how he did stuff was like an acting class in and of itself. He really is an incredible pro, and is willing to share his secrets and his tactics with you.
He would come to me and be like, “So what’s your what’s your weekend going to be like?” I was like, “You want to know what my weekend is going to be like? Well, me and my buddies are doing a sketch show. You want to come?” And he’s like, “We’re actually going to be taking the jet to Australia. We’re doing this crazy press junket. But hit me up next time!” And I was like, [Trembling voice] “You got it, Mr. DiCaprio. Whatever you need!”
AVC: I’m picturing Leonardo DiCaprio coming to a sketch show now.
HZ: Oh, my god, I wish he had, especially the way we were doing sketch at the time. It was probably some Bushwick-ass crazy punk party. We did a lot of weird variety shows and stand-up shows in the dead of Brooklyn. And god, I would just love to see him come in with that little pageboy hat he’s got on all the time, hanging out with all these Bushwick weirdos from 2012.
HZ: The worst job I ever had was I worked for a headhunting agency. I had to cold call into businesses and try to steal people from one company and hire them into another. And I had this boss that would scream at us all day, like, “I never want to see you off the fucking phone!” It was wild. He was like, “Don’t you fucking look at me! Every friend I ever had died in 9/11!” We were all like, “Super chill. What a super cool job this is.” But I quit. I threw my tie at him. I had a meltdown and I threw my tie at him. And then security escorted me out.
HZ: House Atreides. They believe loyalty begets loyalty. Duke Leto himself tried to be the symbol of [honor]—on the podcast we talk about him being lawful good. Normally, I love villains in stories, but the Atreides Group was honorable, strong, and could also kick so much ass. They were everything. They were good and cool and powerful. I wish I had that sense of discipline in my life, or that sense of true noble purpose. And living up to the name of your own family would be incredible. If I was a member of House Atreides, I would fight to the death for my Duke.
AVC: You arguing for House Atreides is really compelling, because I normally am like, “Gross, the goody two shoes hero, blech.”
HZ: Me too! But Paul Atreides is such an interesting dude, because he loves Duke Leto so much. And there are all these other people inside of House Atreides that are not necessarily family members—they work for the house, essentially—but they became like family. Gurney Halleck and Duncan Idaho and those guys are some of the coolest characters in literature. That’s such a good crew to roll with. I wish that I could have been a member of that crew. The only heroes I have ever rooted for were House Atreides and Dale Cooper. Everything else, I root for the villain.
AVC: So Kyle MacLachlan roles, basically.
HZ: If I met Kyle MacLachlan, I would faint. He’s one of those. I’ve heard he’s very nice.
AVC: Yeah, he replies to people on Twitter. He seems very down to earth.
HZ: He’s the coolest dude on the face of the planet. Apparently his wine is very good. I was looking into it. It’s very expensive. But I have this belief in my mind that one day I’ll meet him.
9. What’s the first piece of art or earliest piece of media that inspired you to go into your field?
HZ: Ghostbusters was to me, as a kid, so inspirational. I was a creepy little kid. I loved everything that was horror- and ghost- and serial killer-related. My mom actually got me into that. She was very interested in the paranormal and true crime. But Ghostbusters resonated with me because of the dynamic of Peter Venkman and Ray Stantz. Dan Aykroyd in that movie is so passionate, and Venkman is the ultimate smart aleck dude who’s above it all. And that confidence mixed with the passion of Ray is what really attracted me [to the movie]. And it’s both funny and scary!
As soon as I began to understand that my comedy career would never get to the point where I would get to be in a Ghostbusters movie, I [decided] that I could make myself a Ghostbuster in real life. That was part of the impetus for when Last Podcast On The Left started to get very serious. It was about three or four years in, and [co-host] Marcus [Parks] and I looked at each other and said, “I want to become an expert in this material.” This is about me being able to take myself on a journey to become Dan Aykroyd—which is probably a bad idea, because I think he’s un-hirable now. Everybody thinks he’s insane. That’s where you get to eventually—you become a crazy person ranting. You call it a pitch, but no one else does.
AVC: I feel like you’re better situated than most, because you have your own podcast network. You have a home for the ranting.
HZ: If there isn’t a home [for you], you have to build it for yourself. That’s a thing we all learned at some point. You have to take some agency in this art form, because people don’t just give you stuff. You really have to build it yourself.
HZ: All my comedian friends are funny, but the person who cracks me up the most is my sister. Jackie Zebrowski is just so damn funny as a person. I think sometimes she gets mad when I laugh at her, because she’s not meaning to be funny at all. But she has that aura. She’s a unique woman.
AVC: Has it always been like that with the two of you?
HZ: We started doing sketch together in college, because I’m three years ahead. As kids, we weren’t super close—I mean, we were as close as brother and sister can be. But then in high school, I think it was a little bit more, “Is she doing drama because I did drama?” I’m not going to speak for her. I think it was more [me] trying to figure out whether she was doing it for herself versus, “Is she doing it because she’s looking up to me?” But she really gained her own presence in high school. She started doing a lot of drama, and doing a lot of competitive drama. And then in college is when we really clicked in terms of our humor because we started doing sketch comedy together.
But also, all throughout our childhood, Jackie and I would play these imaginary [games]. We used to play a game called Animals, where we would pretend to be animals with each other all day. We had one of those old 25-pound VHS camcorders, and we did videos together for years. So we kind of did always have this performance connection—and my parents don’t have any clue where the hell it came from. It is not in our family in any way, shape, or form. No one does show business. So it was just this weird thing where both of us were just very into being funny very early, and I don’t know why.
I mean, my dad is hilarious, but he also has one punchline and then he sticks to it. He hits one joke, he does it three or four times in a day, and then for the rest of our lives it’s the one catchphrase that he has. A lot of [what he says] can’t even be repeated in a lot of circles anymore. My mom is also a character, she’s so funny. But they’re not pointedly funny. They’re not ever purposefully funny.
AVC: They’re not trained funny people.
HZ: I don’t know what the hell we are. We just have a void inside of us that drove us to this. I don’t really know what made us do this, but we did it! So far it’s been fine.
HZ: Should the sandwich represent your personality, or should it be a sandwich that you would eat every day for the rest of your life? Is it your favorite sandwich, or is it, “This is me as a sandwich?”
AVC: I would go more toward the sandwich that you could eat every day for the rest of your life, because they name sandwiches after people when they go into a place and ask for them a lot.
HZ: Well, then, if that is true, I’m going to just name what I like. I think I might throw people off, because I like a chicken sandwich. It’s my favorite. I don’t know why, but it’s my go-to. I would probably do something along the lines of a chicken patty melt with jalapeño. I would put some pepper jack cheese in there, maybe a slide of avocado and a piece of prosciutto inside of it. Yes, that’s what it is. A chicken patty melt with prosciutto and avocado inside of it.
AVC: Oh, my god, that sounds delicious.
HZ: I’m fucking starving. I’m hungry now. I just sent my brain into a fantasy and just imagined it in my fingers. Seeing that on a menu, I’d be like, “Oooh.” This isn’t me going extreme, but what are you going to do?
AVC: It’s an achievable dream, that sandwich.
HZ: I think that’s important for people to understand, is that all your dreams are achievable if you just make them small enough. And that’s a big deal. You just make them achievable and you can get them.