When faced with a too-charming stranger, an overly inquisitive Lyft driver, or another potential creep, “Fuck politeness!” is my guiding principle, and I have Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff to thank for it. Each week Hardstark and Kilgariff talk about murder on their comedic true crime podcast, My Favorite Murder, and each week I tell myself I’ll hold off on listening right away, so as to truly savor the new episode, and then I invariably press play anyway. I can’t help it. I’m a Murderino.
Since it launched on the Feral Audio network in January 2016, My Favorite Murder has developed a sizeable fanbase of self-described Murderinos, drawn more than 117,000 to a closed Facebook fan group, and climbed to number one on the iTunes comedy chart. “Fuck politeness” is one of Hardstark and Kilgariff’s many charming, off-the-cuff safety mantras, a jokey yet serious invocation to self-preservation derived from the cruel fact that bad people often take advantage of the way women are socialized to be deferential and polite. Other murder truisms include “Stay out of the forest,” “Toxic masculinity ruins the party again” (DOESN’T IT THOUGH), “Pepper spray first, apologize later,” “You’re in a cult, call your dad,” and each episode’s signoff: “Stay sexy; don’t get murdered!”
Hardstark, a Cooking Channel host and co-inventor of the McNuggetini (Google it if you want to see something gross/amazing), and Kilgariff, a delightfully dry comedian and TV writer, are real imaginary friend material if you’re a slightly anxious woman who’s into true crime. Not only do they discuss horrifying things each week, but their meandering tangents are a joy, as are their open, frank conversations about their own struggles with anxiety and addiction. Given how stubborn the stigma attached to mental illness can be, it comes as a welcome surprise to hear two charming, goofy adult women discuss their therapy appointments and existential angst with the same straight talk they bring to topics like Ted Bundy or the Chicago Tylenol murders. Come for the true crime, stay for the chance to feel like your weird brain isn’t alone!
It might seem counterintuitive, but if you’re already prone to anxiety, reading true crime or listening to podcasts about it can function like DIY exposure therapy, and actively mastering techniques for protecting yourself—say, taking a self-defense class—can help focus nervous energy and transform catastrophizing (which is never helpful) into strategizing (which can be, sometimes). I’ve heard from other Murderinos that this is one reason they tune into My Favorite Murder, and it’s certainly true for me (I grew up in Seattle while the Green River Killer case was still open; it wasn’t exactly a reassuring hometown for someone with an overactive imagination and is curious to a fault).
But I think there’s another reason so many are so devoted to a podcast about murder. As is likely true of true crime overall (a 2010 study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that women are more interested in true crime than men), the Murderino fanbase seems to skew female. The world can be a shitty, unkind place for women, and true crime narratives present one of way of documenting this; it’s especially, weirdly comforting to hear them from Hardstark and Kilgariff, who occasionally bring up their own stories about times they narrowly avoided dangerous situations or felt unsafe. Ask any woman you know, and I’ll bet you anything she has these stories too. I know I do. No wonder we’re interested.
And yet many true crime narratives are framed by men, or focus on the perpetrators of crime rather than victims—who are often women, and frequently victims of sexual assault, a crime that, statistically, has probably happened to someone you know. But by centering victims, telling women’s stories, and acknowledging the everyday specter of violence that women deal with, My Favorite Murder is the exception to this shitty rule. Every week Hardstark and Kilgariff give me hope that, by sharing stories of survival and standing up for ourselves and each other, we can make the world a little less horrifying and a little safer for women, one “Fuck politeness!” at a time.