Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
When seemingly sane, normal people snap and go on killing sprees, it inevitably invites the question, “Why?” What could have possibly happened in the lives, or in the minds, of these mass shooters that made them want to transgress every law and moral dictate and end their life, and the lives of others, in a flurry of bullets and blood?
Some mass killers take their secrets and their motivations to the grave but some are considerate enough to share with a confused and aghast public exactly what motivated them to embark on their massacres. Hence, the aptly named manifesto, that sad, lonely lasting legacy of pathetic man-children who force the whole world to feel their pain.
Being spree killers and not the most sane or functional folks, these mass murderers predictably engage in rhetorical overkill, to the point where they’re killing morbidly fascinated readers with their excess verbiage as much as they’re killing less fortunate folks with their guns. As literature, these wild-eyed rants aren’t much, but like O.J Simpson’s If If I Did It, Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, and Donald Trump’s The Art Of The Deal, they provide a revelatory glimpse inside the minds of madmen.
On its “manifesto” episode, true-crime podcast Last Podcast On The Left takes a deep dive into the tragicomic universe of spree-killer manifestos and the fucked-up people who compose them through three manifestos chronicling “the crazy, the reasonable and the pathetic.” They take on the representative stories of “Virgin Killer” Elliot Rodger, Kyle Odom, a gentleman who killed a pastor while under the possibly incorrect belief that sexy Martians were manipulating him, and finally, enraged ex-police officer Christopher Dorner. In a break with tradition, Dorner killed more innocent people after leaving the Los Angeles police department than he did during his time as a cop.
The funny men begin with the manifesto of Rodger, whose magnum opus would be a masterpiece of unintentional comedy on par with The Room if there weren’t a bunch of dead bodies and brutally ended lives connected with it. I was particularly fascinated by this element of the podcast because I had actually read Roger’s manifesto during an eleven hour, all-night Greyhound bus ride from Chicago to Atlanta.
Incidentally, if you really want to feel like something must have gone horribly awry in your life, then I cannot recommend reading a spree killer’s manifesto on a sleepless bus ride highly enough. When contemplating Rodger’s bizarre literary legacy, Last Podcast On The Left are struck, as I was, by the comic disconnect between Roger’s wildly melodramatic, operatic, and heavily stylized writing and ideas and the incredibly pathetic, banal nature of his observations and concerns.
The podcast ratchets up the comic incongruity between Roger’s real life as a video-game playing nerd who can’t get laid and his conception of himself as an outsized figure of darkness, an all-powerful destroyer of worlds by “performing” excerpts from his manifesto but giving him the voice of an enraged middle-aged British character actor (think Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham).
It’s amusing enough that Roger managed to work in whining about his inability to master various skateboard tricks as a tween into his manifesto as to why all women are evil and must be killed. To actually hear these insane complaints delivered in the hilariously incongruous voice of a larger-than-life adult villain adds an additional element to the unexpected hilarity. The podcast never stops laughing at Rodger’s pain, and that wholly unmerited anguish never stops being funny.
To call Rodger a monster is to give him too much credit. What he did was monstrous, but he was a pathetic child with such an out-of-control sense of entitlement that he legitimately fell into a violent rage when he failed to win the lottery despite trying several times. Rodger honestly felt that he deserved to be given millions upon millions of free dollars in addition to being born rich.
Rodger’s total lack of self-consciousness and self-awareness, combined with his enormous yet brittle ego made him unintentionally hilarious, and this podcast makes the most out of his unfortunate peculiarities. A middle segment on Odom, the manifesto-writer who operated out of a delusional belief that his life was being manipulated by randy, shape-shifting, hormonally-overdriven martians isn’t as funny or entertaining because, as the podcasters themselves acknowledge, the spree killer was deeply mentally ill, and that illness informed every aspect of his manifesto.
The big laughs return on the last segment, however, on Christopher Dorner, an ex-Los Angeles cop who went on a killing spree as retribution for what he saw as the racism and corruption of the Los Angeles police department. The podcast deems Dorner the “reasonable” manifesto-writer because while nothing excuses Dorner’s actions, his belief that the Los Angeles police department is racist and corrupt and unfair could not be more reasonable. This closing segment is never funnier than during a hilarious “shout out” bit where the fellows imagine Dorner suddenly turning genial and chatty as he playfully discusses everything from the 2016 election to favorite comedians.
Some of the gallows humor in the podcast is on the tasteless side, but if the laughs are sometimes in questionable taste, they are big and plentiful. And honestly, if you can’t laugh at killing sprees and the muddled justifications behind them, then what in the hell is wrong with you?
Nathan Rabin is the author of five books, including Weird Al: The Book (with Al Yankovic) and the recently released Ebook “Short Read”, 7 Days In Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of The Juggalos And The Summer Everything Went Insane.