The Perfect Imperfection of My Favorite Murder
The creators of My Favorite Murder, a true crime comedy podcast turned pop culture phenomenon, have a meet-cute story that’s as charming as it is prophetic.
In 2015, comedian Karen Kilgariff found herself at a Halloween party, recounting the tale of a grisly drunk driving accident she’d witnessed at SXSW to a less than enthusiastic audience. While most of the partygoers were either horrified or baffled by Karen’s unconventional interpretation of “small talk”, Georgia Hardstark’s ears perked up across the crowded room as the story became increasingly graphic. Georgia rushed to Karen’s side, imploring her to tell the brutal story in its entirety, and the two women spent the remainder of the party in each other’s company, dishing about their favorite true crime stories—the more depraved the better.
And thus, My Favorite Murder was born.
In a sense, Karen and Georgia’s surreptitious meeting foreshadowed the way that My Favorite Murder would go on to attract its sprawling, die hard fan base of self-proclaimed “Murderinos”. Karen’s gruesome party chatter served as a beacon to Georgia, guiding her to a kindred spirit and soon-to-be friend. By talking openly about her macabre fascinations, Karen unwittingly signaled to Georgia that it was safe to open up about her own preoccupations, however offbeat or taboo. When My Favorite Murder arrived on the podcasting scene, it beamed the same message out to its fledgling audience: We know you feel kinda weird for thinking about this stuff, but it’s OK. We’re with you. Let’s talk about it.
Each episode of My Favorite Murder is built around the retelling of two infamous, bizarre, or otherwise noteworthy true crime stories. Karen and Georgia take turns telling their “favorite murder” of the week while the other listens, interjecting with gasps, squeals, and the occasional, “Oh, honey”. Over the course of the show's first 100 episodes, Karen and Georgia have covered notorious serial killers like the Night Stalker, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy. But they’ve also revisited stories that have arguably been twisted and sensationalized in the past—those of JonBenet Ramsey and Kitty Genovese, for example—with a sense of integrity and respect.
This is what really sets My Favorite Murder apart from other true crime fare: the way that Karen and Georgia talk about the victims of the crimes they recount. If the news media tends to dehumanize these victims in its coverage, Karen and Georgia re-humanize them with boundless compassion. Many of their episodes are dedicated to celebrating badass women who have survived unspeakably gruesome crimes. While victims of violent crime are often treated as punchlines by the media, Karen and Georgia know that the joke is really on the culture itself.
It makes perfect sense that the ladies of My Favorite Murder would express such empathy for the victims of the crimes they feature on their podcast. Georgia often notes that her true crime fascination acts as a balm for her anxiety; that imagining worst case scenarios makes her feel more prepared to survive them. While this may seem counterintuitive to the outside observer, many Murderinos (myself included) are drawn to true crime stories for this very reason. As a genre, true crime tends to attract a female-skewing audience. Women are also more likely than men to be the victims of gruesome crimes like rape and serial killings. As if to drive that statistic home, women are constantly inundated with reminders about just how vulnerable we are to random acts of harm—from the flippant coverage of violence against women on the news to the harassment and abuse we experience in our workplaces, homes, and even walking down the street.
Women know (and are often reminded) that terrible things can happen to us for no reason whatsoever, no matter what precautions we take. We also know that talking about that fact at length in polite society tends to make people rather uncomfortable. So when My Favorite Murder came along, featuring unapologetically real talk about all of our worst fears and morbid fascinations, fans leapt at the chance to be part of the conversation. Newly-minted Murderinos took to Facebook and quickly set up a My Favorite Murder fan group, where people started trading their own favorite true crime stories, personal safety tips, and reactions to each new episode of the podcast.
As of January 2018, the My Favorite Murder Facebook group has a following of over 175,800 people. There are subgroups for every location, interest, and niche you can imagine. Karen and Georgia (along with their mustachioed producer, Steven), tour the globe with My Favorite Murder live shows, which double as meet-ups for the fan community. Murderinos get together to host fundraisers, have established a thriving underground market of handcrafted My Favorite Murder merchandise, and offer each other guidance and support in areas like self care and mental health.
The Murderino following is sometimes described as a cult—a distinction some fans cheekily embrace. But if anything, the Murderino fanbase is a cult of community and connection, celebrating a shared unconventional interest and morbid sense of humor, rather than a cult of personality. Karen and Georgia are quick to say that Murderinos existed long before they came along, and that My Favorite Murder simply serves as a platform for true crime fans to find each other—much like they did at that fateful Halloween party. But while they may not rise to the level of cult leaders, Karen and Georgia are more than just facilitators—they’re avatars. Role models. Women we’d like to be friends with. Women who are just like us. (The merch doesn’t lie.) True crime aficionados may have existed before My Favorite Murder, but it was Karen and Georgia’s radically honest, refreshingly unpolished approach that set off this particular explosion in the genre’s popularity.
Above all, Murderinos support Karen and Georgia because Karen and Georgia support them. The hosts are transparent about their struggles with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, and are constantly encouraging listeners to take care of themselves, seek treatment if necessary, and be good to one another. They come clean when they mess up, they let us see their creative process as they try new things on the podcast, they speak plainly about the delights and difficulties of adult female friendship. They stumble over words, get facts wrong, and learn from their mistakes. They fail, and let us watch in real time. They’re a delightful model of hit-or-miss experimental creativity—Diet Coke burps and all.
There are plenty of reasons to love My Favorite Murder, from the witty banter, to the captivating stories, to Georgia’s cat Elvis (and his plaintive wailing for cookies that serves as the sign off to each episode). But above all, it’s Karen and Georgia themselves that keep Murderinos coming back week after week. The hosts of My Favorite Murder are the picture of dogged perseverance, imperfections be damned. Of the many catchphrases that fans have adopted from the podcast, I believe one of Georgia’s may be the most apt in capturing the hosts’ infectiously scrappy credo: “You don’t have to be perfect. Just fucking do things.”
As far as marching orders go, I’d say those are hard to top.
Photos: Cover from My Favorite Murder Facebook page, second photo by Christopher Ables