John E.L. Tenney and Jessica Knapik of What’s Up Weirdo Podcast Talk Hauntings, Exorcisms, and Horror Movies [Interview]


Welcome back to DEAD Time! I hope you left a light on because this month things got really weird when I chatted with the co-hosts of the What’s Up Weirdo podcast, John E.L. Tenney and Jessica Knapik. John and Jessica are best friends who decided to record their real-life phone conversations where they discuss everything from the paranormal to UFO’s, true crime, and horror movies—and the What’s Up Weirdo podcast was born.

Over the past thirty years, John E.L. Tenney has become one of the most well-known and sought-after investigators of strange phenomena. He has appeared on many paranormal shows, including Unsolved Mysteries, Sightings, Hellier, and Kindred Spirits, and is the author of more than a dozen books. John has been interviewed extensively because of his knowledge on the unexplained and is also known for his compelling lectures. John and Jessica have been BFF’s for over a decade and now spend their time talking on the phone several times a day, traveling to haunted locations, hosting events related to the paranormal, and recording their conversations about all things weird for the What’s Up Weirdo podcast and their dedicated following of listeners.

Aside from the co-hosts’ spooky vibe, a big part of the appeal of the What’s Up Weirdo podcast is that John and Jessica keep things real by openly discussing their thoughts on the paranormal, aliens, true crime, and even horror movies. Nothing is too weird to talk about for these two best friends and listeners love that.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with John and Jessica about their podcast, haunted locations, their most terrifying paranormal encounters – including an actual exorcism – and their favorite horror movies. Read on to find out just how weird things got…

Photo Credit: Jessica Knapik/What’s Up Weirdo

Bloody Disgusting: Together you host the What’s Up Weirdo podcast where you talk about all things weird including the paranormal, UFOs, the occult, true crime, horror movies, and a lot more. How did the two of you meet and when did you decide you wanted to do this podcast?

John Tenney: Jessica, you take this one because you always talk about how you hated me at first.

Jessica Knapik: I did! We met in a local bar that is still our favorite bar. We had a mutual friend and for whatever reason, Tenney was like, “Hey, do you guys want me to read your palm?” He never does this and has never done it since then, to my knowledge. For whatever reason, he was doing it that night and he read hers and then he read mine. I had a puppy at the time, and he told me my dog was going to die. So, I was like, “Who the hell is this bozo? I hate this guy.” [laughs]

BD: Oh no!

JK: I know! But the way I see it is, it was probably premonitory. At the time, I was renting a place that didn’t have a fenced yard, so I feel like he made me be more careful and made me keep a close eye on my dog. So, maybe it did avoid the dog getting away and getting hit by a car or something happening to the dog. The dog lived to be fourteen, so he doesn’t exactly have a career in reading palms [laughs].

JT: [laughs] And then after that I think it was just hanging out at the bar and kind of not getting sick of each other. That was probably thirteen years ago. The podcast came about really because when quarantine hit and everybody was getting locked down, one of the things I know Jess and I were kind of missing was the background conversation that you hear when you go out with your friends. She and I talk on the phone about ten times a day and I was like, “I’ve been doing podcasts since 2005 and some of them are super-produced and some are way over-produced. Let’s just give people what I think they want which is just background conversation and we’ll record one of our phone calls, and just be open and honest about what we are experiencing and going through.” And it seems to have taken off. We don’t stray away from anything on the show, and I think that’s what people kind of get into; we started it and a couple of months later my mom died and then her dog died, and we just went through our emotions and are real people. I think that connected with a lot of listeners.

BD: Do you have a favorite haunted or weird location that you’ve been to?

JT: I’ve done this for thirty years, so each place has its own unique history and strange haunt. But I really loved going to the Queen Mary in Los Angeles, just because it has so much history. The first time I went to the Queen Mary was back in the early nineties when I was working as a researcher for Unsolved Mysteries. So, not only does it have its spooky history, but I feel like I have a long history with it. I think that’s probably my favorite haunted place.

BD: That’s so interesting because a lot of people in the paranormal community have told me that is their favorite haunted location.

JK: I have two answers. I would say as far as scariest where I wanted to throw up because I was so scared is Mansfield Reformatory in Ohio where they filmed Shawshank Redemption. It was terrifying. And then as far as cozy, but haunted, I would say Belvoir Winery in Liberty, Missouri. It used to be the Oddfellows Home and it’s haunted, but I feel like it’s our house. I feel like we live there [laughs]. Wait, I have a third answer! We went to The Conjuring house in Rhode Island on Halloween, and I just thought that house was so cozy. I love that house.

JT: We’re very cozy in spooky places [laughs]. Jess and I go to places like The Conjuring house because we really do kind of love and embrace spookiness and weirdness. So, we’re going there with genuine curiosity, and almost happiness, to be there and to have the privilege to go to a place like that. I think a lot of people go there having seen the movie and they go there with an initial trepidation and fear, and I think that kind of compounds the location. But I think if you go in and you’re kind of happy and excited and you love being weirded out, I don’t think any place is truly terrifying when you go in with that kind of mindset.

Photo Credit: Jessica Knapik/What’s Up Weirdo

BD: Can you tell me about your most unnerving paranormal experience and how you handled it?

JT: The one that I still think about the most was in 1999 when I got asked by the Archdiocese of Detroit to witness a Vatican-sanctioned exorcism. Even though that was over twenty years ago, it’s one that I still revisit in my mind just because it’s not like you see in the movies. It’s not like The Exorcist, but it’s almost stranger because you’re watching this experience happen and unfold in front of you with real people in a real location and there’s no cameras, so you know that no one is faking anything. There are points where the person starts to speak multiple languages and there are some body contortions that don’t seem very natural, and the experience is very emotionally and psychologically overwhelming. I don’t know, because of my own personal belief system, if there was a demon there or if they really did anything, but the client did seem to react to it. The atmosphere was psychologically, and physically, very terrifying and overwhelming. It was thirty-two hours from beginning to end.

BD: That might be the scariest thing anyone has ever told me. I don’t know if I could make it through an exorcism.

JT: Well, a few months beforehand, I had to go and get a stress test at a hospital and talk to a therapist to make sure that I was able to get through the entire experience. One of the things they prepared me for, and I thought they meant cursing and swearing, was that the client would try and engage with me. They told me not to talk to the client. I thought, “Well, I’m not going to get scared of some nasty words or obscenities.” At one point during the exorcism, the client looked at me and out loud started talking to me about a childhood experience that I had never told anyone about. So, it was really as if the client had discerned my thoughts at a distance and gotten inside of my mind. That was very disconcerting.

BD: You also talk about horror movies on the podcast. Can each of you tell me your favorite horror movie of all time and your favorite horror movie of 2022?

JK: As far as favorite horror movie of all time I’m a purist, so I would say Jaws, Carrie, The Omen, and The Amityville Horror.

JT: What’s your favorite though? You have to pick one!

JK: I can’t! [laughs] Those are my favorites that I can watch over and over. As far as favorite this year, Hellbender, Barbarian, and Watcher. I really loved Watcher. Watcher is fucking stunning.

BD: Yes! Those are great choices!

JK: Give us your horror movies, Tenney. We’re completely different.

JT: As far as my favorite horror film, I’m a very classic horror person. I’m a big Karloff, Lugosi, Lon Chaney fan. My favorite film is 1934’s film adaptation of The Black Cat with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. I watch it probably two or three times a year. It has a lot of good, crazy visuals. For anybody who has never seen it this is spoilers, but Lugosi skins Karloff at the end of the movie. It’s great and I think it’s a super overlooked film from that era. As far as my favorite film this year, I think it’s Moloch. It’s got good old horror vibes and witchy vibes.

JK: He loved Hellbender, too.

JT: Oh yes, am I going to do that, too? Just name a bunch of films? [laughs] I liked Hellbender, X, Pearl, and Moloch. Those are my favorites this year.

BD: Hellbender is awesome. I loved it, too!

JT: I was just listening to the soundtrack from Hellbender. I got it on vinyl and it’s super good.

Photo Credit: Jessica Knapik/What’s Up Weirdo

BD: Can you tell me a little bit about what you have planned for future episodes and upcoming events?

JK: Should we tell her the secret?

JT: [laughs] You can tell her about the live show and then you can tell her the secret.

JK: Okay! We’re doing a second What’s Up Weirdo and Friends livestream YouTube show on December 23rd. It’s free to watch. We’ll have different guests this time. Last time we had newer, not so utilized people in the paranormal community who are fucking rad and deserve more shine. And the craziest thing ever that we’re doing which nobody knows about yet is we’re going to sell tickets and put the money back into the podcast so we can update a bunch of stuff. But the contest is going to be called Win a date With John Tenney.

BD: Oh wow! Really?

JT: [laughs]

JK: It starts December 23rd and we’re going to sell tickets. I’ll let Tenney talk about what they will win.

JT: Whoever wins we’ll either fly them out to Detroit and we can go out on a date, or if they feel more comfortable in their homebase, I’ll fly to them and take them out on a date.

JK: It doesn’t have to be a date. It can be like just hang out. Anybody can win, it can be guys, girls, he/they/she, anybody.

JT: It’s not so much a date, it’s just hang out with John Tenney. We’ll go to a movie or do whatever you want, go to dinner, just hang out. Then later in 2023 we’re going to do the same thing with Jess.

JK: Yeah, we’re both going to do it. I’m not just going to let Tenney hang out to dry [laughs]. The winner of my contest pretty much has to come to Detroit because I can’t fly with my dog Toad. I’m really interested to see where Tenney gets shipped off to.

BD: That sounds like so much fun!

JT: In January, we’re doing something at the Whitney, right?

JK: Oh yeah! The Whitney Mansion in Detroit is one of the most haunted places in Michigan. We’re doing an event on January 22nd and you’ll get to hang out with us. There’s going to be tarot readings, authors, paranormal people. It’s going to be really fun. That place is crazy.

JT: Yeah, it’s a really notoriously haunted restaurant. People have ghost hunted it for years. It’s been on most of the paranormal shows. They have a really fun tradition where the head Chef everyday when he figures out what the special of the day is going to be, they make two separate plates of it and put it upstairs in the attic for the ghosts. It’s a really nice tradition.

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