Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark on vulnerability, self-help, and the success of their new memoir
“Oh, hiiiiieee! Welcome to our first-ever book!” writes Karen Kilgariff in her introduction to Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide, the memoir co-written by her fellow My Favorite Murder podcast host, Georgia Hardstark. “Isn’t it weird?”
When Hardstark reached out to Kilgariff about starting the true-crime/comedy podcast that would catapult them into the cultural zeitgeist, they were both tired, trapped, and desperate for a change. Neither could have predicted sitting atop the podcast charts or selling out international tours. They were just excited to be able to talk about their true crime obsessions with each other.
But top charts and sell out tours they did, and now here they are with a memoir that has emerged as a consistent powerhouse best-seller since its late May publication. In many respects, Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered distills the My Favorite Murder podcast into its most essential elements: Georgia and Karen. They lay themselves bare on the page, in all of their neuroses, triumphs, failures, and struggles. From eating disorders to substance abuse and kleptomania to the wonders of therapy, Kilgariff and Hardstark recount their lives with honesty, humor, and compassion, offering their best unqualified life-advice along the way.
EW spoke to Kilgariff and Hardstark about the book’s success, the vulnerability necessary to write it, and where they see themselves in the conversation with today’s landscape of self-help. Read on below. Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered is now available for purchase.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: For a book with “murder” in the title — and one that came from a true-crime podcast — Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered is surprisingly light on murder. How did you get from true-crime podcast to dual memoir?
GEORGIA HARDSTARK: It’s funny because, when we first got asked to do a book — which we were really excited about — we thought it’d be cool to represent our listeners, who make such awesome art. We thought we would do a coffee table book, and there wouldn’t be a lot of work or writing on our part, and it’d be easy and fun. And then our editor laughed at us and was like, “No, you’re gonna write a real book.” So, we decided to write about what we know about. We’re not journalists and we’re not investigative reporters, but we brought up so many of these stories quickly on the podcast and thought, “Let’s expand those stories and tell everyone why we’re here.”
KAREN KILGARIFF: Why we are who we are.
In the same vein, because the book wasn’t necessarily about the murder but about you two, were you ever worried about how fans of the podcast would react to the difference in material between the podcast and the book?
KILGARIFF: No. Although the podcast is true crime-based, we talk about ourselves and go off-topic so much that they’re very much used to it being as much about our own fears and neuroses and what we get our comedy from as it is about retelling the stories that they usually already know. It was already 50/50 on the show, and we kinda went, “Let’s have it 80/20 in the books so that we don’t have to pretend we’re journalists, do research, fact-check.” Like, we can just tell stories about our lives and make it that much easier.
HARDSTARK: We can let the Michelle McNamaras and Billy Jensens of the world do all the hardcore research, so we can just make it about ourselves.
For fans of My Favorite Murder, the book is obviously a must-read. But what about readers who have never listened to the podcast? What about SSDGM has drawn them in?
KILGARIFF: Nothing. I mean, what are they doing? What do they want from us? [Both Laugh] Why, like, is Michelle Obama next to us on the bookshelf?
HARDSTARK: Exactly! Pick that one up.
KILGARIFF: What are you doing with your life? We can’t help you.
HARDSTARK: I think a lot of the people who are going to read this that don’t listen are the people whose friends and sisters and daughters are like, “You have to read this, it reminds me of you,” or like, “This is so me and you’ll understand me more.” I think those are the people who don’t listen and then read the book and get horrified and then listen to the podcast. [Both laugh]
Similar to the people who get “dragged along” to the live shows.
Georgia, in your conclusion you say that “My Favorite Murder was, from the very first episode, about vulnerability.” Could you two talk about the vulnerability involved in writing SSDGM? Do you think it has anything to do with the book’s massive success?
HARDSTARK: When Karen and I met and started a podcast, we were both reading and trying to live life to what Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly talked about, which is about vulnerability — although it’s really hard to be vulnerable because it goes against everything you’ve learned in your life. And that’s scary. But it’s so rewarding when you actually do it. You receive so much more out of life when you give more of yourself. So, when I was writing my stories that are pretty raw and vulnerable, there was just no way to write them without completely stripping any pretension or any kind of “being a show off” or anything like that. It has to be just completely raw.
KILGARIFF: We wrote this book going, “Look at how bad we’ve been in the past.” Making ourselves look bad for the benefit of others, maybe. We do it anyway, and it’s what we’re like. So why not take all those things that we’ve been cringing about in the middle of the night for 20 years, and put it on the page so someone can cringe a little less in their life? Let’s all show each other our shame, and then kill it by bringing it up to the light.
HARDSTARK: I’ll show you mine if you show me yours, Brené Brown. [Kilgariff laughs]
Speaking of Brown, just like both of you, she isn’t a therapist or a self-help author. But SSDGM is a self-help book — and a very successful one. In Karen’s words, “None of the advice [you] give in this book or have given on [your] podcast is qualified. [You’re] only experts in [your] own experiences.” Does that contribute to the effectiveness and success of the book?
KILGARIFF: I mean, maybe. It’s hard to say. I think of Brené Brown [as] a scientist. So, while she’s saying, “This is my research and this is what I’ve discovered through quantifiable science,” what we’re doing is going, “Our research is … how we’ve lived our lives. And this is how we’ve f—-d our lives up. And this is how we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking that that behavior — drugs, whatever — was going to fill that hole, and how it doesn’t work that way.” It’s the thinnest expertise, but it’s basically just like, “This is how we were blind.” We got a glimpse of truth. That sounds super weird, but we basically just tried, “Don’t do this if you don’t want to feel that way.” It’s all we can offer.
HARDSTARK: When we started the podcast, our listeners showed up in droves and were like, “I’ve been obsessed with this and it’s been a f—ing secret my whole life,” the majority of them women. I think in the same ways we’re telling these stories that they’re like, “But that’s happened to me and I’ve never thought of it the way you think of your experience.” Maybe it will help some people feel like they’re not alone.
We’ve been looking at successful recent books like Brené Brown’s latest, Lane Moore’s How to Be Alone, and more. What does self-help look like right now, in your eyes? How do you see yourselves in conversation with that?
KILGARIFF: I do know that we’ve been on charts next to a book that’s about the medical miracle of celery juice [Hardstark laughs], so I feel like we fit right in to that whole area really nicely.
HARDSTARK: We’re a miracle cure in our own way.
KILGARIFF: AND! The word “f—” is on that list a couple times because of—
HARDSTARK: What’s it called? The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***?
KILGARIFF: Yeah, Mark Manson has a couple books on the chart as well, and they say f— in them, so it’s kind of like all the rebellious kids — and the weird celery people — are suddenly having their new moment.
Re-claiming swearing as self-help.
KILGARIFF: There’s nothing better than a personal story. Any therapist can give you the expertise of their education, but we all know there’s that person in our lives that’s been like, “Hey, one time I did this thing,” and that will stay with you for so much longer than the stuff that probably should, because it’s from direct experience.
If there’s one message each of you hopes every reader will come away from SSDGM with, what would it be?
KILGARIFF: I think it’s, “Let’s bring back shoplifting.”
HARDSTARK: Yeah. And if you’re gonna write a book, you should write it with someone else, because then you’ll only have to write half a book.
KILGARIFF: That’s right!
HARDSTARK: It’s a lot easier.
KILGARIFF: Way easier. Rip that book in half with somebody!
HARDSTARK: And shoplift it! [Both laugh] Don’t shoplift!
After the wild journey that has been My Favorite Murder the past few years, what are you most proud of?
HARDSTARK: Oh, that’s a great question. I mean, that we stuck with it. [Both laugh] Really! We didn’t quit! We didn’t get into a fist fight and quit.
KILGARIFF: I think there are lots of those moments when we meet people — listeners at a meet-and-greet — and they tell us that they’ve changed their major to forensic science, or criminal justice, or they’ve become a victim’s advocate. There are all kinds of people telling us that there’s been a journey for them of either going back to therapy or going after the thing they secretly always wanted but were afraid they couldn’t do. Some of them are giving us credit for that, which we know isn’t accurate, but we’re taking it 100 percent in. It just feels nice that our random blabber, that we’ve of course always enjoyed doing, is actually having a positive effect somewhere. That’s a nice feeling.
This interview has been edited and condensed.