I'm here today with Jill Kargman. Jill is a native New Yorker and is an insanely prolific writer. She's written multiple novels, two collection of essays, and a children’s book. Her most recent essay collection was titled Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave: Observations, Rants, and Other Uplifting Thoughts About Life. To some, Jill is most well known as the creator, writer, producer, and star of the show “Odd Mom Out,” a show about all the craziness of raising kids in New York, especially here on the Upper East Side where she lives now. Welcome to Jill.
Jill Kargman: Thank you, Zibby. This is fun.
Zibby: “Odd Mom Out” was an offshoot of your hilarious novel Momzillas. I'm a native New Yorker and Upper East Sider too. What were the things about the Upper East Side that you were like, “I totally have to write about this?”
Jill: The second I shat out my kids I started collecting anecdotes of crazy shit that people would say to me that you can't write. My patient zero momzilla person was like, “My kid came out and got all tens on the Apgar scores.” I was like, “Doesn't that mean your heart’s beating?” It’s not your SATs. It’s vital stats, you fuckin’ weirdo. She was bragging like the bar was already started. Someone had headphones on her belly at my gyno’s office playing Mozart. She said, “Apparently they become smarter if you play Mozart in the womb.” I was, “Dude, you're fuckin’ crazy.” Why don't you squat and poop out your kid first before you start getting competitive about your fetus? It was so psychotic. I knew that this was going to be something that was going to either drive me nuts or make me laugh. I opted for the later.
Zibby: What was it like to realize that in New York it’s such a unique parenting situation?
Jill: I grew up here, as many people like you, in the eighties. There was a conspicuous consumption. I feel like there was embarrassment of riches. A girl in my class at Spence would have her limo drop her off two blocks from school. Now, they're rollin’ up with the SUV and the driver. Everyone's talking about wheels up in their homes. That really worried me. Even though I was in that Gordon Gekko age, it wasn’t cool to talk about your golden gooses when you have a size three shoe. Now, these kids all have the trappings and the million-dollar bat mitzvahs. I was worried about New York versus other places. I think that's, maybe with the exception of LA, pretty exclusive to our city where it’s so over the top.
When Ivy was about two years old, we were outside school. She was staring at all the moms who were really nicely dressed. It was like a catwalk at pickup. She said, “How come you're the only mom at school without red bottoms on your shoes?” I was like, “Wow. You're so observant.” Then I was also horrified. I realized I had to explain very early to my kids -- they say it’s never too young to talk about drugs. It’s also, for us, never too young to talk about logos, conspicuous consumption, bragging, just listing all these things. Some of them are so innocuous. They don't know better, some of the kids. I had a little kid come to my house. We ordered sushi from some joint on first avenue. The kid took a bite and she goes, “It’s no Haru.” I was like, “Fuck you, you little shit.”
Zibby: At least it wasn’t Nobu.
Jill: We went to, in kindergarten, a Nobu sushi making party. I said to Ivy, “I know your friend didn’t mean it, but that comes off as very spoiled to compare. Whatever you go, you just say ‘Thank you so much. It’s delicious.’” I'm obsessed with my kids never inadvertently or otherwise saying anything that could be perceived as braggadocious. We don't go to The Hamptons. We don't have a country house. That's come up. “Why don't we have a country house?” I said, “Mommy doesn't drive, and she hates the country.” It’s different strokes. These kids have to be really aware. You have to bend over backwards to pound the values into their skulls. Otherwise just by immersion and osmosis, they go out with these kids who are -- Sadie’s almost fifteen. People are slapping down black cards. I said, “That’s not how this is going to go.” You're going to have a budget. This is not how some of your friends might operate.
Zibby: How did you go from observing all this to figuring out how to write about it in the best way?
Jill: Because I had one foot in and one foot out, I was often a loner-mom. I didn’t have any friends with kids at first. Now, all my best friends have kids, but they're younger. When I had Sadie, I was the only one who had kids. I had to be the nerd in the corner. A lot of the people that I met came up together in Lamaze, or law school, or whatever the fuck. They had a clique-mentality group. They had baby groups. I just had this kid on my hip and showed up. I've never been a wallflower for sure, but because I wasn’t in their group I would just observe and hear how the kids spoke to each other. I was taking mental notes pretty quickly.
Zibby: You started it as Momzillas, which was in novel form. Then, you transitioned it to a show. What was it like doing the two different formats for the same type of material?
Jill: I found it so liberating. In the interim, I had done the essays that you mentioned. Once I started, I couldn't stop. I now don't think I will ever do fiction books again. I don't mind writing for TV that way. For books, it was really just me hiding behind the characters. It’s so much easier to just be me. I don't have to say, “This is this character’s way of doing this.” I can just breathe it out. It’s clawing its way out of me, whereas the novels felt a little bit more like deadline-driven work. The essays came so naturally that by the time I got to TV, I already had that voice. I felt so much freer being myself. That's the cool thing about turning forty. You don’t give a shit.
Zibby: [laughs] Some people are like, “Is the character that Jill plays on the show Jill, or is it a different version of her?” Do you feel like that's you? Do you feel like it’s some sort of crafted version that you want to portray?
Jill: It’s me at twenty-eight. Jill Weber in the show is way more stressed about doing things a certain way or what people think. Jill, me, I don't give a rat’s ass. I do not care. When I was twenty-eight, I had come up and had this confident persona. I was very strong in who I was. Then, I had a baby and it was like someone shook the Etch A Sketch. All of that went out the window. I felt really vulnerable. I had this new baby to take care of. They don't come with a handbook. I didn’t have any friends who were going through the same thing. If somebody did something to my kid, I would get so stressed. If anyone said anything about me, I didn’t give a shit. If some little nose-picker was rude to my kid, I wanted to bash them.
It’s a huge recalibration in terms of being of a mom, and having that vulnerability again, and having your kid judged applying to nursery school or kindergarten. That whole feeling is so uneasy. As I got older, I didn’t care. So what if they're taking Mandarin or they have a sports coach? It’s just not for our family. We’re very unconventional. We do things our own way. I don’t give a shit. When I was twenty-eight I definitely felt like, “They're all taking Mandarin. We’re the lazy asses who aren’t.”
Zibby: I remember when I was pregnant, everyone's like, “Are you not on the waitlist yet for Free To Be Under Three?”
Jill: Which is a loser, sensitive, ponytail-man.
Zibby: I'm already behind. I'm behind, and I don't even have a child.
Jill: Someone said that to me too. I didn’t give a shit. I went to one of those parties. I was like, “This so stupid.” If I had spent all that money and time trying to bash into this… There's certain cultures where there’ll be a line on the street and people just join the line. They don't know what it’s for, but it must be good. I do the opposite of that.
Zibby: Did you ever worry about poking fun at the community that you're a part of?
Jill: No. It’s weird. I think of it as sort of poking fun, satirizing. It’s also holding a funhouse mirror to it. When you look in a funhouse mirror, you recognize yourself. You're warped, but you recognize yourself. Everyone has had a really good sense of humor about it. I've had people who give me high-fives where I feel like they’re the worst offenders. [laughs] They're total Brooke von Webers. They're like, “I love the show. I'm such a Brooke. Ha, ha, ha.” It’s not a mean-spirited show. I'm not trying to do a takedown of these women. I found it funny and cool that they had such a sense of humor about themselves. What's weird is they’ll say, “I love how you portray ‘so and so.’” I'm like, “That's not her. That's nobody.” It’s not even a composite. I just came up with this character.
It’s a type that everyone recognizes even outside New York. I get emails and letters from all over the country, even in really small towns. What's really interesting is that our community, people live in these buildings. It’s a little mysterious. You might know what a nice building is, but it’s not the same thing as seeing the huge white house with the picket fence. In the rest of America, I think they're even more aware of those kinds of assets and trappings. Even worse, they have one school. They have one market. You have to see your mother-in-law every day. It’s not the same anonymity that New York affords.
Zibby: It does have some benefits. How was it for you when you went from being a writer to being on air? Now, you're this public persona. What was like in your life?
Jill: It was weird. It didn’t matter at all to me. My life didn’t change at all. Everyone always says, “It must be so different now.” It’s the exact same that it always was. More people will come up on the street. I'm, for me, the perfect level of exposed. I don't have people freaking out. I have normal, cool people come up, gay guys or moms being like, “I love the show.” They're nice. They're not lunatics. It’s always people I would probably be friends with if I had more time. It’s a nice group. The show attracted cerebral, funny people. I always enjoy talking to people. In a restaurant sometimes if I'm with my family, they’ll be like, “I'm so sorry.” I actually still don't mind. I still like it. They're always nice people. They're always the right kind of values. I never have had a lunatic, maybe a couple.
Zibby: How do you feel about the writing part of life versus the acting part of life?
Jill: I really am so in awe of Lena Dunham. With “Girls,” they had a concurrent writers’ room. It started, and then they started shooting. She was doing both at the same time. I could never do that. I don't know how she did that. I don't have the bandwidth. I'm tired and old. We had our writers’ room first for ten weeks. Everything was fully done. Maybe there was some tweaks. There was a punch-up room with other writers that we brought in to throw in some jokes. Then, we had production. I was picking out the bedspread or things that I wanted to get it right, like quintessential Upper East Side little details. Then, we started shooting. When I was acting, I was just acting. Sometimes I would go to the monitor to take a peak. I had a showrunner, Lara Spotts, who was my life and my backbone. I trusted her completely. She grew up in New York. She’s an Upper West Sider. She gets the world. I knew I could have her run the show while I focused on memorizing my lines and being in it. That worked so well for me. I really enjoyed both equally. I don't know that I could do the concurrent thing. I would lose my shit.
Zibby: Is there ever going to be an “Odd Mom Out” movie?
Jill: A lot of people have asked me that recently. I hadn’t thought of it. I would love to do it. If there are any investors listening, yes. I would love to do that one day. Bravo took a risk doing scripted comedy. It wasn’t going to be their plan. We really hit it off. We developed it together. A lot of people say, “Why isn't it on Comedy Central or HBO? Why don’t you shop it around?” I didn’t shop it around because they came to me. They wanted to work on something. We developed it together. People always say, “Development hell.” This was development heaven. It was completing each other’s sentences. They totally got what I was trying to do. They let me do it. It was the wild, wild west. I'm never going to have that kind of freedom again. Otherwise, you're noted to death. They're busting your balls. They don't want you to insult advertisers or curse. I had this remarkable freedom that I probably will never have again. Yes, I would love to do a movie.
Zibby: How do you feel about the show coming to an end?
Jill: Devasted. When they said, “We really want to focus on reality,” -- my show’s really expensive. When they do ten million dollars for a season and another two million to market it, they could make a reality show that's an hour instead of my half hour that's a fifth of the price with marketing and everything. It behooves them for their Bravo business model to make more reality. For the scripted, the drama is more of an echo of the reality shows where it’s fights and throwing drinks on each other. It’s more what that audience is trained to be into.
They're not known for comedy. We’re it. We’re the only scripted comedy. I believe the plan is that they're done with that. They took a risk on us. They loved it. It got critical acclaim. It got all kinds of stars on the channel that would not be on there. It’s not financially viable compared to reality shows if that's your business model. I get it. Everyone's like, “Aren’t you so pissed?” Honestly, I'm so grateful that I got three seasons and that they gave a thirty-nine-year-old a show. I felt really lucky. It’s not like So-Cal-Crystal’s bullshit of, “I'm framing it in gratitude.” I'm actually truly, truly so lucky.
Zibby: It’s a bad call on their part, for my two cents. That was the best part of Bravo. When I'm in charge of Bravo…
To switch gears a little bit, honestly, one of my favorite children’s books is the one that you wrote with your daughter, Pirates & Princesses, which I think was based on our joint preschool experience.
Jill: Yes, exactly.
Zibby: You’ve collaborated with a lot of different authors like Carrie Karasyov, and your daughter, and now all the people who you're doing TV writing with. What is it like collaborating with all these different people? What was it like collaborating with your daughter?
Jill: She actually wrote the book. With Carrie, it was a thorough collaboration. We took turns writing. We would rewrite each other. It was very layered. There are sometimes chapters where I don't know who wrote what. It’s very integrated, same with the writers’ room. We broke all the storylines together as a group on a whiteboard with index cards and the whole thing. It was very brainstorm-y and collaborative. We would break off. I wrote half the scripts. We divvied up stuff. I couldn't write all ten. I’ll go and sprinkle fairy dust on the other scripts and little Upper East Side jokes. I was the only one living -- everyone's in Brooklyn or LA. We brought in Angelinos who had apartments here. They knew some of the world by proxy in Beverly Hills or things like that. There's some New York-y things that Lara and I got more. We couldn't have done it without the other writers. They brought so much to it.
With Sadie, it was based on a true story in her class. There was this gender war in her class. It divided the whole class. We got called into school. They said she was being divisive. She’s the head of the girls. Charlie’s the head of the boys. It was this whole nightmare. They said Sadie said the f-word at school. I said, “I don't know where she heard that. What are you talking about? What happened?” They said, “Charlie told her her dress was hideous. She told him to fuck off.” I go, “Well, at least she used it in the right context.” They were like the straight-line mouth emoji. They were not amused. Of course I came home and told Harry. He's like, “This is fuckin’ hilarious.”
We wrote this book to heal her class because it was so divided. They do parent reader. Sadie said, “I want to write our own book. You’re a writer. Let's write our own book.” She really wrote it. She dictated it. I typed it. We drew shitty drawings together. Read it to the class, they loved it. The class got better and better. Harry, my husband, said, “Why don't you send this to your agent? This is better than some of the shit that we read her.” Two hours later she called and said, “Penguin wants it.” It was so fast. They had an illustrator in Paris who did the beautiful watercolors. It was great. I did a signing two nights ago for it. Park Avenue Christian is now called Park Children’s or something. They had their book fair. It keeps on giving. There's always new classes of little kids being born. It was really fun.
Zibby: I feel there are all these children’s books that sound like good ideas. I might like them, but the kids have no interest. This is one that they legitimately want to read on their own, for what it’s worth for my crew of kids.
Before we started talking here, you were telling me about your favorite books of the moment and how you haven't been able to find time to read as a mom. Tell me about what books you're reading now and what you really have loved.
Jill: I am obsessed with Daniel Silva. He's an author based in Washington DC. He has crazy CIA sources or something because he knows so much. It follows this one character, Daniel Silva’s -- it’s his version of himself, I guess, called Gabriel Allon. I have a crush on him. He's this hot, older guy. He has bright green eyes. He’s this fresco restorer of renaissance ceilings in Italy and is the most in demand in the world. Really, that's just a cover profession. He actually is so talented and is the best at it. Really, he’s an Israeli spy. It’s sort of like the Munich plot where he's involved in the Operation Wrath of God killing the terrorists who executed the wresting team. That character is one of the Munich people. It’s where he is now and how he’s still fighting for the state of Israel and finding corruption and anti-semitic plots all over the world in all different countries. There's a lot of art heist stuff in it and Holocaust restoration. He's restoring the paintings. It’s reparations returning looted art from Jewish families. It’s unbelievable. You're sweating. You're reading it. It’s like The Firm. You're schvitzing your balls off. I lost three pounds reading it. It’s so pulse-pounding.
Zibby: You say you read like twenty books in --
Jill: I read seventeen books in seven months, which I have not done since becoming a mom fifteen years ago. I've never read that many books. I was slogging through Hamilton because I felt like I had to read it. I've read a few books a year but not veraciously like when I was in my twenties. Not even in my twenties have I read seventeen books this fast. They're so all-encompassing. I think about them all the time.
Zibby: What do you want to do next on your wish list? I know you said you were going to take some time and think about it. Do you want to write more books? Do you want to write more TV stuff? What's your wish list?
Jill: I really want to write a book, but not now. When I'm an old, I can go back to that. I love writing books. It was very solitary. Once I had the drug of being in a writers’ room, I really want to keep doing TV writing for now. I also love acting. I don’t want to just go be an actress. Certain roles have come up “for experience.” I don't want to do stuff that's not my taste. I'd rather not work than do crappy things. I'd loved to write another show and act in it as well. I don’t know what it’s going to be as yet.
In the meantime, I would love to pursue other acting things that are cool or maybe work on a movie rewrite or something like that. There are jobs that come up from time to time where you can polish a script and put your jokes in it, little projects that have a short time span. We’ll see. I don't know what the next year will bring. I want to go with the flow and see what falls in my lap or what low-hanging fruit there is that I can go for. With three kids I can't be like, “I'm picking up and moving to LA to pursue this job.” I'm a New Yorker. I don't drive. I don’t function well out there. I visit a lot. I'm not so committed to being a screenwriter that I'm going to move out there or pursue it the way a hungry twenty-five-year-old would. I'm not that hungry. I'm lazy. [laughs]
Zibby: How have your kids responded to what you've put out in the world so far?
Jill: They love it. They're super proud of me. Sadie was really embarrassed that I had my butt out on the show and was dancing with my cellulite. I saw it as a moment to say I don’t give a shit. I have three kids. That's what you get. You get cellulite. It’s totally worth it. I don’t care. By the way, if I saw a mom doing an underwear dance party on TV and she had perfect thighs with no cellulite, I’d be like, “Fuck you. That’s so bullshit. You got lipo.”
Zibby: I can't believe you guys even are critical of how you looked in that episode because I would love to look like that. I'm glad you or Sadie’s not looking at me dancing around is all I have to say.
What about other people out there who are dying to write something, be writers, be authors? What advice would you have?
Jill: I always say just write it. This is such a new age. I'm really lucky because I came up at the beginning of the internet. I was always writing. A lot of people in the olden days that had the typewriter with the stack of typed paper, now you can just hit publish and have a blog. You can get a following. You can make a YouTube movie. People make shorts. A guy on my crew from “Odd Mom Out” wanted to be a director. He made a short. He now has a million views. Anyone can create their own stuff now with iMovie. Do it. Write it. The way you hone your voice is by doing more and more and more and more. You have to be uninhibited.
My other piece of advice is never write for the marketplace. I had so much bad advice throughout my career of people saying, “No. Moms? That's boring. Don’t write about moms. You want to write about this. New York is over. You want to write about the suburbs. Suburbs are hot.” When I was starting Momzillas, “Desperate Housewives” was the number one show. They were like, “You want to write about a cul-de-sac and all the affairs.” I said, “No, I don't. I want to do a New York dark comedy.” I remember hearing that “I can't write every book that I ever do in New York.” I was like, “Why the fuck not?” Woody Allen did it. There's so much in the city. I'm a die-hard New Yorker. You should write what you know. I always feel like in the same way that it feels forced when someone comes here -- in a movie you see people pay through the outside cab window. You're like, “No. That's not how that happens.” I would never appropriate another culture and presume that I could go in and write a great suburban comedy because I don't live it. It’s just not for me, not that you can't have an imagination and do it. A lot of it’s research-intense, and maybe I'm just lazy.
Zibby: What would you say is your main goal in the things that you write? Are you trying to make people laugh? Are you trying to make people feel less alone? Are you trying to create this funhouse mirror sensation that you were talking about?
Jill: That's such a good question. I hate the word authentic. The honesty of writing something that's clawing its way out of you, if you do anything other than that, it feels like work. For me, it’s always felt like work. If I'm doing a magazine article or whatever, it’s a job. It’s fun. It feels like a job. I'm trying to, from now on, just write things that are tearing out of me that I have to get out like some kind of catharsis. When I do that, I notice that it does all the things that you said. People feel less alone. They laugh. Those are the things that people talk to me about, that they react to. They might say, “I saw your article in this.” Big fuckin’ deal. I don't need attention for writing an interview with somebody. I like someone reading something and saying, “Yes, that's me,” and having that moment. That happens the most when it’s something that's breathing, and I shit it out.
Zibby: Thank you for that visual.
Jill: Here's some diapers. Here's some Depends for you. [laughs]
Zibby: Don't have enough diapers in my house. Thank you so much, Jill.
Jill: Thank you, Zibby. So much fun.
Zibby: You're so awesome. I love hearing about all your work. I cannot wait to hear what you decide to do next.
Jill: Yay! Thank you.