Revisit Durham’s most notorious murder trial. ‘The Staircase’ now streaming on Netflix.
Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark have discussed it many times on their hit comedy podcast “My Favorite Murder” — how their bonding over the Michael Peterson documentary series “The Staircase” was the start of it all.
Kilgariff, a comedy writer, and Hardstark, then a Cooking Channel host, met at a Halloween party in Los Angeles in 2016. Both being fans of true crime, they naturally started talking murder; specifically, “The Staircase,” which followed Peterson as he went on trial for the murder of his wife Kathleen, who was found dead at the bottom of a back staircase in the couple’s Durham home in December 2001.
(The Peterson case got even more attention from Kilgariff and Hardstark in December 2017, when their podcast released a special 100th episode going into detail about the documentary series.)
The story of this melding of minds is recounted in the introduction of the duo’s new book, “Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide.” The book title comes from the podcast’s most famous catchphrase, and is a dual memoir written in alternating chapters by Kilgariff and Hardstark. It will be released by Forge Books on May 28.
The same easy, conversational tone from the podcast is evident in the writing of the book. From the introduction, written by Kilgariff, going temporarily into third-person: “So, one Halloween, they’re at a party together and they start chatting about a then new HBO series called ‘The Staircase,’ which tells the story of a man going to trial for the murder of his wife. They realize they’re both obsessed and are thrilled to have found someone else to talk to about it. So they do.
They talk and talk. Some people join in, some dip back and out, and soon the kitchen’s clear of everyone except the two women. So they decide to meet for lunch. And they talk even more. Hours and hours of coffee and talking. The next time they see each other, Georgia suggests they start a true-crime podcast. Why not?”
(Note: At the time, “The Staircase” was actually airing on the Sundance Channel. It was never on HBO. Now it’s on Netflix. Maybe this will make The Corrections Corner, but probably not. That’s fine. We’re not listening for the facts.)
The rest is true-crime-comedy podcast history.
At first, the podcast was recorded in Hardstark’s apartment (now they’re in a studio). Then came the live show tours, which were worldwide and sold out. They started a Fan Cult, which gives diehard Murderinos (that’s the name fans have given themselves) access to extra content. Then they got their own podcast network, Exactly Right, which produces “My Favorite Murder” in addition to “The Fall Line,” “The Purrcast,” “The Murder Squad,” “This Podcast Will Kill You” and “Do You Need a Ride?” More shows are coming.
The podcast is a perennial Top 20 favorite on the iTunes charts, with around 19 million listeners each month. At their sold-out shows, fans stand in line for hours for a chance to meet the women and share stories, baked goods or handmade art projects depicting Kilgariff, Hardstark, their beloved mustached producer Stephen Ray Morris and Elvis (Georgia’s cross-eyed Siamese cat, who howls for a cookie at the end of every episode).
It was no different in Durham this past September, when Kilgariff and Hardstark brought their “My Favorite Murder Tour” to the Durham Performing Arts Center. Onstage, they quipped about the weather (they arrived just after Hurricane Florence) and Durham’s pricey boutiques, and told the stories of the Lawson Family Murders of Stokes County and the Bitter Blood murders from the Greensboro and Winston-Salem area. Two nights later they performed in Charlotte, telling the stories of Camp Lejeune-based serial killer Marcus Shrader and the Alamance County “black widow murderer” Blanche Taylor Moore.
Staying sexy, not getting murdered
Now, fans have the book, 300 pages of new material to fangirl over. And much like the podcast, it’s loaded with profanity, including a page titled “The Top Three Swears and How To Use Them.”
The book isn’t all that much about murder or true crime — at least not directly. Often, a true crime story will be the jumping off point for a personal story about struggles with depression, addiction, eating disorders, family and relationships. This personal sharing is the heart of the book.
And it’s that ability to connect with listeners on a personal level that sets “My Favorite Murder” — and its hosts — apart from the dozens and dozens of other true crime podcasts and hosts out there.
Though the topic of their podcasts is often heavy (it is death, after all), the tone is almost always not. Their approach is comedic, but it doesn’t make fun of murder or death or victims. It’s the opposite, in fact.
Kilgariff and Hardstark are insanely empathetic and their message is empowering, teaching women that it’s OK to not be polite to strangers, to trust their instincts and of course, to “pepper spray first and apologize later.”
To learn about those top three swear words, you’ll have to buy the book.
“Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered: A Definitive How-To Guide” by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. 300 pages; $24.99 (hardcover); $11.99 (ebook); $19.99 (digital audio). Forge Books.