'My Favorite Murder' Duo on Growing a Podcast Empire, New Book and Co-Therapy

Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark reveal the secret to 20 million listeners and the perks of success: “Paul Giamatti went to North Hollywood to record a voiceover for us. If that’s not fuckin’ something, what is?”

Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark are exactly who you expect them to be — that is, if you’re among the 20  million (and counting) monthly listeners who know them from My Favorite  Murder, their podcast that fuses true crime, comedy and deeply personal confession.

A disarming mix of earnest and acerbic, the duo share the rapport  of lifelong friends, each conversation an elegant two-woman juggling act of serial killer stats and anecdotes from the odd paths that led them to an unexpected career as their own bosses. It’s their candor that transformed a weekly gabfest, which started in 2016, into a small empire that includes exhausting (if lucrative) annual tours, substantial merchandising, a recently-launched podcast network (Exactly Right Media, in partnership with Stitcher) and, as of May  28, a “shared memoir.” Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered (Forge, $25) was already a fixture on Amazon’s book charts weeks ahead of publication thanks to the podcast fans who proudly call themselves “Murderinos.”

One such Murderino — a waitress at the Silver Lake restaurant where Kilgariff, 49, and Hardstark, 38, met THR in early May — is dewy-eyed when she arrives at the table to report that Paul Holes, the retired detective instrumental in the Golden State Killer investigation, was a recent customer.

“We paid her $80 to do that,” jokes Kilgariff, after both women have embraced the listener in banter and hugs. One gets the impression this sort of exchange is commonplace. Even in the era of the podcast boom, only a handful of hosts could sell out L.A.’s 7,100-capacity Microsoft Theater as these two did in October. "I knew something was happening once L.A. people started responding effusively," says Kilgariff. "We got the L.A. people to express themselves."

Overnight as their success still seems, each hustled for years. Kilgariff, who came to Hollywood in the early 1990s as an aspiring stand-up, has an enviable rap sheet — appearing on Mr. Show, serving as the original head writer on Ellen DeGeneres’ talker and most recently writing for FX’s Baskets. But her attempts at acting were often degrading. “The first pilot I ever booked, I was on fen-phen and the skinniest I’d ever been,” she recalls. “When I walked in, [the costumer] goes, ‘Well, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with this!’ Then she pulled out the biggest caftans."

When My Favorite Murder began, Hardstark was hosting Cooking Channel's Unique Sweets. It was a job that she had come to dislike greatly, despite the exposure it offered. "I was threatened that if I asked for a raise, I'd be fired," she says. "I was pretty unhappy, not feeling creatively fulfilled, so I dug my claws into Karen and was like, 'We're fucking riding this all the way to the top.'"

Contrary to what their rapport suggests, the two met only a few months before recording their first episode — at a mutual friend’s 2015 Thanksgiving, where Kilgariff brought “way too much mashed potatoes” and Hardstark supplied a Costco handle of whiskey. Ignoring the rest of the party — “a bunch of dudes, quietly masticating,” says Hardstark — they bonded over Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly and their shared preoccupation with the morbid minutiae of murder.

Two years later, they’d both committed to dropping their full-time jobs to focus on their booming podcast. They’ve taken it to Europe, Australia and across the U.S. a number of times, endearing themselves to a fan base that apparently includes Paul Giamatti. The Billions actor overheard them joke on the podcast about him narrating their audiobook and emailed Kilgariff to offer his services. The women are narrating their own book, naturally, but Giamatti does make a cameo. “Paul Giamatti went to North Hollywood to record a voiceover for us,” says Hardstark. “If that’s not fuckin’ something, what is?”

So fervent are some Murderinos, there is even one Reddit thread where listeners have theorized as to what Kilgariff and Hardstark discuss in co-therapy. "The reason the chemistry is good is because we are total opposites," says Kilgariff, as Hardstark butts in, "Our therapist has told us that we are the perfect triggers for each other's deep-seeded childhood wounds."

Therapy, they say, can include yelling matches. Such a scene seems so far off from the personas they present on the show and in person, no wonder it's prompted online speculation. That's not to say their differences aren't apparent. Case in point: their opposite responses to the near-immediate success of the podcast.

"Every time she'd go, 'Look, we're number one on the podcast chart!" I'd be like, 'It's not gonna last,'" say Kilgariff, straight-faced, her partner breaking up with laughter. "I've seen this cycle. People buy a dumb car, get weird plastic surgery and divorce their spouse. Then they get hit in the face with the shovel of reality. Nobody is adored and respected in this town for 20 years unless you’re the rarest of unicorns, Rob Lowe."

“Or," Hardstark counters, "Paul Giamatti."

A version of this story first appears in the May 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.