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My Favorite Murder, the podcast that laughs in the face of death

From small beginnings in January last year, the true crime podcast My Favorite Murder has grown into a worldwide phenomenon. Ahead of their Auckland show next week, Lucy Gable pays tribute to creators and hosts Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff, while Sam Brooks lobs them some questions.

Imagine this; It’s a shitty, wet Saturday night and you’re at a party. It’s not a great party – mostly people you barely know hanging out in the kitchen, eating homemade kale and chia seed dip and talking about lawn maintenance.

You’ve spent the last hour chatting enthusiastically to the resident cat, and making trips to the bathroom even though you don’t need to pee, just waiting for the time when it’s acceptable to claim you need an early night so you can scurry home to your beloved sofa and Netflix.

At the snack table you surface next to a lady you know, but only in passing. Perhaps she’s your partner’s co-worker, or a close friend’s new girlfriend.

During your friendly but cursory conversation, you accidentally let slip a tipsy comment about making zombies with hydrochloric acid…..The instant it comes out of your mouth you wish you could drag it back in.

You can’t.

Instead you give an embarrassed smile, exhale through your nose and stare intently at your scuffed shoes. “Fuck! Why did I say that?” you think “Quick, make a comment about the weather or the excellent feng shui in here”. But what’s this? The other woman isn’t smile-wincing politely and backing away with wide, disturbed eyes. She’s grinning and nodding her head. “Ohhhh. Jeffrey Dahmer right?!” followed by an embarrassed laugh and little shoulder shrug. She looks around to be sure you’ve not been overheard, leans in close and whispers “Did you know he liked to hand-paint his victim’s dismembered body parts and display them in his bedroom?!”.

You have found her. The one person at the party who gets your black humour and love of true crime.

Steven Stayner, the kidnap victim on whom the movie I Know My Name Is Steven is based

I’ve always been fascinated by true crime. I have vivid memories of standing in our backroom aged about eight, still warm from my bath and dressed in only a towel, watching the harrowing kiddie-kidnap TV special I Know My First Name is Steven. From that point on, more frequently than I’d like to admit, I fear-daydreamed my plans to escape if I were kidnapped by some wizened old creep. Aged 18, I decided on a whim, after too much internet sleuthing, to write letters to a bonafide multiple murderer who was incarcerated in a maximum security prison in Texas. Elmer Wayne Henly’s letters were never particularly interesting and after half a dozen or so I lost interest. I do still own (somewhere) a Hallmark Christmas card with cutesy cartoon animals on the front, signed by a real serial killer.

Fast forward 15+ years and I’m still into true crime, but now I’m older, fatter, less hysterical, and far less tyrannical about the number of black outfits in my wardrobe. My youthful ability to drop everything and run from a potential murderer is sadly long gone, so I need to know how to avoid and hopefully outsmart any nefarious murdery ass-clowns I might come across.

Where can a girl learn to “Fuck politeness” and “Stay out of the woods” while at the same time having a good ol’ laugh and uniting with a group of like-minded badass babes? In the My Favourite Murder world, these amazing things all come in one package.

After the roaring success of shows like Making a Murderer and the podcast Serial, true crime is mainstream entertainment once again. Having an interest in murder stories has become socially acceptable, creating a perfect environment for a pair of L.A. ladies to create a podcast phenomenon. Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff began My Favorite Murder (MFM) as a side project in January 2016. Karen, a writer and stand-up comic, and Georgia, cohost of the Cooking Channel’s Drinks with Alie and Georgia, are joined by their sound tech, the floppy-haired moustachioed sweetie Steven Ray Morris, along with guest spots by Georgia’s cats Elvis and Mimi.

So what’s so great about a podcast where a pair of self-effacing “Valley Girls” (their words, not mine) chat openly about murder? How is a comedy podcast themed around the worst parts of life doing gangbusters in a genre saturated with similar content? The difference is Georgia and Karen.

My Favorite Murder’s Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

Each week the ladies post a new episode wherein they take turns retelling the story of one crime. They are not always murders – in fact many of Karen’s stories are inspired but the kickass survivors of attempted rape, murder and abduction. The banter between Karen and Georgia makes you feel instantly at home, like you’re listening to a pair of your best friends chat over coffee. The details of the crimes are never gratuitous, but they don’t shy away from the realities experienced by many victims. The shorter minisodes, also weekly, are crafted from the stories emailed in by listeners – hundreds of thousands of them. In their first ever episode Karen and Georgia asked listeners what story really stuck with them, be it a murder from their hometown or personal connection. The floodgates opened. Every listener seems to have a story of a neighbour or cousin who was involved with a crime. Some of the stories are harrowing, some, down right hilarious – like the woman who helped catch the Swiss Cheese Pervert.

The real beauty of MFM comes not from the creepy ghost stories or flying decapitated motorway corpses. The soft pillowy centre of this podcast is in the ladies’ exquisite banter. It’s honest, funny, genuine and sometimes a little broken. On the show Karen and Georgia talk openly about mental health, addictions, eating disorders, self-defence, feminism, therapy, and death like they are normal parts of life – because they are normal parts of life. Their open approach to discussing usually taboo subjects – including the chronic anxiety that both Karen and Georgia suffer from – really hits home for anyone who has experienced the stigma attached to so many parts of modern life.

Over the last 18 months, MFM’s listenership has grown exponentially. They’ve hit the number one spot on iTunes, been guests on Cracked Live, and featured as the next big thing in Rolling Stone and on the Washington Post. But, like the ladies themselves, the real movement has been more modest. The “murderinos” (as those who follow the show call themselves) convene on every platform imaginable: there are 154,000 members in one Facebook group and 740 MFM-inspired products on Etsy. Even Elvis, Georgia’s cross-eyed, chatty Siamese now has 51.4K followers on Instagram. Unlike many internet platforms, the MFM community pages are filled with positivity, support and kindness. And murder stories, obviously.

Last year, after a surge of public demand, they began touring across the USA and Canada, and then the world, with a live MFM show; practically every show has sold out. Luckily for us, New Zealand was surprisingly high on their list of places to visit. Karen and Georgia are in Auckland for one night only, at the Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna, Wednesday September 6th.

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“These murder victims and their families never get to put the book down.” Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff talk to The Spinoff’s Sam Brooks.

Sam: What do you think about the podcast has resonated with people? Why do people get so passionate about, well, murder, I guess?

Karen and Georgia: Maybe it’s because people want to know the worst that’s possible in humanity and prepare for it. Or it might be that everyone has darkness in their lives and it makes us feel better knowing others have been through worse. Or it’s that talking about something scary in a funny way relieves anxiety and makes us feel brave. We’re definitely not qualified to answer this question.

You guys have fans from all over the world, do you find that there’s any region in particular that is super into what you guys are doing, and if so, why do you think that is?

We’ve always had a big listenership in Texas, from day one. Speaking of which, at this writing, all of Houston is underwater and it’s still raining. Tens of thousands of people have been left with nothing. If you have it to spare, please donate to The Greater Houston Community Foundation or The Houston Food Bank.

Also about your fans, the Facebook community that’s built up around the podcast is uniquely supportive and fiery and active. How does that support for the podcast and what you guys are doing translate into your lives outside of the podcast?

When the podcast started, the Facebook page immediately became a newsfeed, a craft store and a networking tool for murderinos. It really galvanized the relationship we have with our listeners. When we see stories from meet-up groups about new friendships being formed and money being raised for charity, it’s just beyond anything we could’ve hoped for when we started this podcast.

There’s something really beautiful about the way your podcast tries to make sense of something horrible that makes no sense, which is murder. How do you guys stay sane and safe when doing the podcast, and talking about this kind of material regularly?

Let’s see: a sense of humor, lots of therapy, always carrying pepper spray and combating awful murder stories by binging Bob’s Burgers and being with people we love.

You also treat the victims of your stories with a lot of respect – you guys never forget that with each murder someone was actually murdered. This might seem obvious, but why do you do that – why do you think it’s important to respect and remember the humanity of victims?

Part of the reason true crime is fascinating is because it’s tragic. We read these stories and think, “What if that happened to me?” but then we get to put the book down. These murder victims and their families never get to put the book down. That loss should be respected. And the survivors who go on to live full lives, advocate for victims’ rights and change laws are a shining example of how strong and resilient human beings can be. It feels good to talk about that.

Karen, I love your music. This isn’t so much a question as it is an opinion. Are we going to hear any more music from you soon?

Karen: I’m currently working on an acoustic cover of Rihanna’s ‘Desperado’. I should be able to play it by early 2019.

My Favorite Murder plays Auckland at the Bruce Mason Centre on Wednesday 6 September.

Book at Ticketmaster.co.nz or 0800 111 999


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