Murder and mayhem are just another day at the office for the true-crime podcast hosts.
Credit: Jonathan Snyder for EW

It wasn’t so much a meet-cute as a meet-gruesome. That’s how My Favorite Murder cohosts Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff recall their introduction to one another at a mutual friend’s Halloween party in 2015, where Kilgariff was recounting the gory aftermath of a car accident she’d witnessed a few years prior.

“Everyone around me was bummed out by it,” Kilgariff, 46, says with a laugh. “Except for Georgia, who reached across the circle we were in and was like, ‘Tell me everything.'”

Hardstark, 36, readily admits that, much like Kilgariff, she has a penchant for macabre small talk. “I always wanted to know people’s hometown murders. When people would tell me where they’re from, I’d be like, ‘Oh, you guys have that murder…’ And they’d be like, ‘What the f— are you talking about?’ So I think Karen and I talked all night about crazy murders.”

They’ve been talking about crazy murders ever since — only now, they’ve got an audience of hundreds of thousands listening in.

In January 2016, the duo — Hardstark, a former receptionist and Cooking Channel cohost; Kilgariff, a stand-up comic and TV writer — launched their true-crime comedy podcast My Favorite Murder on the Feral Audio network. Yes, a true-crime comedy podcast. (Serial this is not.) Every week Hardstark and Kilgariff pick a different murder to dissect and debate. They launched with the cases of JonBenét Ramsey and Sacramento’s East Area Rapist. Since then, they’ve cycled through a veritable murderers’ row — from the well-known, like John Wayne Gacy, to the obscure, like the Texas Eyeball Killer — all discussed in the playful, irreverent tone of the best grown-ass-ladies slumber party you’ve ever attended. It’s a tricky balance, to be sure, marrying the morbid and the mirthful.

“Every true-crime thing you see goes in with that kind of ominous music and low lighting, so to be able to talk about these things but not have to feel somber about it and not feel guilty that you’re not feeling somber about it—I think that’s what appeals to me,” says Kilgariff. “I know that we are respectful. And I think us not trying to take an expert tack, just being like, ‘Found this on Wikipedia!’ or whatever it is, it’s welcoming to people.” That conversational approach, coupled with a lo-fi sensibility — not to mention a guest appearance on the popular Cracked podcast — are what Hardstark and Kilgariff credit with My Favorite Murder‘s speedy ascent up the iTunes charts. (They hit the No. 1 spot on the comedy list in May 2016, a mere five months after launching.)

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“I think it did well because it’s just two people who are really, really excited about a topic and who have really strong opinions and have dealt with a lot of stuff in their lives,” Hardstark says. Indeed, the podcast has become something of a confessional: Both women have voiced their own struggles with anxiety and addiction while offering a lifeline to listeners.

“I probably wouldn’t be alive without therapy,” says Hardstark. “We get a lot of emails from people asking us, ‘How do I get help?’ or just ‘Thank you, I’ve been going to therapy now because of you.'”

Credit: Jonathan Snyder for EW

The pair’s homespun wisdom has also inspired their fans, who call themselves “murderinos,” to create dozens of cheeky memes and handmade crafts, many of which feature the catchphrase that seems to resonate most with listeners: “F— politeness.” It’s a call to eschew societal expectations to be “nice” and “helpful” and focus instead on one’s safety and well-being. As Hardstark and Kilgariff point out, notorious serial killer Ted Bundy preyed on young women by appearing vulnerable, often wearing a fake cast to curry sympathy.

“People who are trying to charm you are the ones you least expect and most suspect. Because a normal person doesn’t need you to love them,” says Kilgariff. “It’s very fascinating, because when it happens to you, you’re all of a sudden like, ‘Oh sure, I’ll help you move at night!'” That advocacy has become an important outgrowth of the podcast—Hardstark and Kilgariff routinely donate a portion of proceeds from their My Favorite Murder-branded hats, T-shirts, and tote bags to charities like the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and End the Backlog.

The podcast has evolved in other ways since its launch more than 14 months ago. Their original concluding segment, dedicated to reading listener-submitted tales of hometown murders, has spun off into its own supplemental “mini-sode,” thanks to more than 10,000 submissions sitting in the My Favorite Murder inbox. The duo can also add “murder experts” to their growing CVs: Kilgariff recently appeared as a talking head on an episode of Investigation Discovery’s A Crime to Remember, while Hardstark participated as a panelist on the network’s Is O.J. Innocent? The Missing Evidence after-show. They’ve even taken their act on the road, taping live recordings of the podcast in venues around the country.

As to the future of My Favorite Murder, well… “I think I want to start killing people,” Kilgariff deadpans. “I could get away with it, too.”

“Start with me! That’s the final episode,” jokes Hardstark, adding more seriously, “I really feel like I could do this for a long time the way it is. If it gets bigger and bigger, great, but I’m enjoying this so much.”

So for now at least, Hardstark and Kilgariff will continue to live by their signature sign-off: “Stay sexy.” “And don’t get murdered.”