The JonBenet Ramsey Episode of ‘My Favorite Murder’ Captures the True Crime Podcast at its Dishy, Casual Best
Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
As readers of this column may have discovered, I am something of a podcast fan. I would even go so far as as to describe myself as an enthusiast. For the last six or seven years, podcasts have been a huge part of my life and career, but my wife, bless her heart, has never quite caught the bug. It might have something to do with her not having an iPod and being averse to change and new technology, but other than Serial the world of podcasting just did not hold much appeal for her.
Until recently, that is. Serial led to an interest in another true-crime podcast, Breakdown, which covers the notorious “hot car death” where a seriously lacking father and human being left his son to die an awful death in a hot car while he was out sexting with a bunch of different women who were not his wife. It was a solid true crime podcast of additional interest because the case is happening not far from where we live, and, as podcasts tend to do, it left her with a hunger for more.
One thing led to another and Serial led to Breakdown, which led to My Favorite Murder, a podcast that combines my wife’s love of true crime with my love of podcasts where funny people bullshit and kibitz about their various obsessions. My wife was not alone in falling in love with My Favorite Murder and its hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark.
The podcast quickly became a pop culture sensation, and I have watched with amusement as my wife threw herself into the rituals of becoming a podcasting superfan. She joined a Facebook group devoted to the podcast, but because she is a neophyte to this world, she is a lurker rather than an active participant. She binge-listened to the back catalog and developed the sense that podcast obsessives have that their favorite podcasters are their friends and kindred spirits even if they never meet.
And because my wife has fallen in love with My Favorite Murder and isn’t much of a fan of headphones I have been listening casually to it and enjoying it as well, although everything did not click completely with me until a recent episode on the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. That is for a very good reason. I have discovered that people are invariably more interested in reading, or listening, or watching, something related to something they know about and the wife’s true crime fixation has led to us watching two of the strange preponderance of mini-series about this decades-old case.
Our culture’s obsession with Ramsey is maddening on multiple levels. In one of the mini-series’ more egregious moments, JonBenet Ramsey’s death is described as our nation’s biggest unsolved mystery, which is a strange assertion to make when 2Pac’s death is still unsolved. I would argue that despite not being a cute little blonde girl, 2Pac was a more important cultural figure than Ramsey.
But watching these mini-series and listening to the My Favorite Murder, I quickly came to understand why we were, and remain, so fascinated by the death of a tiny little beauty pageant queen. As the hosts hilariously yet casually establish, the JonBenet Ramsey case has everything. It’s about money, class, sex and the disconcerting way we over-sexualize children. It’s violent, it’s mysterious and twenty years on, we still haven’t gotten to the bottom of it even as we’re overflowing with clues, suspects, and red herrings, including a deeply disturbed man who confessed to the killing, despite clearly having nothing to do with it.
But some of the enduring fascination can also be traced to the many incongruous and screamingly colorful elements of the case. My Favorite Murder discusses, for example, the hyperbolic luridness of a ransom note seemingly cobbled together from old action movie scripts like Speed and Dirty Harry. It’s a truly bizarre piece of work that seems to belong in a Cannon 1980s action movie vehicle for Charles Bronson more than an actual murder case. The episode takes its name from a particularly bizarre phrase from the ransom letter, where the non-existent kidnappers professed to be a “small foreign faction,” which is how no one thinks or refers to themselves, criminals or not, but is the kind of phrase you might find in Missing In Action III.
Our favorite podcasters aren’t the friends we have so much as the friends we wish we had. But they’re also fascinating in that they give us a glimpse into the friendships of others and the lived-in chemistry of the hosts is a huge component of My Favorite Murder’s success. These are funny, smart, and engaged women with a real genius for tossing off instantly irresistible turns of phrase, like when the Ramseys are described as “Private Plane rich,” and Patsy Ramsey is described as having “pill eyes.” The hosts capture whole weird worlds in evocative turns of phrase, like when an oddly iconic Southern California shopping mall is described as a small town for people obsessed with shopping and the child pageant circuit is tartly summed up as a “weird commercial for pedophiles.”
In sharp contrast to Breakdown, which adopts something of a rugged, semi-hardboiled tone, or even Serial, which takes itself very seriously, My Favorite Murder is wonderfully casual and conversational, the work of two murder junkies who share a fascination with the uglier, bleaker and more violent side of life that doesn’t get in the way of being funny and relatable and real. Hell, they don’t even begin to discuss the Ramsey murder until after ten minutes of kibitzing about the surreal nature of podcast/internet fame. The subject may be murder, but the tone is totes casual.
I’ve been trying to turn my wife onto podcasts as a medium for over a half decade. Hell, I write an entire column specifically designed to turn people onto great podcasts. You’re reading it now, yet I’m not sure I have ever succeeded in getting my wife addicted to any of the myriad podcasts I love. Yet, my enthusiastic neophyte of a wife has already turned me on to a podcast, and I am glad she did.
Nathan Rabin is the author of five books, including Weird Al: The Book (with Al Yankovic) and the recently released Ebook “Short Read”, 7 Days In Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of The Juggalos And The Summer Everything Went Insane.