Television veteran and host of Halloween Baking Championship, John Henson, talks about how being the youngest of a family of boys shaped his path to comedy and the origin story of his nickname, “Skunk Boy.”
Television veteran and host of Halloween Baking Championship, John Henson, talks about how being the youngest of a family of boys shaped his path to comedy and the origin story of his nickname, “Skunk Boy.” He shares some moments that have defined his career over the past three decades and his perspective on his responsibilities as a host. John talks about the immersive environment of the Halloween Baking Championship set and what it feels like for this year’s theme to be “Hotel Henson.” He gives his two cents on classically trained versus self-taught contestants and the number one mishap he observes on the show. John reveals just how long the judges - Carla Hall, Stephanie Boswell and Zac Young - are in hair and makeup and how he manages to keep a straight face when they attempt to give serious critique in costume.
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Find episode transcripts here: https://food-network-obsessed.simplecast.com/episodes/john-henson-on-hosting-duties-how-he-keeps-a-straight-face
Jaymee Sire (00:02):
Hello, hello and welcome to Food Network Obsessed. This is the podcast where we dish on all things food with your favorite chefs, food influencers, and food network stars. I'm your host Jaymee Sire, and today we have an entertainment industry veteran on the podcast to talk about his three decades in television. And his signature comedic voice. He is an Emmy nominated host, producer, actor, and writer, and the host of Halloween Baking Championship. It's John Henson. John, welcome to the podcast. I am so excited to chat with you today because, um, I was, I was a talk soup fan back in the day, so excited to
John Henson (00:48):
Oh. come on. First of all, you're not nearly old enough.
Jaymee Sire (00:51):
John Henson (00:52):
Second of all, I assume if you were watching Talk Soup, you were some sort of a latchkey kid because at whatever age, whatever tender age you would've been watching somebody should have been supervising you. That show should not have been on the Airways.
Jaymee Sire (01:09):
Um, yes, I was, I was latchkey. But also in high school, I believe when you were, you were hosting, uh, maybe early college. So, um, no ex very excited to chat. Uh, for those who aren't Die Hard Talk suit fans, what is the Skunk Boy origin story that still, uh, lives on in your, your social media handles?
John Henson (01:27):
Oh, God. So that was, you know, I I was a, an enormous Talk soup fan before I became the host of it. It was originally, uh, hosted by Greg Caner, and Greg used to refer to himself as Soup Boy
Jaymee Sire (02:15):
John Henson (02:19):
I ended up naming my production company Skunk Boy Ink, and yeah, it's an era specific nickname, but occasionally, like I'll be on the street and just hear from a passing car, Skunk Boy
Jaymee Sire (02:33):
I love it. Well, now you are the host of Halloween Baking Championship, the creepiest culinary competition out there. But before you, uh, you hosted and produced shows like Wipe Out and as we just mentioned, uh, Talk Soup on E can you kind of walk us through your path through into the entertainment industry?
John Henson (02:49):
I went into, uh, into comedy very early on. I, I, I started freshman year of college. I started doing improv, and then sophomore year of college I discovered standup and, uh, immediately became obsessed with it. And, um, and I, I actually released myself on my own recognizance from school
Jaymee Sire (03:13):
I like that, that terminology,
John Henson (03:15):
I left college after my sophomore year to do standup. You know, maybe seven, eight years later I ended up getting talk soup and, and moved out to LA in 95. And I've been incredibly fortunate in that. I mean, I'm coming up on few years. It'll be 30 years in television for me. So I, I've been Wow. Very, very lucky to, uh, to get continually trick people into hiring me.
Jaymee Sire (03:41):
John Henson (03:50):
Uh, I think it was, you know, standup is, um, performance wise, it's like jumping out of a plane. I mean, you're, you know, you're up there by yourself and it, it, it's, it's gladiator school in terms of, uh, of comedy. And, um, at, at the time that I started standup was really exploding in, in the country. It was like, you know, comedy clubs were popping up all over the place and, and, um, I had always been into comedy. Uh, uh, I have four older brothers and, you know, I was the kind of kid who, who grew up watching, uh, Saturday Night Live obsessively and David Letterman. And so, um, when I started, uh, I, I just really had, I mean, it really genuinely was an obsession. I just felt like I have got to get good at this, and I don't care how long it takes or what it costs me. Like, this is all I want to do. And, and honestly, I, I think it kind of requires that because mm-hmm.
Jaymee Sire (05:13):
John Henson (05:14):
And, and I was like, I, I, I, I give him a very honest answer. I go, I'm not good at anything else. And he goes, All right, well then don't give up your seat at the bar, meaning don't stop, just keep mm-hmm.
Jaymee Sire (05:38):
What was that first time being in New York, standing on, on stage and doing, doing Your thing?
John Henson (05:44):
My first night in New York City, I went to the comic strip on the Upper West Side, and I saw Adam Sandler, I saw David Spade, um, Wow. Chris Rock. And, and, um, and, you know, it was, uh, it, it, it felt like I, um, I had found my people that ended up, that club, ended up becoming my home club in, in New York. I mean, in New York, comedians will will understand this, but you, and I guess it's the same as true of la but you develop like a relationship with one club that is your club, and you can work all the different clubs, but there's one club that you feel like you're home in. And that was, that was the comic strip for me. And God, I spent every night there for probably seven years.
Jaymee Sire (06:32):
You talked about, a little bit about your, you know, your time growing up with, with four bro or the youngest of Four Brothers. How, how much did that like kind of influence your need or desire to kind of be the one entertaining everybody?
John Henson (06:45):
Well, enormously because, uh, my brothers are seven to 14 years older than me, like I was very clearly an accident. Uh, it's like, you know, it is like four kids every year and a half for two years, and then one kid seven years later, like, it was like a nah. Oh, uh, well, okay,
Jaymee Sire (07:05):
John Henson (07:06):
Um, and so I could not compete physically. I I could not defend myself. Anybody with one or two older brothers knows. I mean, you have four older brothers, and it's like growing up on the yard in Pelican Bay. Like, there's a lot of physical abuse and, um,
Jaymee Sire (07:45):
Tell me about your time in the Inter Corpses.
John Henson (07:48):
Oh my God.
Jaymee Sire (07:55):
John Henson (07:58):
Uh, yeah, the Inter Corpses was a brief foray into a punk rock band that lasted for, I'm gonna guess about 10 Days
Yeah. And I, I was this sort of Sid vicious lead singer. And, um, and at one point I was to break this bottle over the head of Matt Davis. Uh, our lead guitarist, and I did not realize this, but he was, we were moving and sort of, you know, moshing and, and, uh, as I, you gotta kinda, with a breakaway bottle, you gotta hit the center of the bottle for it to break easily. And I kind of caught him with the bottom of the bottle, and it was, it did break, but it was hard enough that it, it caught us, set it open. Oh, no. And so I wanna say there was actual blood on his face. I think he destroyed a guitar on stage.
Jaymee Sire (09:39):
John Henson (09:40):
It was pretty intense. And there was a, a guy that we went to school with who was like an incredible drummer and great musician, you know, he, him and his band went on. He did like a 10 minute drum solo. They ended up winning. But years later, and I mean, this was like five years ago, I heard from that guy on Facebook, and he was like, Dude, what you guys did was so epic hitting him with a bottle, smashing a guitar, you totally should have won. It was, um, so yeah, that's, that's my inter corpses story.
Jaymee Sire (10:08):
Wow. All right. And, and, and did I, I assume you succeeded and ruining the uh,
John Henson (10:14):
Oh, a hundred percent. I mean, we, you know, I, I think we got in trouble because we might have messed up the stage breaking the guitar. I mean, it was really, it was, it was, um, it, it was a wonderful, uh, example of my, my high school career in that, uh, I was drawing negative attention.
Jaymee Sire (10:33):
John Henson (10:48):
Oh my goodness. Well, I, you know, I don't know. I, I try not to take myself or my career too seriously,
Jaymee Sire (12:09):
John Henson (12:10):
Like, we did whatever. They were just happy that we would hand them a videotape and go, Here, you can air this. You know, they, it was, it Talk Soup when I started aired four times a day, they didn't have programming. Wow. So, um, it was a very special time in, in my career because it was so deliciously self-indulgent. And, um, and I was so naive being so young. I was in like my mid to late twenties and, you know, I, I didn't know television and nobody was really teaching me television
Jaymee Sire (13:24):
John Henson (13:26):
And, uh, and I, I walked out on stage at the beginning of the show. We did a big musical number to begin it, and we got a standing ovation. And I just remember looking out at, at this, you know, people were in costumes. It was nuts. And I just remember thinking, I just don't think it can ever get better than this, you know? Oh, wow. Um, it was pretty neat, but I've been very lucky. I've gotten to do so many really, really cool things. But I think the thing I'm most grateful for is that this is like my only hustle. I mean, I, you know, I love college and I'm, I've been, you know, in this business for 35 years and, and gotten to do what I want. Um, gotten to, gotten to do more than I ever could have dreamed of. So it all feels very special to me. I, I really feel like, Yeah.
Jaymee Sire (14:13):
No, that's, that's pretty incredible. How would you say the entertainment industry has kind of evolved since you first started?
John Henson (14:20):
Uh, well, there's 300 channels,
Jaymee Sire (15:22):
Part. I agree. I I, I always feel so old when like, you know, you know, up and comer, like reporters in the business are like, Can I, you know, can we talk like advice? And I'm like, I don't even know what to tell you. Like, I was like carrying around my own equipment and tripods and like giant cameras, you know, back in the day. Like, everybody has it so easy now.
John Henson (15:39):
Yeah. It's like, it's like a, it's like a modern digital photographer asking one of those old west photographers that had to get under a cape and hold up one of those fla poof with a big old, you know, puff of smoke to take a photo of.
Jaymee Sire (15:53):
John Henson (15:54):
I mean, I, you know, um, I, I think the evolution of the business and, and the ability to create really anything, you want to not have it be such a linear process where you can go direct to an audience and, and create, um, your own stuff and bypass the whole kind of studio or network system is, uh, is is creating like exponentially more content.
Jaymee Sire (16:24):
John tells us all about hosting Halloween Baking Championship when we come back, whether it's, you know, a, a show or, or a genre. What is, what is your approach to hosting in general, and, and what is your responsibility that you feel like you need to bring to the process?
John Henson (16:44):
Oh, wow. Um, interesting question. I, I, I mean, I, I think it's just spontaneity, right? Like, uh, uh, the, the most useful tool I think as a host is listening. Mm. Um, you know, I, I've always said the hardest thing to do. I, I think honestly, the hardest thing to do in television is be yourself on camera. And, um, and, and obviously the things that I do, it's a, when I say myself, it's a heightened sense of myself, right? I mean, I'm, it's always a bit of a character, but, but to, to be present and to be able, you know, you can tell when, when somebody's interviewing somebody and they're asking a question, and then instead of listening to the answer, they're thinking of their next question. Mm-hmm.
But people work so hard on that show, and they get very invested. And as you get later and later into the season, um, eliminations are very emotional. Mm-hmm.
Jaymee Sire (18:32):
Yeah. I mean, I think that's why you are so perfect for this show. I mean, do you, do you have like preparation that you do for each episode and, and what you're gonna say? Or is it kind of more off the cuff?
John Henson (18:43):
Jaymee Sire (19:47):
Yeah. Allow, allows you to do your thing and, and do the thing that they obviously hired you for, you know. Um, and the theme this year is Hotel Henson feels very Bates Motel. Uh, what was it like to have your own theme for a whole season?
John Henson (20:01):
Jaymee Sire (21:01):
Yeah. What is it like to, to see the set kind of come together and come to life? Um, because obviously I'm sure there's so many people working on these things behind the scenes.
John Henson (21:10):
Well, that's kind of the fun part of it is, is what, by the time I show up, all that's done, so I just walk in surprised. It's like, bam, you know, they, everything is, they put so much thought into everything that, uh, over the course of the entire season, I will be discovering new little nuancey details about the set, or things that you don't notice. You'll look and realize something has writing that you didn't notice right away. And Oh, wow. They put thought into that. It is kind of like, it's the unveil, it's the move, that bus moment of just like walking, walking in and being like, Wow, they created a hotel. And so it is, uh, each season is like, I get to discover it new.
Jaymee Sire (21:54):
Yeah. And I think, I mean, the challenges are equally, you know, unique and creative, and a lot of thought goes into them, clearly. Do you have any insight into how those challenges are developed or what that process is like? Or are you also just showing up and, and being surprised every time.
John Henson (22:10):
I, I'm literally learning the challenges as they're coming out of my mouth.
Jaymee Sire (22:54):
Uh, well, I mean, I think that, you know, it kind of adds to the charm of it, You know, you are exploring and, and finding out at the same time as the contestants and, you know, at home as the same time as the viewers as well. Do you notice a difference between contestants who are classically trained versus those that are self-taught?
John Henson (23:11):
Uh, it's interesting. Yeah. I mean, every season we've got some amount of home bakers self-taught people, and then, you know, there's sort of pros and cons, right? I think obviously people with more classical training have, uh, a maybe a broader skill set, but that doesn't always translate to taking that classical skill set and translating it into something super creative for this particular show. So it's interesting. I mean, the home bakers, I think, tend to try to tailor things to their wheelhouse. Everybody has their, you know, their fastball, uh, desserts or dishes that they make, and they, they're very comfortable with. Um, but, you know, uh, I think there's pros and cons because classically trained bakers can sometimes think inside the box, and, and home bakers maybe are more used to thinking outside the box.
Jaymee Sire (24:13):
Yeah. More, more likely to maybe take some risks or that kind of thing. Speaking of which, I mean, what's the, what's the number one mistake that you see on the show?
John Henson (24:23):
Time management. I mean, that's really the hardest thing in any of these competitions is time management. Because I, look, I, I love to cook. I always say there's, there's nothing harder than what I call an away game. You know, when you're cooking in somebody else's kitchen and you have to turn around and go, Wait, where the whisks, you know, so for these guys, you know, they, they're in a space where they're learning the ovens, they're figuring out where everything is, and they're also having to design on the fly. And sometimes it's easy on the show to bite off more than you can chew than to, to think that everything is gonna go perfectly and you're gonna have the time to do X, Y, and Z. Um, and it comes down to can you stay on schedule so that you're not rushing what ends up being the most visually impactful, which is of course, decorating. Mm-hmm.
Jaymee Sire (25:21):
Yeah. And I think another fun part about the show, speaking of visual, it's just the costumes for the judges. And I'm curious, like, oh my God, how you keep a straight face when you know Carla Hall, Stephanie Boswell, Zach Young, you know, emerge in these costumes, elaborate costumes for judging a tasting.
John Henson (25:38):
It really, I mean, these guys, the whole hair and makeup team, they wardrobe. They, they deserve an Emmy. What, what those guys are able to pull off week to week is so incredible. I will say last year Stephanie did basically a costume inspired by the movie. It, she, she came out in sort of a Pennywise vibe. Uhhuh
Jaymee Sire (26:56):
I saw that one so good.
John Henson (26:58):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, Carla and Stephanie did, well, all three of them, they did the, they basically did the triplets version of the twins from The Shining
Jaymee Sire (27:23):
No, it's, it's incredible. Like you said, the, the hair, makeup wardrobe department for that show especially, um, is just mind blowing what they can accomplish. And curious who you set your therapy bill to, to Stephanie or to Food Network after the Pennywise costume
John Henson (27:39):
I'm telling you, that was, uh, that was, that was like a, All right, well, you know, so much for Sleep
Jaymee Sire (28:09):
I If you could choose a costume, what would it be?
John Henson (28:13):
I would probably go with, That's a good question. I might go as the, uh, President of Food Network and just come out and pick the show up for another 15 years if it could just see if I could pull it off. And people go, I don't know. They said it. I guess we're doing that. I guess we just give them lifelong contracts now. It's like a Supreme Court justice job. You just keep until you die, you know?
Jaymee Sire (28:35):
John Henson (28:54):
Ooh, Snickers. King of candy bars. Come on, man. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, and I think it begins and ends there. And if you're one of those people who gives out a full size Snickers, God likes you.
Jaymee Sire (29:08):
I was just gonna ask full size or, or, or fun size, you know,
John Henson (29:14):
Jaymee Sire (29:14):
You have my, I have my answer there.
John Henson (29:15):
Yeah, Go full size man.
Jaymee Sire (29:17):
Yeah. Oh man. Those houses were the best, uh, uh, dessert of choice?
John Henson (29:21):
Ooh. Uh, I'm gonna first blush, I'll say butterscotch budino.
Jaymee Sire (29:26):
Oh, okay. One word to describe your comedic approach?
John Henson (29:31):
Jaymee Sire (29:32):
John Henson (29:39):
I harass the judges. Um, we are really, honestly, the, the four of us are so close. We consistently refer to our season as summer camp because we are so close. So we stay in touch throughout the year, and we hang out whenever we can. So to have a few weeks together to work together, we, we enjoy each other so much that we work together all day, and then we go out to dinner every night.
Jaymee Sire (30:05):
Ah, I love that.
John Henson (30:06):
So, uh, so yeah, if I am not just laying around Laly in my dressing room, I don't get as much downtime as they do. And I have a problem with that.
Jaymee Sire (30:17):
John Henson (30:18):
I, they, you know, they get a lot of time backstage. I, I get like, a lot of like, Okay, you've got four and a half minutes, you know,
Jaymee Sire (30:34):
Yeah. Hair and makeup room is always the best place to hang out for sure.
John Henson (30:37):
It’s where it all goes out. It is, It is literally the, the kitchen of the party, you know how every party ends up in the kitchen Yep. On set. Every party ends up in hair and makeup.
Jaymee Sire (30:46):
Yes. Also, I, I used to say that was also my therapy session for the day as well
John Henson (30:51):
Oh, a hundred percent. Every time I get outta Jackie's chair, it's like, I'm expecting her to go, Okay, let's pick up here on Tuesday. I think we got some good stuff done together, and I want to get back into that dream. Yeah. When you, uh, when you return.
Jaymee Sire (31:03):
I love Jackie. She's the best. Uh, all right. Last Rapid fire, favorite scary movie?
John Henson (31:08):
Ooh, I'm gonna go with what I feel like was the most scarring for me. Okay. Um, uh, I, my, my older brother, uh, took me to a revival of The Exorcist. Oh. When I was like, I want to say eight or nine.
Jaymee Sire (31:26):
Oh, yeah, that's too young for that.
John Henson (31:27):
I'm gonna just be honest with you. That's the kind of thing the state takes kids away for now.
Jaymee Sire (32:06):
Oh, wow. Okay. Um, alright, our final question. Uh, this is the question we ask everybody at the end of our interviews here on Food Network Obsessed. And that is what would be on the menu for your perfect Food day. So, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. We wanna hear what you're eating for all of those things. There's no rules, so no, no calories. Count, time, travel, as much money as you wanna spend. Um, Okay. It's your day.
John Henson (32:30):
Uh, alright. Uh, I, both of my parents are, uh, uh, were are from the south. Both my parents, uh, were born in Arkansas. Mm. Um, so even though I grew up, uh, in the Northeast, I, I feel like I was raised Southern mm-hmm.
Jaymee Sire (33:01):
Carla Hall's biscuits, maybe.
John Henson (33:03):
Yeah. Yeah. She's, And believe me, that woman is very serious about her biscuits
Jaymee Sire (33:44):
Ah, I'm putting that on the bookmark that for my next trip to Italy
John Henson (33:48):
Oh, it's just so good. And then dinner. I, you know what I will say, uh, for dinner, I will say my, um, my, my, my baby is, is a better chef than any restaurant that I would be able to imagine going to. So I'm gonna say making dinner at home.
Jaymee Sire (34:07):
Okay. And anything in particular, or just anything?
John Henson (34:11):
Uh, that's, uh, you know, the, the, the beauty of dating a, uh, a great chef is that you, uh, you don't need to ask. All you need to know is what time to be there,
Jaymee Sire (34:48):
Ah, I could not agree more. Um, that sounds wonderful. And, and exactly what I would like to do as well. So thank you so much for taking the time. And again, we are looking forward to, uh, the rest of the season and especially that finale on, uh, on Halloween.
John Henson (35:04):
Yeah, I am very excited about it. This was a really fun cast. Um, we get very attached to our casts and they're, they are their own ecosystem on social media. They have a whole
Jaymee Sire (35:27):
Looking forward to it.
John Henson (35:27):
Thanks so much.
Jaymee Sire (35:33):
I absolutely love Halloween Baking Championship this time of, of year. And you can catch all of John's hosting shenanigans on Food Network Mondays at nine eight Central. And don't miss the finale on October 31st. Make sure to follow us wherever you listen to podcasts so you don't miss a thing. And if you enjoy today's episode, please rate and review. We love it when you do that. That's all for now. We'll catch you foodies next Friday.