Remember when Serial came out and everyone was like, “Oh my God, have you heard of podcasts? They’re amazing!” True, this may not have been the case for you—by the way, reading podcast reviews for fun means that you’re a nerd. For those who did not grow up on a diet of NPR, Serial may have been your first foray into audio entertainment. Serial, written and produced by radio goddess Sarah Koenig, was a big break for the podcast world. The show was popular enough to land itself a spoof on SNL, indicating it had registered on a certain social barometer.
The second coming of podcast mania arrived in January 2016, and it was covered in blood. My Favorite Murder, produced by Feral Audio, is making its fans lose their minds—in a good way. Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark are the hosts of this wildly popular show, which consists of inside jokes, feelings, a lot of incorrect “facts,” and of course, murder. To be clear, this is not a typical true crime show, but rather a conversation about how and why these awful crimes happen, as told by two female comedians.
Kilgariff was the head writer of The Ellen Degeneres Show, and is a well-known musical comic. She worked on 90s sketch show, Mr Show, and the British sitcom, The Book Group. Hardstark is best known for her appearances on Drunk History as well as her many shows, podcasts, and books with Ali Ward. The two are mainstays the LA comedy community and are hardcore California natives.
This show is entirely unscripted, which makes listening like hanging out in Hardstark’s living room—not odd, since that’s where it’s recorded. After the hastily recorded theme song (by Kilgariff), the two start off by bantering for about twenty minutes. Personally, I love this part of the podcast, but there are a lot of people known as “skippers” who prefer to get to the storytelling portion. The two make corrections from the previous week’s episode, in a segment called “corrections corner,” necessary because of the hosts’ loose interpretation of fact-checking. After they finish chitchatting, they invite the skippers back, argue over who is going first, then delve into whatever murder they have brought that week. One will tell the story, while the other listens, reacts and asks questions. They cover the canon: the Tylenol murders, the Lululemon murder, and household names like Ted Bundy, and Jack-the-Ripper. Some standouts are: Episode 31 “Namaste Sexy,” Episode 40 “Squad Gourds,” Episode 52 “Bonjour Internet,” Episode 61 “Live at the Neptune,” and Episode 81 “Weapon Bush.”
During the period where they were still finding their voice, there were a few cases that they talked about that made my stomach turn, but I believe they are finding their boundaries. Above all, they advocate for the victims and for mental health. Both have had problems with addiction and talk openly and positively about therapy. They offer up resources and go at the true crime genre with an uncommon sense of vulnerability.
Hardstark and Kilgariff engage with their listeners constantly, creating an active community called “Murderinos” (I do not know how I feel about that title). Every other episode is a “minisode” that’s about thirty minutes long, where they read people’s hometown murders. Thousands of listeners write in about their own experiences, including interactions with a murderer (a weirdly common occurrence), or a murder from their town.
Let me get personal for a second. I was so upset when, after extensive research, I learned that my hometown (Taos, NM) did not have a famous murder. Yet, it seems like a great place to commit a murder: incompetent police, in the desert, with hippies. The houses are really far apart, so no one can hear you scream. This is not a suggestion to murderers (who I am sure do not listen to podcasts and therefore definitely do not read podcast reviews), just a thing I’ve noticed.
I think the most surprising feature of this podcast is the live tour. I recently bought the last ticket to their sold-out show at the Beacon in NYC, which holds nearly 3,000. The crowd acted like they were seeing Obama. And what was the big show? Just Karen and Georgia, sitting on bar stools in front of the audience telling each other a story. About murder.
The only issue that I find with the hosts is that they don’t question themselves politically as much as I would like. They are talking about issues with social ramifications, i.e. the prison system, the death penalty, and criminals committing suicide, without fully delving into their radiating scope. Kilgariff does seem to have a better understanding of the implications of these cases in a political sphere, and generally has a more nuanced, albeit negative, view of the world. Hardstark doesn’t always consider how her opinions about specific convictions play into a larger system, specifically in regards to the death penalty. This would bother me more if it weren’t for the fact that almost every single serial killer is a white man, so the hosts aren’t being flippant about race and poverty. I will say that oneof their more recent episodes dealt with two murders which can be linked back to police corruption and race related crimes (Episode #65 “Pre-Milked Cereal”). The friend who introduced me to this podcast texted me the day it came out, saying, “This is what I want all MFM episodes to be,” and I couldn’t agree more. I hope that this is the direction in which the show is going, and if so, the hosts have a potential to use their growing popularity to spread many hidden and important stories. They also did a good job at addressing a recent Bitch Media article that pointed out some of these issues, saying that they just wanted to learn how to be better allies, and were not defensive in the face being called racist (re: episode 81).
I have heard criticism of both their title and tone, and I’ve thought about this a lot. I do wonder what the family members of murder victims think when they hear that their deceased loved oneis someone’s “favorite murder.” I worry that I am an insensitive person for enjoying a comedy true crime podcast. Murder narratives by their very nature glorify the murderer, often in efforts to understand their unusual and sensational logic and actions. In contrast, I find that through the unscripted, casual, female lens of MFM, the hosts focus on the victims. They give a lot of woman-centered safety advice, namely “Fuck Politeness,” meaning that, no matter who asks you to help them load groceries into their car, if you feel unsafe, you can say “no” and walk away. All that being said, this podcast does have the potential to upset some people, and does warrant a warning. Okay, I will shut my liberal arts mouth now.
Overall, I recommend this podcast. I started listening when I began living alone, in a big city for the first time, and it made the adjustment much less lonely than it could have been. I felt like I gained two great, real friends, with whom I could indulge in a guilty pleasure. As stated above, this podcast is not perfect, and my hope for the future is that the hosts dig further into social issues.
PS, if you blaze through this podcast in a mere month like I did, check out “All Killa, No Filla,” hosted by Rachel Fairburn and Kiri Pritchard-McLean, two British comedians also interested in murder stories. They say that they make this podcast “so they don’t write to them [serial killers] in prison.” It is very funny, very cute, very infrequent and constantly makes fun of Americans (which we deserve).
As a side note, I just worked on a true crime television show as a production assistant, and it was the best experience of my life. Like better than getting to drink alcohol for the first time. Like better than going out and getting ice cream at three am. Like better than watching the Bachelorette or GoT or Jeopardy if that’s your jam, I don’t know you, we’ve never met (WHAT?! Listen, I know). I can’t tell you much, because I am sworn to secrecy until it airs, but someone did die pantless in a Christmas sweater, in their own vomit.
This is just a taste of the MFM world. There are blossoming MFM-centric Etsy stores, the punching bag of a sound engineer, Steven, and Hardstark’s very vocal cross-eyed Siamese cat Elvis. Just go listen for yourself, and in the words of Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, “Stay sexy. And don’t get murdered.”
Leyton Mia Cassidy lives in New York City, works for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, and is a freelance production assistant. She is a stand-up comedian, director, sketch writer, and is the host, producer, and #1 fan of the literary comedy podcast Classic(s) Bitch. She is a part time lover and a full time friend. You can see her work at leytoncassidy.com. Follow her at @Leytoncassidy.