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My Favorite Murder podcast hosts, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

We’re not laughing about murder,” podcast hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark are careful to remind listeners. But they are. Just not like that. “My Favorite Murder” is a true crime comedy podcast that debuted in January 2016, and quickly landed at No. 1 on the iTunes comedy charts.

The podcast’s fame continues to bewilder the hosts, who met at a Halloween party and bonded over what they thought was an obscure interest in true crime. Spoiler: It wasn’t that obscure. What developed in the three years since the pilot was a robust community of rabid true crime fans, armchair investigators and those who simply resonate with Karen and Georgia’s gift for banter. These are the Murderinos. And I am one of them.

But while I’ve tuned in to every episode, I have not ventured much deeper into the fandom. The rich community of die-hard Murderinos has not only ignited friendships and provided a safe space to obsess over every detail of Ted Bundy’s crimes or debate theories involving the infamous staircase murder. It has also inspired fan art. And even new businesses.

Georgia and Karen chose comedy as the genre for their podcast about murder because, for one, it’s their natural medium — Karen is a writer with credits on shows like Mr. Show and Ellen, and Georgia is the co-host of several programs, including Cooking Channel’s Unique Sweets — but mostly because it’s the only way they can address a topic so horrific and still sleep at night.

There’s really nothing macabre about them. The women are empathetic and approachable. Georgia wears cutesy vintage dresses, and her senior cat Elvis is a regular fixture on the show. But they have this thing—this not so uncommon thing, it turns out — with murder. They are appropriately appalled. They are disgusted, incredulous, furious. And they are captivated. The instant success of the podcast and its long run at the top of the charts may be unexpected to the hosts, but it’s not actually surprising. True crime cable series Unsolved Mysteries spawned 23 seasons, Serial reached 5 million downloads — faster than any other podcast before it. And, in its first month, an estimated 19.3 million viewers tuned in to Steven Avery’s did-he-or-didn’t-he story in season one of Making a Murderer — a documentary series on Netflix. We all, it seems, have this thing with murder.

When My Favorite Murder came along, it was a match made in heaven.

Steph Rohr, textile artist

When their shared interest morphed from a party conversation to a podcast pilot, recorded amateurishly in Georgia’s apartment, the two found an instant audience. “I have always loved true crime and would often stitch to marathons of Forensic Files and Unsolved Mysteries,” says textile artist Steph Rohr, whose stephXstitch store sells MFM-inspired cross stitch patterns. “When My Favorite Murder came along it was a match made in heaven.”

So the hosts kept producing episodes, fumbling, self-aware, through each one. And it’s their own personas, as much as the subject matter, that inspired the unprecedented cult following. They’re not just reaching the murder weirdos. They’re reaching the everyday weirdos too. Georgia freely discusses her strained relationships with family, and the medications she takes for anxiety. Karen is a recovering alcoholic. The hosts even attend therapy together to keep their working relationship healthy. They warm up audiences with self-deprecation, admission of flaws, and frequent apologies that have turned into the regular “Corrections Corner” segment of the show. They’re relatable. And sometimes, they get in hot water. An August 2017 article by Bitch Media criticized the pair for “microaggressions” and the duo’s reaction to being called out.

MFM’s Facebook group, moderated by the earliest and most avid Murderinos, expanded to over 200,000 members before it was shut down in August 2018. Spin-off factions of Murderinos have self-organized into more than 100 ultra-niche Facebook groups like Buy Your Own Shit: Murderinos Killing Debt (3,100 members), Biblio-Murderino: The My Favorite Murder Book Club (376 members) and Murderino Memes: Fucking Politeness Since 2016 (5,100 members). Location-based groups like Wisconsin Murderinos (1,200 members) round out the mix. In April 2018, MFM finally harnessed the fan frenzy, owning a piece of what has been largely community-led to this point, by announcing their Fan Cult. A paid yearly membership sold through the podcast’s merch store gives Murderinos early access to live show tickets and exclusive T-shirt designs.

MFM’s own merch store was a project Georgia took on in the podcast’s early days. While each week the episodes dissect two famous murders, the show’s intro is an anything-goes look into Karen and Georgia’s lives. Listeners followed Georgia along her journey as she navigated ecommerce for the first time, updating (and apologizing to) fans through “Merch Corner.” The hosts have been open about their growing pains, and their challenges in founding a podcast-turned-brand resonated with their followers in another way. On one episode, Georgia even read a fan letter that thanked the hosts for inspiring her to start a business.

Though fan art creeps into a legal gray area in some cases — a woman was reportedly hit with a cease-and-desist order several years ago for her Firefly-themed knitted hat — Karen and Georgia have embraced it. They are huge supporters of the art they’ve been gifted at live shows, sharing some of the work on social media and on the podcast. In turn, makers and designers have added MFM inspired art, crafts, T-shirt designs and even fonts to their stores. The phenomenon became so prevalent, Murderino Heather Andresen created the Instagram account @murderinomakers to celebrate the prolific work of the community. Murderinos find customers in other Murderinos, a community that Steph calls “supportive and empowering.”

Though she has an MBA and had a successful consulting career, she said she never would have launched her T-shirt store Unsweet without the podcast.

Steph added MFM designs to her stephXstitch store because, she says, there was already an overlap with her customer base and the Murderino community. Some of the show’s catchphrases like “Fuck politeness” were an easy fit for her already edgy feminist collection. Steph drives sales through MFM fan groups on social media and sells at craft shows too. At these events, Murderinos will often greet her with “Stay sexy, don’t get murdered,” the podcast’s oft-quoted sign-off. “It really is like being a member of a secret club,” she says.

StephXstitch was already an active store when Steph became an MFM fan, but for Lauren Meeler, the show served as inspiration to take her longtime interest in design to the next step. She was a stay-at-home mom looking to transform a hobby into a business. Though she has an MBA and had a successful consulting career, she said she never would have launched her T-shirt store Unsweet without the podcast. “Karen and Georgia talk so openly about anxiety and insecurity, and the fear of failure,” she says. “Hearing their stories makes me feel like I can do something risky and creative, despite having all the negative and debilitating thoughts I can bog myself down with.” Lauren sells MFM shirts inspired by local murder cases in her hometown Atlanta. The regional Murderino facebook group, she says, has been her biggest driver of sales.

In California, April Carter Grant of La Lettre De Luxe sells fonts through multiple channels including her online store. “My favorite work is creating a typeface that works technically but gives the effect of custom handwriting,” April says. So, when she listened to MFM’s pilot, which covered the 1996 unsolved murder of JonBenét Ramsey, she naturally developed a curiosity for ransom notes. The result: three Murderino font families. “It was so fun,” she says. “I started regularly reviewing scans of criminals’ letters from murder trials to find interesting specimens that would make unique fonts.”

It’s clear that their approach is doing more for fans than fueling an obsession with crime stories.

While the show’s unusual comedy/tragedy format has been met with mixed feelings — a man stormed out of a live show in Australia, while in Texas, a survivor of an attempted murder praised the hosts for their delicacy in telling her story — it’s clear that their approach is doing more for fans than fueling an obsession with crime stories.

In the three years since the podcast launched, Karen and Georgia have expanded their team, delivered live performances around the world and have finally sorted out their merch game. They recently launched their own podcast network, Exactly Right, and have a book coming out. Still, the hosts remain flawed and humble, proving to those on the brink of starting their own brand that it doesn’t take school smarts (the hosts both dropped out of college) or all of the answers to make it work. “To hear that they still struggle with it, but are extremely successful anyway,” says Lauren, “gives me the confidence to push forward.”

Illustration by Joseph Frankhauser