‘Only Murders in the Building’: John Hoffman Shares the Real Tragedy That Inspired the Show’s ‘Voice’

Only Murders in the Building has become one of the most popular comedies on Hulu since its debut last year. Now in its second season, the show stars Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez as three solitary strangers who develop an unlikely bond while podcasting about murders that took place in their New York City apartment building. The initial idea for Only Murders in the Building was inspired by Steve Martin’s love for the true crime genre. However, in a recent essay, showrunner and writer John Hoffman revealed that a personal experience inspired him to find the show’s “voice.”

Only Murders in the Building showrunner John Hoffman, who recently shared what inspired the show's voice
‘Only Murders in the Building’ showrunner John Hoffman | Frazer Harrison/WireImage

The idea for ‘Only Murders in the Building’ came from Steve Martin

Last year, Steve Martin, who co-created Only Murders with Hoffman and Dan Fogelman, shared how the idea for the show came to him. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Martin revealed that it all started at a party a few years ago. He had been speaking with talent manager Sandy Gallin, who wanted Martin to create a show for actors Joel Grey, Bob Balaban, and Ron Rifkin.

“I said, ‘Gee, that is a really good idea. They’d live in a building,'” he said. “I evolved this over the next couple of months: ‘They’re too old to want to leave the building, so they limit it to [investigating] murders that happened in the building.’ And part of the joke is that every season there’s a murder. It’s a little bit like Murder She Wrote.”

Additionally, the legendary comedian drew from his own interests in the true crime genre.

“I am a true crime obsessive. The latest trend in true crime is to really get into the victims and who they are. And I always go, ‘No, no. I just want to know how they solved it,'” Martin said. “Because it’s too tragic if you look at it personally. It’s horrible. But the scientific solving of it to me is very interesting.”

A personal experience inspired John Hoffman to find the ‘voice’ of ‘Only Murders in the Building’

With the crime genre as popular as it is now, Hoffman needed to write a murder mystery script that would really stand out. He needed to find the right voice. In an essay for the Los Angeles Times, the showrunner explained how his own experience with crime investigation on a personal level helped him get there. Hoffman wrote that he spent a year trying to “understand the truth” of his childhood best friend’s shooting death in 2018. It had seemed to be a murder-suicide, with Hoffman’s friend as the shooter. However, that conclusion didn’t feel right to Hoffman.

“Beyond the heartbreak, I just couldn’t wrap my head around this scenario,” Hoffman wrote. “I couldn’t imagine Mark shooting anyone, let alone shooting himself and taking himself away from his two kids. How did he end up here?”

Hoffman continued on to say that he traveled to Wisconsin to visit the crime scene and speak with his friend’s family, neighbors, and a local journalist.

“After a year, the final police report was released and, despite what the original injuries suggested, it was confirmed that Mark had been murdered — and the other person had killed himself,” Hoffman added. “There was no victory here, but there was solace in knowing the gut feeling from the connection my friend and I made when we were young, and my understanding of what I couldn’t believe he was capable of doing, was affirmed.”

John Hoffman learned to accept laughter amid tragedy

One of the most unique aspects of Only Murders in the Building is the way it combines comedy with true crime — an unconventional pairing. And yet, it works remarkably well. In his essay, Hoffman shared that he, too, found humor in the tragedy of his close friend’s death.

“Through my grief and need to understand, there was also much laughter. Between myself and Mark’s wife, and his kids. Necessary laughter,” he wrote. “The kind I love most, honestly — the kind when you’re not supposed to be laughing — the kind I’d had when I was a kid with Mark — in church, or when someone falls ridiculously, the laugh it might be impossible to avoid at a funeral.”

In the end, Hoffman found the “voice” of Only Murders by accepting “the true human comedy that can bond people, even amid tragedy.”

Only Murders in the Building is now streaming on Hulu.

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