How do you know comedian John Henson? From Talk Soup? Maybe from the stand-up stages or the TV show Wipeout, where he laughed at people’s demise? Or is it from being one of the Worst Cooks in America? We happen to know him from all of the above (brag, brag, brag) and starting Monday night on Food Network, we can all get to know even more of John as he returns to his hosting position on Halloween Baking Championship. Before you gather the family and get ready for, dare we say while cringing, a spooktacular time, we hit him up to see what’s brewing (still cringing) in his head and own kitchen.
Ali Lerman: Super fun to step away from comedy and talk to you about cooking. It’s your third season on Halloween Baking Championship. Welcome back!
John Henson: Yes, thanks! One of the reasons I love doing Halloween Baking Championship so much year after year is it’s just fun. They just let me off of the leash. Sure there is scripted stuff but the meat of the show is really off the script interviews, and it’s just whatever comes into my head is coming out of my mouth!
I feel like we need fun. There’s no drama on Food Network.
Yeah, when I first started working for Food Network like, four years ago, my manager asked me if I wanted to do a show called Worst Cooks in America that is for charity. I was like, why not? I love cooking. Little did I know everyone watches Food Network! I was not prepared for the fact that people put it on and leave it on all day long. I was going out to do clubs and more people were coming up to talk to me about Food Network than Wipeout. And Wipeout was huge. I couldn’t believe they had that loyal of a following.
Oh yeah, FN fans are ride or die in a friendly way. I noticed that ever since you were on Worst Cooks, you post baking pics here and there. Pies and such. Was that the biggest thing you took away from that since it wasn’t the grand prize?
Ouch! [Laughs.] I think it was that I watched it so much that I wanted to try it. Like, spend some time in a barber shop, you’re going to get a haircut. Years ago my wife got me 16 hours in my own home with a James Beard Award-nominated chef. It was awesome. At the end of it I was like, “This is the best present I’ve ever received!” She was like, “No, this is the best present I’ve ever given. Now go bake.” Cooking is great because there’s room for interpretation, creativity and personality. You can improvise. With baking, it’s like a science experiment. But in terms of making a pie or crumble, if you just do what they tell you to do, it’ll come out how it’s supposed to come out. The only problem is they say to never trust a skinny baker. But you gotta be worried about the whole “Ten Crack Commandments” and never get high on your own supply.
Shout out to Biggie. Have you ever brought in one of your own creations for the judges?
Last season I made an apple crumble and brought it in for them to taste. You would have thought it was my $100,000 shot on Star Search. I was terrified.
Well, Patti LaBelle makes pies. John Henson’s Pies could be next.
I’m telling you, it’s really fun aside from every once in a while you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror wearing an apron and you’re like, “I gotta do some soul searching. I need to get in with my talking doctor on Tuesday.” [Laughs.] I dig it though, what can I say?
Well, now you have this cooking career so you have to give some “pearls of wisdom.”
I think if you cook three times a week for six months, you’ll eat well for the rest of your life. It’s a skill that you learn and it elevates your quality of life. And at the risk of sounding like a tree-hugging, dirt-munching druid, it’s a super nurturing thing to cook for someone. Cooking and making someone laugh are two of the kindest things I think you can do for another person.
You know what else is kind? Getting leftovers. What do they do with them on HBC?
Well, I’m there for the judging but they don’t serve me a plate. So I stand there while the judges sample everything, next to Carla Hall, who is essentially like a human security blanket, and as soon as culinary comes to clear the plates, she pushes a clean spoon over to me and lets me clear her plate. On the show, between the challenge and the end, I’m having like 16 desserts a day. It’s like you can hear my stomach growing like a balloon being rubbed.
Have you ever tried anything that was, well, hard to swallow?
There are times where Carla will look at me subtly and be like, “You don’t want that.” I think the reality is though, these aren’t amateurs. Even the home bakers are fire. Where the people fall flat is all visual. Luckily, it’s never taste. Some of the stuff I’ve tasted is better than a five-star restaurant. It’s transcendent. I give enormous respect to those people and what they are able to accomplish. I was on a timed cooking show with Worst Cooks and if you look at me, I was mid-anxiety attack every single second. Their time management and encyclopedic recipes are outstanding!
Ali Lerman knows much about comedy, basketball, and celebrating Wu-Tang Wednesday. She’s been writing for sixteen years and still calls her mom with grammatical questions.