The Untold Truth Of My Favorite Murder's Karen Kilgariff

Since Serial hit the airwaves (or rather, podwaves?) in 2014, podcasting has become a limitless new frontier for comedians, actors, journalists, talking heads, and more. From Joe Rogan's polarizing, ever-popular talk show The Joe Rogan Experience to comedians Joel Kim Booster and Mitra Jouhari's comedy-advice send-up Urgent Care, anyone with access to a podcast directory can find a cornucopia of niche programming and every genre mashup under the sun.

Among the most popular of these is undoubtedly My Favorite Murder, a true-crime comedy podcast created by hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. Since its debut in 2016, the show — best described as listening in on a gut-busting conversation between best friends interspersed with tales of true crime — has gained a massive fanbase of "Murderinos," spawned live international tours, and fan-made merch rife with episode one-liners like "toxic masculinity ruins the party again."

Part of the appeal of MFM stems from the hosts themselves. As open and raw as they are hilarious, both Kilgariff and Hardstark's frankness about their respective struggles with weighty issues like eating disorders, anxiety, and depression have inspired listeners to not only seek help for their own issues but create a global community to offer support to others. While listeners might know a lot about MFM's hosts, there are still plenty of facts about both that might surprise fans.

Don't believe us? Maybe these facts about MFM's own Karen Kilgariff will change your mind.

Before becoming famous, Karen Kilgariff was a college dropout

Karen Kilgariff hit rock bottom more than once before her slow but steady climb to success. Born and raised in Petaluma, Calif., the My Favorite Murder co-creator dropped out of community college before launching her a career as a television writer, per The New York Times. Shows that she's written for include the Hulu original series Baskets, Portlandia, and The Ellen Show (more on that later). 

Before finding her voice as a writer, Kilgariff's career faced a number of setbacks, which she attributes to alcoholism and substance abuse. According to the podcast superstar, Kilgariff used addiction as a coping mechanism to self-medicate.

"I drowned myself in wine-cooler formaldehyde and put myself up on the highest shelf and kicked over the ladder," Kilgariff wrote of her alcoholism and addiction to amphetamines in Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered, a joint memoir she co-authored with fellow My Favorite Murder host Georgia Hardstark. Eventually, the comedian was scared into sobriety at age 27 after she developed a permanent seizure disorder — a byproduct of years-long abuse — all of which she has discussed openly on MFM.

Along with Hardstark, Kilgariff's honesty about her past and her continued endorsement of mental health awareness has spawned its own movement. As per the Independent, their #MyFavoriteMeds hashtag has become a way to "use their platform to normalize issues such as anxiety and mental health ... and, among other things, their publicly shared photographs of their medications."

Karen Kilgariff wrote for The Ellen Show...until the Queen of Nice turned out to be the Queen of Mean

While Karen Kilgariff has only mentioned her tenure as a head writer on Ellen Degeneres' popular daytime show in passing, her reluctance to talk about her experience might have something to do with Degeneres' new reputation as the queen of mean. A slew of excoriating anecdotes from those who crossed paths with Degeneres' bad side came to light in March 2020 after comedian Kevin T. Porter prompted Twitter users to share their stories, offering to match the number of accounts with dollar donations to a Los Angeles food bank.

One Twitter user shared some insider info that might explain why Kilgariff avoids speaking publicly about her Ellen days. "...Kilgariff was her head writer for 5 years until the writers' strike," the tweet read. "When Karen wouldn't cross the picket line she was fired and Ellen never spoke to her again." (Kilgariff more or less said as much during a 2014 interview on the hit podcast WTF with Marc Maron.)

Despite her clear position on the picket line during the 2007 WGA strike, the writer still conveyed sympathy for Degeneres, telling Reuters at the time that "[Ellen] had no choice...she's in a very bad position."

Considering the recent controversy regarding Degeneres' mistreatment of employees during the current coronavirus pandemic, we're just glad that Kilgariff got out when she did.

Karen Kilgariff is the queen of cult comedy classics

Nowadays, Karen Kilgariff might be best known for her podcasting prowess, but, before her My Favorite Murder success, the comedian was best known for her work — both as an actor and as a writer — in some of the most critically acclaimed comedy shows ever written. Kilgariff frequently appeared in shows like the sketch-comedy gem Mr. Show with Bob and David, the IFC series Maron, and the cult hit The Pete Holmes Show. She also worked as a writer on quite a few of those shows.

However, her biggest television role is one that many of her U.S.-based fans might be aware of only in passing. While listeners might know Kilgariff lived briefly in Scotland in the early aughts, they might not know why. The reason? Kilgariff's turn as the pragmatic, taciturn Jean Pettengill in The Book Group, a BAFTA-winning black comedy about a group of misfits thrown together by a shared interest in literature. Hailed by comedy nerds and critics alike, The Book Group earned praise as a "genuine ensemble part in which everyone plays a vital part" categorized by acting as "cracking as the script and the production values," per The Guardian

Kilgariff's weirdest cameo by far is one in which she never appears on camera. Credited as "Anna (voice)," in the 2003 Adam Sandler dramedy Punch-Drunk Love, you can hear her briefly at the top of the scene in which Barry (Sandler) arrives at a party thrown by his many, many siblings.

Karen Kilgariff's obsession with true crime started at an early age

Considering the staggering amount of work she's done during her storied career, it's close to miraculous that Karen Kilgariff found the time (or the energy) to create and produce My Favorite Murder in the first place. But part of what made the project such a crucial one for the industry polymath was her long-standing fascination with true crime as a whole — one which first caught her attention at the age of 12.

As per Rolling Stone, Kilgariff's affair with true crime began after she came across a map of serial killer John Wayne Gacy's "murder house," where Gacy interred the bodies of over a dozen of his victims. Prosecutors used the diagram as evidence of Gacy's crimes during his trial.

"I looked at that picture and I couldn't stop staring at it, I couldn't take my eyes off it, because underneath there was a descriptor that said 'the boys were buried in the walls,'" Kilgariff explained further in an interview with The Feed. "And from that moment, I just needed to know everything about the world of people who do this to other people." 

What started as a podcast between friends has become a worldwide community of people who have realized that their fascination with true crime is one shared by many– people who use stories from the worst of humankind to find the humanity in others. Thanks to Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, true crime aficionados all over the world know that, in the end, they're not alone.