There’s also “All Killa No Filla,” featuring a pair of British comedians who joke that they discuss serial killers in their podcast “so we don’t write to them in prison”; “True Crime Obsessed,” which serves as a kind of comedic recap of true crime documentaries; and “Moms and Murder,” which favors softer, gentler laughs. A lot of these podcasts are alcohol themed: Joining “Martinis & Murder” at the bar are “Wine & Crime,” “And That’s Why We Drink” and “White Wine True Crime!”
A 2010 study suggests that women in particular are drawn to true crime because it provides an outlet for managing anxieties about becoming victims, and to glean survival skills on how to escape or outsmart predators. But true crime also helps create and perpetuate those fears. American men are much more likely to be murder victims than are women, and yet women are much more likely to see themselves reflected in the media as victims of violent crimes. (Well, white women are.)
These comedy podcasts help listeners process the true crime genre itself. As much as these stories appeal to women, they also seem designed to keep them in a state of anxiety, to exaggerate the dangers they face, and even to call into question their freedom to move about the world. The Onion’s first podcast, the satirical true crime series, “A Very Fatal Murder,” also plays with that media bias: The podcast’s fictional public-radio host describes the central murder victim as “a really hot white girl” with “big dreams and very clear skin.”
Seen through that lens, it makes sense that the hosts of these shows often operate at a remove, filtering serious crimes through a veil of irony. True crime operates on a plane of feminine stereotype more than it does reality. These podcasts cut through that kind of craven calculation and inject levity instead. The tagline of “My Favorite Murder,” for example, is “Stay sexy and don’t get murdered.”
Though murder-themed, these podcasts feature lengthy digressions into personal anecdotes and strange and insignificant details of the crimes. (What’s a jitney? What was your high school superlative? Remember pagers?) “My Favorite Murder” episodes have been getting longer over the series’ run; they now regularly stretch to two and a half hours. That itself functions as a kind of sly commentary — that these sensationalized crimes aren’t actually as important as the relatively mundane everyday concerns of the women on the shows.
Along the way, these podcasts have hit upon a smart business model: Instead of putting great resources into reporting out an under-covered case, à la “Serial,” they churn through the seemingly endless stream of existing true crime tales, rehashing old cases with the help of Wikipedia pages, Netflix documentaries, local papers, other podcasts and of course, Oxygen specials. Accuracy is not exactly these podcasts’ strong suit, but mistakes and inconsistencies are just more material for jokes. On a recent “My Favorite Murder,” Ms. Kilgariff ridiculed Ms. Hardstark for using the term “upper legs” when describing a body part stuffed into a suitcase:
MS. KILGARIFF Did you just call her arms her “upper legs”? Did you?
MS. HARDSTARK No! Upper legs? Thighs! I copied and pasted!
MS. KILGARIFF You have got to proofread!
Casually covering the ghastly flips the script. Instead of playing victims, the podcasters are taking control of the media narrative. Their project feels loosely related to the phenomenon of web sleuthing, except instead of trying to actually crack a case, they’re processing the crime’s impact on society and themselves.
They delight in pretending that they’re a little bit bad, too. The running joke of the Zodiac episode of “Martinis & Murder” involves the hosts’ accusing each other of responsibility for the never-solved crimes. The women of “My Favorite Murder” draw out the word “murderrrrrrr” into an almost seductive drawl. As a host of “Wine & Crime” put it on a recent episode devoted to female perpetrators, “There are some truly monstrous women out there, too, y’all, and you’re listening to three of them.”
Many podcasters have discovered that drinking enhances the experience. In each episode, the “Martinis & Murder” hosts consume a custom cocktail prepared by their producer and mixologist, Matt the Bartender, to fit each particular crime: a hibiscus-infused vodka drink nods to the Arizona setting of the Jodi Arias murder; a drink called Satan’s Whiskers is chosen for an occult-related crime. But for the wider murder comedy podcasting community, the typical beverage of choice is wine, which is fitting: Alongside true crime obsession, wine consumption is a longstanding pop-culture-approved form of feminine indulgence, most recently reinforced on shows like “Friday Night Lights” and “Scandal.”
In any case, the alcohol helps loosen the hosts’ inhibitions, and it gives them some cover for speaking out of turn, too. The injection of alcohol transports the podcast to a kind of alternate-reality space where the rules of feminine propriety are suspended — and where murder is something to laugh off, not seriously fear.