Last year, Phoebe Bridgers said the ultra-popular true crime podcast My Favorite Murder was an influence for her latest album, Punisher. “My Favorite Murder feels like you’re listening to two friends talk about something they’re morbidly fascinated with,” she told Pitchfork. Bridgers described being drawn to the podcast’s emphasis on social consciousness, which has been woven into the show over the years, as the hosts have had to examine how to wield their vast influence. “They get infuriated about things like the justice system or race and equality and implicit bias and too little jail time for white people and way too much jail time for Black people. But they’re also two middle-age white women. They get shit wrong all the time.”
Few have built such successful careers getting shit wrong all the time. But for My Favorite Murder hosts Karen Kilgariff, 51, and Georgia Hardstark, 41, admitting what they don’t know on their podcast of crime recaps — from how to pronounce Worcester to how to talk about sex workers — has been as much a selling point as a survival method. Their willingness to issue corrections on topics critics argue they should’ve learned about before addressing thousands of listeners over streaming apps has endeared them to their legions of fans. “There was a real empowerment to being informed by people who we could tell liked us,” Kilgariff says. “It wasn’t anger. It was like, ‘Please make this adjustment,’ which I think is very modern. I think that’s how culture is these days, and you can either be the person that says, ‘How dare you correct me?’ Or you can want to learn and you can want to be working on being the best ally you can.”
Calling themselves murderinos, these MFM devotees value the hosts’ candid talk about mental health and their social shortcomings alongside true stories of notorious crimes throughout history. They have made MFM the most enduringly successful true crime podcast ever, and as the show wraps up its fifth year and approaches its 300th episode, it still consistently ranks near the top of Apple’s charts. Despite being some of the more experienced podcasters in the true crime world, now backed by a team of researchers, they maintain the stance — beloved by listeners — that they never promised anyone they knew anything about anything. “We’ve always been like, yeah, we don’t know what we’re doing, and it is nice sometimes to just hang out with the people that are like, it’s fine if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Kilgariff says.
Now, they’re expanding into somewhat new territory. Bridgers — who referenced serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer on her previous album and who covered Tom Waits’ song “Georgia Lee” about the unsolved 1997 California murder of 12-year-old Black girl Georgia Lee Moses — is one of 10 famous guests who will appear on a new series of interviews on the podcast called Celebrity Hometowns. Asked what it means to have this indie icon of Gen Z lined up to speak with them about what the genre means to her, Kilgariff says the draw to true crime is universal. “It’s human,” she says. “I think a lot of women home in on it and want to be informed, want to follow along. And for someone like for Phoebe Bridgers — to hear that you’ve somehow influenced someone’s art, that’s a compliment that when Georgia and I started [the podcast] in her boiling hot apartment on the East Side, I don’t think that was anything that was even slightly in our brains.”
On interim episodes between the weekly tellings of murder stories, Kilgariff and Hardstark have been sharing listeners’ hometown stories since launching the podcast in 2016. “Hometowns” is MFM speak for stories of the notorious crimes that happened where someone grew up. “Everyone has that kind of story,” Hardstark says. For her, it was the 1983 news of a child whose father set him on fire in a Buena Park, California, motel room near Disneyland, in the same county where she lived. “It was the first time as a kid I ever really understood how bad the world was,” she says.
The concept of a hometown story on the show has evolved since the podcast’s debut to include anything from childhood ghost sightings, to grandmothers with mafia connections, to the misadventures of latchkey kids. Any juicy story or tidbit of family lore is fair game. “Everybody loves a true story where it’s like, ‘You won’t believe this actually happened,” Kilgariff says.
The celebrity series launched Oct. 27, with veteran Dateline reporter Josh Mankiewicz recalling how his father, Frank Mankiewicz, a political insider who served as press secretary to Robert F. Kennedy’s campaign, used to interview JFK assassination–conspiracy theorists in his childhood home. “I, of course, totally expected Josh Mankiewicz to come on and talk about, say, the most disturbing case he covered on Dateline,” Kilgariff says. “Instead, it was this unbelievable story about how his father had something to do with the investigation of JFK’s assassination and just all of this inside information.”
The 30-minute episodes go up every Wednesday until the end of the year with appearances by Bridgers, comedians Michelle Buteau and Wanda Sykes — who formerly worked for the National Security Agency — and retired Golden State Killer investigator Paul Holes, who co-hosts his own podcast, The Murder Squad, on Kilgariff’s and Hardstark’s Exactly Right network.
The interviews are free-form, with guests deciding what story they want to tell, often revealing formative experiences with crime in their lives. “Michelle Buteau started telling us about a story in the early 2000s that affected her, and it turned into this incredible tale of how she started comedy in the midst of 9/11, which she was embroiled in as a news editor,” Hardstark says. “[It was] this incredible story of how the start of her career in comedy came out of it.”
The hosts are eager for the conversations to reveal unexpected overlap in their genres of work. “I think it’s the surprise of knowing people who may not identify themselves as true crime listeners or true crime fans, but everyone has that kind of link, and has a story like that to tell,” Kilgariff says.
As she looks ahead, Hardstark thinks she may cover more crime-adjacent topics, like a recent episode where she told the origin story of the Miranda rights, but tried and true murder stories will continue to feature prominently. “It’s about so much more than just those two words: true crime,” she says. “Karen and I try really hard to represent the victims that we’re telling the stories about…. I think being two women who deal with our own anxieties about life through comedy and bond through friendship and discuss our own mental health issues makes it so much more than, you know, ‘Listen to how awful this story is.’”