Podcast Playlist

Phoebe Judge on making her hit true crime podcast, Criminal

For someone who makes a hit true crime podcast, Phoebe Judge doesn't listen to a lot of true crime.

'I think we've chosen a very lucky topic.'

Phoebe Judge is the co-creator and host of hit true crime podcast Criminal. While in town for the Hot Docs Podcast festival she let us sneak a peek at her podcast feed. (Justin Cook)

Surprisingly, for someone who makes a hit true crime podcast, Phoebe Judge doesn't listen to a lot of other shows in her genre.

"I mean, we we just keep our heads down and we make the show," Judge, the co-creator and host of Criminal, told Podcast Playlist host Lindsay Michael.

Whether the episode is about spending the day in an Austin, Texas police car, or talking to a kid who went on the run with his parents, or delving into the for-profit prison system, Criminal's success lies in its broad definition of crime.

"I think we've chosen a very lucky topic," she said.

Over a hundred episodes later, Judge and her co-creator Lauren Spohrer are in no danger of running out of ideas.

"I've always thought that a real true crime fan listening to Criminal might be a little bit disappointed," she said. "It is a true crime show but it's also just a show about the human experience."

She and her producers are particular about the kinds of stories they choose to explore.

They don't talk to historians, lawmakers, experts or politicians. They search, instead, for those with a personal connection with the event. 

"We really like to talk to someone who's a character," she said.

Surprise is also a key element to each episode; she calls it a "Criminal twist."

Four years in, the show producers instinctively know a Criminal story when they see it.

"We sit around and look at each other and pitch story ideas and we kind of know. 'Well that's a Criminal story.' We've created this aesthetic."

The four year itch

Earlier this year, Judge and her production team launched This Is Love, a new podcast, this time all about love.

"It was our time to stretch our wings and try something new," she said.

Love seemed like a natural follow to crime because they could take the same broad approach when searching for stories.

"They're both rather taboo. They're both things we experience in different ways," she said.

"We want to know about people's experiences who have been involved in crime or in love because we know that at any moment we have the possibility to step over to that other side," she explained.

"It's just, are we going to go into this unknown?"

Even though it was hard work to make the show, for Judge, it was cathartic. She was happy to do it.

"It gives a good break from Criminal for a minute. And I think it's made Criminal stronger," she admitted.

You can hear our full interview with Phoebe Judge here