'My Favorite Murder' Co-Hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark Kill It With Their New Memoir
The creators of the hit podcast and murderino movement share how their new memoir, 'Stay Sexy and Don't Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide,' perfectly reflects their special blend of true-crime obsession and self-care.By Kat JohnsonJun 13, 2019 4:31 AM
To play the media you will need to either update your browser to a recent version or update your Flash plugin.
Very few people can pull off a comedy podcast about true crime but that’s exactly what Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark did with their hit My Favorite Murder. It helps that they’re naturally funny and have an easy rapport that invites their listeners to joyfully join them on the ride, inspiring an army of “murderinos.” The two hosts now bring their fans a co-memoir (yes, that’s a thing) that is perfectly them. Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide is full of the self-care and empowerment messaging that they’ve been packing their podcast with since the beginning.
Listen in as Kilgariff and Hardstark talk with murderino Kat Johnson about how they got to this point and why they chose to be as vulnerable and revealing as they did.
Note: Text has been edited and may not match audio exactly.
Kat Johnson: Hi there, this is Kat Johnson and I’m an editor here at Audible. I’m thrilled to welcome Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, the creators and hosts of the true-crime comedy podcast, My Favorite Murder. We’re talking today about their new memoir and first audiobook, Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide. Welcome, Karen and Georgia.
Karen Kilgariff: Thank you.
Georgia Hardstark: Hi, thanks.
KJ: Congratulations on your memoir. I absolutely loved it. You guys opened up and shared so much of yourselves, and it feels like a really amazing gift to fans. But I can also see it bringing in a lot of new fans because it goes beyond true crime. So I wanted to ask, who do you think this memoir is for?
GH: Definitely for our listeners. I think that first and foremost, it’s for the people who know us through the podcast and have come to feel like they’re true friends of ours and we feel the same way. So this is just giving them a little peek—okay, not just a peek. This is opening the closet door and showing them the mess we are inside a little more than we do on the podcast.
KJ: And I know you guys are known obviously for murder, the title of the book is Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered. You guys went way beyond that here but I’m curious, at any point were you like, “Oh, we should get more murder in”? Or were you always kind of like, “Nope, we know this going to be a totally different direction for us”?
KK: We’re basically kind of processing murder stories or true-crime stories third hand. We don’t claim to be journalists. We’re not experts in the field in any way. So, it wasn’t really natural or comfortable to us to then write a book about any of these things when there’s a humongous market that’s already filled with amazing talented people and talented journalists. I think we just basically did what we know best, which is, tell kind of horrifying stories about ourselves and say: do your best to not make this dumb mistake. It was much more comfortable for us to do that. You know what I mean? We leave the true-crime journalism to the experts.
KJ: Right. How did you go about selecting the material? Because I know you dug really deep here and you guys are big advocates of therapy. Did writing it feel like therapy a little bit or was it just like, “Oh no, now we need to go back to therapy after we dug so deep”?
GH: I definitely needed some extra deep therapy sessions throughout this whole book. Kind of pulling stuff up, when our amazing editor, Ali Fisher would be like, “You need to tell me more about this and go deeper.” And then instead of just thinking about it, actually have to think it and feel it and go back to exactly how I felt when I was writing when I was going through this stuff and so definitely it was bringing some stuff up for me.
KK: I took forever to start. The first chapter that we had due, I waited and waited and waited. And then when I finally sat down, I realized it was because that chapter was about my mom, who died three years ago. And there’s a big, painful story that I never really put down in detail. I finally realized, oh, I’m not just being a bad writer in general and procrastinating and making problems. It’s that I don’t want to face this, this way. Because it’s going to be so detailed and it’s going to be so memory based and it’s going to be hard. And so I just basically called our editor, Ali Fisher and was just like, “Yeah, I need to start on the next chapter. And get a couple of these under my belt before I go right into the main, the super sad part.” Which, ironically for me, was the first chapter.
KJ: Right, it’s interesting because I feel like even listening, I’ve had that experience. What you say about your mom is so powerful… I also lost my mom, and I’m like, I actually have to hold on to that and wait and listen to that later. But it’s quite moving.
KK: Yeah. Because sometimes if you’re listening to an audiobook or something like this or whatever, you’re just like, I know exactly how much I can deal with right now. You know your own water levels basically. So it’s like, I’m here to be entertained; I don’t want to have to face any of this stuff. We mix it all in together.
KJ: You mix it all in. To talk about the audio version in particular, because that’s how so many of us have gotten to know you guys: Was the audio something that was really important to you and you thought about early in the process? And what did you want the audio experience to be like?
GH: I was so excited. As someone who’s been listening to audiobooks for so long—if you want to look at my history in Audible, there’s just credits upon credits that I’ve used on great books. So it was kind of intimidating for me to finally do that and I’m such a fan of so many really great Audible narrators. I know that can make or break a book, so I really just wanted to sound good. As someone who doesn’t really like their voice that much… I’m no Gabra Zackman.
KJ: Oh, Gabra Zackman!
KK: Now you tell me! [Laughter]
KJ: Well, yeah, that must be difficult. It must be harder sitting in the studio recording versus sitting together and chatting for the podcast, right?
KK: Yeah, we were totally separate when we were recording the audiobook. Georgia was downstairs and I was upstairs. Because it’s our co-memoir, which I think we made up, it’s basically all the same theme but with separate stories and our own individual take. We finally recorded together at the end, when it was the Q & A part. But yeah, for me it was a very solitary experience where you’re like, “Well, I think this is okay.” But we just go downstairs after recording for a day and be like, “Okay, well that’s recorded. There’s nothing we can do about that now.”
KJ: And you guys also have some special guests who show up. I was excited to hear Marty, Georgia’s dad, and you guys also got Paul Giamatti! How did that come about? What’s up with that?
KK: We don’t know! We still don’t understand it! We still don’t understand.
GH: We still think it might be a joke that someone’s playing on us but we saw a photo of him.
KJ: It sounded like him. [Laughter]
KK: It’d be funny if our editor is just a vicious prankster and just like really messing with our minds.
GH: Well, he actually reached out to us because when we announced the book and said it was going to be an audiobook, we got a bunch of tweets that were like, “Are you guys going to read the audiobook?” It’s like, well, of course, that’s all we do: talk. But Karen made a joke that Paul Giamatti was going to read it.
GH: Turns out he listens to the podcast and reached out specifically to Karen’s personal email address and we just kind of…
KK: I put it on him and he agreed.
KJ: That’s amazing.
KK: I got an email from Paul Giamatti. That’s something that’s happened to me in my life. I got an email from Paul Giamatti.
KJ: How random, how random.
KK: So, I’m done. I’m actually retired.
KJ: I wanted to also ask you guys, in the course of making this murder podcast, you have smuggled in so many important ideas about empowerment and self-acceptance that you talk about in the memoir. The one that you start off with is my personal favorite: f*** politeness. Why do you feel like this is so crucial, especially for women?
GH: I think that it’s so crucial because it’s about our very basic needs of being safe and taking care of our own best interests. For women, it’s so important, and it’s so easily derailed by this ingrained rule that we’re taught at a young age, to be polite, which is a detriment to our safety. It’s such a basic need in our lives as women, that is so important to always keep in mind.
KK: I think it’s surprising to both of us. I think it was just the way we were raised very specifically, like my mom being a psychiatric nurse. She was always telling us you don’t have to listen to adults and adults aren’t smarter than you just because they’re older than you. And we got a lot of that kind of preventative training early on from her. So, to me, it’s pretty normal but there are so many people who are raised to please other people, and women especially. Because it’s like, why aren’t you smiling? And you need to be nice no matter what’s happening to you. And all these weird, whatever they are, societal, cultural rules, it feels like they are coming into question now just as people go, “Oh, wait a second. That’s right. I don’t have to do anything for anybody else. I don’t owe anybody anything.” It’s just weird, it’s the thing people are just starting to come to now, “Oh yeah, I get to assert myself and it doesn’t mean anything about me, except that I’m in charge. I’m in charge of myself.”
KJ: Absolutely. I think sometimes we hear these true-crime stories too and we have to check our tendency to think, I wouldn’t have gotten myself into this risky situation. But you really see how you really can. And Georgia, I loved your story at the beginning of the book about how that did happen to you. And especially for young women, we do tend to try to make other people comfortable at the expense of our intuition.
GH: I think maybe one of the reasons I’ve always loved true crime and reading these stories is the knowledge that, yes, I would have gotten myself into these situations and, yes, I have gotten myself into situations that, looking back, I admonish myself for. I just happened to get lucky and not have the fate a lot of victims have. It’s by the grace of God that I’m okay. I think having that empathy going in, knowing that anyone’s susceptible to this kind of horror, is an important part of our podcast.
KK: This is something we learned very early on, because of our listeners and the feedback we got. The conversation needs to be turned around—not to what did you do in that situation, but who is this rapist, or this attacker or this criminal, and let’s get him off the street. As long as we allow the conversation to be framed like this is based on the woman’s behavior—what she was wearing, what’s she’s doing—then we’re not actually following the real problem, which is that we have to keep criminals from hurting people. We have to get the people who seem to do it all the time off the street. That’s what needs to be talked about and discussed.
KJ: It’s like that Paul Bernardo case where basically the police were like, well, we’re just going to have a curfew for all young women. Instead of going to find this horrible rapist.
GH: Isn’t that insane? It’s insane.
KJ: Yeah, that’s one of the more enraging ones.
KK: Yes. It’s people making up solutions that are best for them. And since for the majority of whatever history, men have been in charge so the men have been doing things that work for their thinking. And it’s why it’s so cool that things are changing so much in terms of representation and the way things are talked about these days. It’s because of the more varied voices that are like, “No, no. There’s not going to be a curfew for women.” There’ve got to be people that are there to say, “I understand that this might be the first thought that came to your head but it’s a bad one and we need to think of something better.” Hopefully, that’s the trajectory that all of that is moving toward.
GH: Or the idea—this is from someone who doesn’t know a lot about this kind of thing but I’ll say it anyway—that instead of the city’s money going to petty drug offenses, let’s put it toward all of those untested rape kits and catch the serial rapists. Instead of locking up people with petty drug issues for short periods of time. It’s finally coming around to knowing that that makes way more sense than what we’ve been doing.
KJ: You guys have helped start this conversation but this whole murderino movement has become a bigger thing and a lot of [your followers] are doing volunteer work or professional work, helping solve crimes and advocate for victims. Are there any really inspiring stories of what people are doing that you can share?
GH: Oh my God. So many.
KK: We’ve heard a ton. To me, it’s inspiring. There have been tons of just casual advocacy where they’re like, “We had a murderino meetup and we raised 500 bucks for End the Backlog,” or whatever charity they think of. It goes from that to meeting people in the meet-and-greet line who are like, “I changed my major to forensics and criminology.” People making entire career changes so that they can actually affect some change. There’s tons of it. We hear it a lot. And they give us credit but they’re doing all of it. It’s hilarious. It’s like, “Your true-crime podcast made me do all these amazing things and think of other people and connect with a community.” We’re like, “Sounds great, you’re welcome. Yeah, that was all us.”
GH: It’s like, we didn’t do it but we’ll take credit and start to feel like proud aunties who are like, all right. We’re so proud of you but we’ve just been sitting smoking menthols this whole time.
KK: Drinking Gallo, smoking menthols.
KJ: I love that. The true-crime aunties. I love it. But, going back to that connection you have with your fans… A lot of it goes back to this really open, relatable way that you guys discuss these issues and clearly in this memoir, you do that a lot more. I love that you guys use your platforms to be so vulnerable. I just want to share with Karen especially because I recently got sober from alcohol and I feel like Karen being so open about addiction has saved my life so I’m curious…
KK: Oh, thank you.
KJ: Oh, thank you, thank you.
KJ: But I’m curious, do you feel like sharing your stories is useful for you as well? Is this vulnerability kind of a two-way street for you?
KK: Yes, a thousand percent. That’s the thing we learned from Brené Brown so early on. When you take shame and you bring it into the light, that’s the way you get rid of it. That’s the way you get rid of shame but also that’s the way you alleviate shame for others. Because not everybody can do it themselves. And for me, if it was three years after it happened, or maybe even 10 years after it happened, I probably would not have been able to speak about it in an honest way or be that forthright about it because it was still so embarrassing. It was like I was such a failure and I was such an addict. I did all these crazy things and whatever. But I see now that maybe that’s part of the point is just to be able to go, hey, before you go down this road, let me tell you how shitty it is and think it through.
If there’s anything to be resuscitated from that part of my life, just maybe it’s that other people could recognize being trapped. Because when you’re trapped in that drinking, when it’s just getting bad and you know it’s truly beyond your control, it’s really scary and it’s really isolating.
KJ: Right, right.
KK: Whatever I can do so that anybody suffers a little bit less than I did, sounds like a great idea to me.
KJ: Thank you for that.
GH: That’s beautiful.
KJ: That is beautiful. Thank you, Karen. You guys are both voracious readers and listeners, which is so near and dear to us at Audible. I would love to hear if you could each recommend a favorite book, especially something you’ve loved in audio.
GH: Oh my God, where do I start? If I pull up my Audible app right now… I fall asleep to a lot of books and I think I’ve mentioned this a million times but Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky is one of my favorite books in the past 10 years. It’s just so beautiful and I fall asleep to the audiobook all the time.
KK: I give this recommendation all the time and it makes me feel like I’ve only read one book. But the audio version of the book They All Love Jack by Bruce Robinson, where he basically breaks down all the Jack the Ripper lore over the years and really susses it out, talks about all the corruption and the reasons we all believe these certain theories. But at the same time, the guy reading it is the most entertaining British man of all time. So the writing is amazing. It may be Bruce Robinson himself.
KJ: No, it’s Phil Fox. I just looked it up. I’ve never listened to this one.
KK: Okay. So, Phil Fox is an amazing narrator and the book is fascinating. It’s really good. It’s like you’re having a beer with a super smart British guy who is just telling you how it is. It’s such an enjoyable experience.
KJ: Yeah, I don’t think I heard you recommend this so I’m putting both of these on my list.
GH: Of course, we have to give a shout out to I’ll Be Gone in The Dark by Michelle McNamara. The audiobook [is narrated] by Gabra Zackman, our girl. She is such a badass. I love the audio version. She’s so great.
KJ: It’s so good and it’s so creepy and she nails it.
KJ: Karen, I know you knew Michelle, so it’s interesting because that’s such a personal account and what a hard thing. We always love to have memoirs narrated by the author; obviously in this case, it was not possible. But yeah, for me it felt like I was inside the case with Michelle and it was really special.
KK: Yeah, she lived it.
KJ: She lived it, yup. I wanted to ask a little bit more about the subject matter. How did those sorts of disparate-seeming elements of self-care and true crime come together for you? Do they naturally flow together? You guys kind of end every show with this “f***ing hooray.” Is it like you immerse yourself in this dark side and then you also have to be sure to care for yourself in this positive way?
KK: Yes, I think we do on the show what we’re feeling in real time. So, when we decided to start doing the “f***ing hooray” at the end of the show, it was like, this is pretty dark and we’re in it a lot, so let’s make sure there’s a balance. I think it’s just us actually checking in with ourselves and being like what are we doing and what are we doing it for? I think that we almost have an out-loud mental health process on the show with each other. Because we try to be so honest and have real conversations and so then you have to keep on doing that really. You can’t just then go back and go into like a radio voice and then act professionally. From the get-go, we’ve been just kind of laying it all out there. To us, it feels natural. I think it’s just everyone else who’s like, “This is an odd combination of murder and mental health.” But it isn’t for us.
KJ: Right. You’ve written this advice book now, you’ve inspired this kind of whole movement of murderinos… If you could give advice to people who want to be like you, whether it’s starting a business with their friend or writing or book or bringing their dreams to reality, what advice would you give them?
GH: Oh wow. My thing has always been, just go for it. Just start. Just take the first step and then the next step will become obvious. There are all these people trying to do their side hustle these days and there’s so much opportunity on social media to create. And just find whatever your passion is and focus on it and make it your thing and have your friends who cheer you on and who want this for you and it becomes obvious what the next step will be. For me with Karen, we just couldn’t stop talking about true crime together and having such a good time doing it. And we had a friend who was happy to record our podcast and we had recorded podcasts before so it just made sense that that was the next step. And it kind of just went from there.
KJ: Right, I remember in the book too, in your takeaways from therapy, you said, “Motivation isn’t necessary. You just have to do it.” And that’s really good advice.
GH: Oh yes.
KK: Certain ones of us are big over-thinkers and you could really think yourself into not doing anything for eight years. It’s really easy. You have to keep in mind and then keep people around you who tell you that you should be doing what you want to be doing and what makes you happy. I think that’s really what it is. Really figure out what actually and truly makes you happy and makes you feel fulfilled. And then if you make a bold strikeout to start doing that, the universe will support you. If I may be so new-agey and crystal-like.
KJ: That’s wonderful. Is either of you guys obsessed with a case right now in particular?
GH: Oy vey. All of them?
KK: We’re at the end of a five-month tour, so I can barely see straight. I don’t know what’s going on.
KK: I’m obsessed with my couch right now. [Laughter]
GH: I’m obsessed with cold cases, those are my favorite because there’s so much mystery to them, and I really want them to be solved. So pretty much every night before I go to sleep—and I do not recommend this anyone—I just put in cold case news and scroll the latest cases that have been solved or have new updates. I think the Delphi murders right now seem to me like they are ready to be solved and that they’re right there on the cusp of being solved or finding the culprit.
KJ: I’m going to ask you just one final question, just because I think it’s so inspiring to see: We’ve seen a lot of women starting businesses together and there’s this concept of the work wife. Even I have a work wife, but especially women being entrepreneurial and it’s really cool to do something with your friend. I’m just curious, what have you guys learned from each other? What do you think you might not have done if you hadn’t had the other to support you?
KK: Oh my God. All of it.
GH: This podcast.
GH: I think we work really well together because we’re these perfectly opposite brains that have learned so much from each other. I think it’s just two people who come together with their own experiences and kind of just learn from each other. You could be an open-minded person to work with someone who’s your friend. And if you are, you get all the bonus of their experiences and smarts and your own.
KK: We have a lot of mutual bonuses between each other.
KK: There are things that Georgia thinks of. In the first month of this podcast she was like, we have to have t-shirts. I was like, oh, do we really? And she was like, oh yeah, we’ve got to do t-shirts. She’s been the merch maven since day one. Where I was like, thank God she set that up.
KK: Stuff like that—I don’t know about it; I wouldn’t have thought about it. My expertise is in totally different areas and it’s amazing. It’s the best.
KJ: That’s super inspiring. Guys, I’m so happy for you. I think the memoir is amazing, and I’m so excited for people to hear it and read it. Congratulations, because I’m sure it was really hard and I know you guys have a lot going on. But it’s wonderful.
KK: Thank you so much.
GH: Thank you. It’s very exciting and scary and big.
KJ: It’s big, yeah.
KK: It was fun to talk to you. Thanks for everything.