Why using comedy to cope with the horrors of the world is nothing to laugh at.

On the surface, "My Favorite Murder" is just another true-crime podcast, a way for people to listen to the highlights of some of the darkest moments in human history.

It attracts listeners — dubbed "murderinos" by co-hosts Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff — who know things like which serial killer built a "murder castle" (H. H. Holmes) and which one dressed up as Pogo the Clown (John Wayne Gacy).

Image via iStock.


But there’s clearly more to the story when your fans start cross-stitching memorable quotes and making baked goods with Ted Bundy's face on them. The podcast attracts a certain kind of listener because it offers them the chance to do something they rarely get to do: have a good laugh about murder.

That’s right. "My Favorite Murder" is a comedy podcast.

Kilgariff (left) and Hardstark. Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images.

Blending horror and comedy may seem like an unlikely formula for success, but less than a year after it launched, Entertainment Weekly named it one of the 10 best podcasts of the year.

The desire to talk about true crime is rooted in more than fascination. It’s born from a need to use humor to cope with the horrors of the world.

"Look, I’m scared of dying so … all of this makes me feel better," Kilgariff admitted early on in the podcast. "It’s as if we could ward it off with just our positive verbal energies."

Image via iStock.

As the creator and executive producer of MTV’s "Sweet/Vicious," Jennifer Kaytin Robinson knows a little something about finding the humor in hard topics. Her show, which follows two female vigilantes who seek justice for victims of sexual assault and other crimes, is also a comedy (albeit a dark one).

"I don’t know what the world looks like anymore if people stop finding humor in what’s happening," Robinson says. "That’s not to say that you should normalize what’s happening, and that’s not to say it’s not serious and I’m not taking it seriously. I just think nothing can ever be sad all the time. It just can’t."

Although we can turn a blind eye to the injustices around us, there's a case to be made for acknowledging them and laughing when we can.  

Because the reality is horrible things will happen whether or not we’re paying attention.

And these things do happen. If the premise of "Sweet/Vicious" seems absurd to you, ask yourself why two college students — even fictional ones — would have to take this kind of action in the first place. It's not a stretch to believe two girls would get fed up and take matters into their own hands when we live in a country where 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college and a time in which advocates are concerned about the future of Title IX protections under the current administration.

Image via "Sweet/Vicious"/MTV.

Grounding storylines in real issues is what makes shows like "Sweet/Vicious" so powerful. Doing so offers victims comfort because they get to see versions of their stories played out on screen. It gives them something to point to and say, "That happens. I know because it happened to me."

"One woman reached out to me on Twitter and told me she was assaulted (and I would never say this if it was a private message; this was a public message) and could never really talk to her dad about it," Robinson says. "And her father and her watch the show every week together ... she told him what happened, but she doesn’t have to get specific because they can just watch. He just understands. He knows."

By leaning into discomfort and finding humor in those experiences, we learn that feeling vulnerable doesn’t mean living in fear.

The creators of "My Favorite Murder" and "Sweet/Vicious" have seen how audience members have been able to regain control of their narratives and better understand their place in the world.

"The most amazing thing about the show is the amount of people who have reached out and said, 'Because of this show, I have gotten help, and I have felt worthy of getting help and deserving of a life, and I have been able to see that this doesn’t define me and isn’t my fault,'" Robinson says.

At the end of the day (or episode), humor offers us one way to take some power back in a world where many of us feel powerless.

And that’s nothing to laugh at.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less