Culture

The Unexpected Comfort And Community Of ‘My Favourite Murder’

This podcast about murder might be your new favourite comedy.

It would be a rare person who feels comfortable introducing themselves as someone who ‘is heaps into murder’, and that’s probably for the best. However, it’s true that most people find something about murder fascinating.

Between Serial, Making a Murderer and whatever Scandi crime thriller your mum’s watching, we all seem pretty bloody keen to hear about some horrific stuff. With that in mind, it’s probably not all that weird we now have a podcast about it.

One of the strangest podcast phenomenons in recent memory, My Favorite Murder repeatedly topped the comedy podcast charts on iTunes last year — that’s right, it’s a comedy. Before I started listening, I thought it was just people having a good old chuckle about serial killers and rampant decapitations and it struck me as slightly… irreverent and bad taste. But, with a slight black mark against myself, I decided to persevere and I’m incredibly glad that I did.

“Staying Sexy And Not Getting Murdered” 

My Favorite Murder is made by two LA-based comedians, Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff, who met at a party and bonded over their shared obsession with murder stories through a long and passionate conversation that drove other people out of the room. It’s important to remember that origin story; the podcast feels like an extension of that original conversation, and this is definitely why it’s become so popular.

Karen and Georgia spend the podcast talking exactly like you could imagine your best friends discussing some fucked up shit. They’re all vocal fry and cackling; as they say at one point, ‘Do you like two girls who speak like they’re in junior high talking about murder?’. The show follows the vague format of talking about at least two “favourite murders”, but it’s also prone to rambling non-sequiturs and chatty intermissions.

They talk about everything from serial killers (The Nightstalker Killer and The Alphabet Killer are two of my favourite episodes) to famous cases like JonBenet Ramsey. They have a vague rule of ‘you can laugh at anything before the 1900s’ and they react with genuine horror and fascination to the terrible things they are talking about. Georgia’s horrified “nooooooooo” is a genuine highlight. In fact, they have all sorts of fantastic, quotable advice, such as “you’re in a cult — call your dad” or “Don’t take shit to the grave, you’re being a selfish dick”.

Amazingness by #murderino @jaimiewallace. #myfavoritemurder

A photo posted by My Favorite Murder Podcast (@myfavoritemurder) on

While this could all be annoying or distasteful, it’s somehow bloody delightful. It reminds me of how I spent my university years — hanging around my friend’s apartment while they recounted terrible facts about terrible things to each other, thrilled with how dreadful it all was. This personal connection is not uncommon. It’s in fact shared by a huge, engaged group of My Favorite Murder fans, or ‘Murderinos’ as they call themselves. The group has grown from a few hundred to over 80,000 people since the podcast began last January.

The atmosphere in the group is electric and “I thought I was the only weirdo who is obsessed with murder” is a common refrain. While the conversation stays pretty much singularly on murder, it’s also spawned outside activity . There’s an entire industry of MFM tribute art on Etsy, and the MFM Facebook group mobilised on mass for the recent Women’s Marches all around the US. Quotes from the show were heavily featured on placards.

“I Hope We Never Get Stabbed” 

Karen and Georgia’s ‘best friends that you’ve never met’ vibe isn’t the only thing that makes people feel so personally connected to the show; they also purposefully get people involved with a segment called ‘Hometown Murder’. It is what it sounds like. They ask listeners to write in or record themselves talking about murders that happened in their hometown. Not only does it shine a light on less famous, but still incredibly interesting and fucked up crimes, but it creates a space for recognition and connection — this happened to someone, not just to a faceless stranger.

This is the attitude at the heart of this podcast — the somewhat obvious yet often undiscussed idea that murders happen everywhere and to people all around us. Without resorting to fear mongering, there can be a certain release in acknowledging and discussing that. It’s not weird and uncouth to discuss this interest in such extreme behaviour. One of the games played in the podcast is repeating the connecting statements used in so many cases (“the kind of town where nobody locked their doors” or “a happy, well-respected family”) — the generic descriptions that enforce how everyday these acts are.

Obviously this could trigger anxiety or just be downright distressing for some people, and the podcast is not insensitive to that. In fact, mental health is a huge focus for the show, and both hosts are extremely honest and vocal about their own struggles. Georgia Hardstark, for example, will often say that being able to discuss these cases can sometimes help her anxiety; it helps to face them head on and talk it through in a safe space. That being said, at one point she also admits to being too anxious to get out of her car and start the podcast. Like most things with mental health, there are swings and roundabouts.

In much the same vein, the hosts are very up-front about the strong feminist aspect of the podcast. They often discuss the fact the majority of these killers are men, and women are overrepresented as their victims. It’s extremely common for the conversation to move slightly sideways from the facts and figures of serials killers (if you’re here for rock-solid research, you’ve come to the wrong place buddy) to discussions and dissections of the societal causes, which are often viewed through their feminist lens.

The Murderinos (who are predominantly female) really relate to Georgia and Karen talking about their own experiences dealing with violence and fear in a world that’s extremely unsafe for women. When they tell the terrifying stories of serial killer’s victims — such as the torrid tale of Mary Vincent who was sexually assaulted and had her arms cut off but still managed to escape and survive — there is more than just empathy involved. There’s a realisation that Mary Vincent could be anyone. It’s discussions like that which led to one of the fan-favourite quotes from the show: “fuck politeness”. It’s a feminist mantra that basically says: if you feel unsafe or threatened, you don’t have to worry about upsetting the creepy guy asking for directions. Protect yourself. Shut the car window and drive away. Fuck politeness.

I started listening to this podcast after experiencing some fairly awful violence motivated by homophobia. This was further compounded by watching the SBS documentary Deep Water, about a spree of gay hate murders around Sydney in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I can only imagine that this sudden sensation of feeling unsafe and unprotected is what women go through all the time, especially with the prevalence of predatory micro-aggressions like cat-calling. The part of me that became extremely anxious about this feeling also appreciated sharing that feeling with a podcast and its community.

I’ve tried several other true crime podcasts, and found the panels of loud hooting dudes to be slightly off, no matter how well-informed and factual they happen to be. I could feel the invincibility and privilege they felt, which is completely at odds with Karen and Georgia. And while My Favorite Murder isn’t perfect — I mean what is? — they are always open to criticism and discussion (they changed their early use of the word ‘prostitute’ for ‘sex worker’, for example).

In the end, the podcast has created a home for people who are interested in true crime but felt like they haven’t been able to properly share that interest before. It’s the kind of community that makes me feel better about the time I scared off my sister’s handsome new teen boyfriend after casually discussing Jeff Dahmer and his head-drilling hijinks. Because hey, they’ve all BEEN THERE.

You can listen to My Favourite Murder here.

Patrick Lenton is a writer of theatre and fiction. He blogs at The Spontaneity Review and tweets inanity from @patricklenton.