Crime com­edy fans love it light­hearted

Waterloo Region Record - - ARTS & LIFE - Maija Kap­pler,

Cory Sells started ask­ing around for pod­cast rec­om­men­da­tions last fall, hop­ing to find some­thing that would make her laugh. When a friend at work sug­gested a true crime com­edy show called “My Fa­vorite Murder,” she was “kind of hor­ri­fied.” But then she started lis­ten­ing. “I im­me­di­ately be­came hooked,” said the Con­necti­cut res­i­dent. “Now, I don’t miss an episode.”

Since the un­prece­dented suc­cess of the pod­cast “Se­rial,” the true crime genre has be­come main­stream. HBO’s “The Jinx,” and the Net­flix hit “Mak­ing a Mur­derer” have been among the buzzi­est shows of the last few years.

As the genre con­tin­ues to ex­pand, true crime has started to reach the world of com­edy. The con­ver­sa­tional sto­ry­telling show “My Fa­vorite Murder” is the third most pop­u­lar pod­cast on the iTunes com­edy chart. This week­end, hosts Karen Kil­gar­iff and Ge­or­gia Hard­stark are tap­ing an episode in front of a live au­di­ence of some 3,000 at Toronto’s Just for Laughs festival.

While murder mys­ter­ies have en­tered com­edy clubs and the­atres, true crime is also a prime target for par­ody. The new Net­flix mock­u­men­tary se­ries “Amer­i­can Van­dal,” about whether a high school stoner is re­spon­si­ble for phal­lic graf­fiti, takes di­rect cues from “Mak­ing a Mur­derer.”

Murder and com­edy may not seem like a nat­u­ral fit, but fans say there’s some­thing cathar­tic about a light­hearted ap­proach to re­al­life hor­ror.

“I think I was drawn to (“My Fa­vorite Murder”) be­cause the hu­mour light­ens up a very scary topic,” said Sells.

When Sells, a psy­chol­o­gist, had a baby seven years ago, she said she ex­pe­ri­enced what she’s now iden­ti­fied as post­par­tum anx­i­ety.

Years later, she’s thought about how help­ful the pod­cast would have been af­ter her son’s birth. The show’s hu­mour al­lows her “to lis­ten to the sto­ries and not be ter­ri­fied. It’s a safe way to ex­pose my­self and in­oc­u­late my­self to my own worst fears.”

When co­me­dian Colin Munch was de­vel­op­ing the live im­pro­vised de­tec­tive show “True Blue” at Toronto’s Bad Dog com­edy club last year, he said peo­ple were ini­tially skep­ti­cal. Although he ex­plic­itly says the show is not a com­edy, he un­der­stands that its im­prov premise, cast of known comedic per­form­ers and af­fil­i­a­tion with a com­edy bar might lead peo­ple to ex­pect hu­mour.

Although the story changes at ev­ery per­for­mance, Munch’s show al­ways in­cludes a few funny scenes. When he met with de­tec­tives to do re­search, he said they were ex­cited to talk to a co­me­dian.

“All of the de­tec­tives that I spoke to had an anec­dote,” he said. “They were like, ‘You can’t share this with any­one else, but this is some­thing that has hap­pened in the course of my ca­reer that was funny. It was funny be­cause it helped us deal with this trauma, deal with this stress.’”

Laugh­ter is “a re­lease of an un­com­fort­able men­tal state,” said Steve Jo­or­dens, a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Toronto. He likens the hu­mour of these shows to the com­fort his fam­ily got re­call­ing funny sto­ries at a rel­a­tive’s hospi­tal bed­side.

Of course, not ev­ery­one copes in the same way. A late Septem­ber episode of “My Fa­vorite Murder” ad­dressed a re­cent in­ci­dent at a live show in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, where a heck­ler sug­gested the hosts cal­lous and of­fen­sive.

“Karen and Ge­or­gia are very clear that they are not mak­ing light of the mur­ders them­selves,” sells said. “They are laugh­ing at them­selves, re­ally. Had he lis­tened pre­vi­ously, this dis­tinc­tion would have been clear.”

That the vic­tim is never the source of the hu­mour is also an im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion for Munch.

“We made it very clear that we weren’t mak­ing fun of any­one who’s ex­pe­ri­enced trauma,” he said. “There were peo­ple in our cast and our cre­ative team that have ex­pe­ri­enced close calls, and we tried to ap­proach it as sto­ry­tellers with the right amount of emo­tional ma­tu­rity and re­spect.”

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

"My Fa­vorite Murder" pod­cast hosts Karen Kil­gar­iff (left) and Ge­or­gia Hard­stark.

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