New York’s Upper East Side has been the geographical backdrop of I LOVE LUCY, THE JEFFERSONS and THE NANNY. You can add to that list Bravo’s excellent first foray into scripted television, ODD MOM OUT.
Created by and starring Jill Kargman, ODD MOM OUT chronicles the laugh out loud misadventures of a woman who lives in one of Manhattan’s most posh neighborhoods, but never quite fits the mold of an Upper East Side momzilla.
We spoke to Jill about the origins of the series, the ODD MOM OUT writing room and the awesomeness of Molly Ringwald.
What was the genesis of ODD MOM OUT?
I’ve been writing trashy novels my whole adult career. All of them have been optioned. I used to get really excited, but none ever got made into series or films. They’d just languish in development Hades. My novel Momzilla got bought by NBC and actually was percolating up the food chain. I thought something would happen with that one and ended up even more disappointed when it went into turn around.
I had a meeting with Andy Cohen a few years later and they were talking to me about doing something on camera in the reality sphere, which I had no interest in. I said, “I’m a writer. I want to create things. I don’t want a camera up my sphincter. Why don’t you rehabilitate my little Momzilla that Bravo’s parent company, NBC, owns?”
They looked into it. They read the book and an essay collection I wrote called Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut. I came back for a second meeting and spitballed the concept of taking both of those books and putting them in a blender and creating ODD MOM OUT. At the time, Bravo was breaking into scripted and they liked the idea of a half-hour comedy in the world of Momzillas, but told in my voice.
I didn’t have to do the traditional pitch process. I worked with Lara Scott, an executive at Bravo. Even though it says created by me, I feel like Lara really co-created the show. We developed it together.
It was a true collaborative effort. She was the sounding board. She gave notes and helped sculpt the show.
Sometimes people say to me, “The show has more of an HBO or Comedy Central voice.” My reply is, “They never would have given a 39-year-old mom who hadn’t acted professionally a chance. Only Bravo would have taken that kind of risk.”
With your book and magazine background, how did you feel about the process of writing for television?
I had been writing for TV with a writing partner, Carrie Doyle. We had done a number of screenplays and pilot scripts together. I had never been in a writer’s room until this experience with ODD MOM OUT. Julie Rottenberg and Elisa Zuritsky, our show runners, taught me how you don’t do one script, but 10 scripts, how you build a seasonal arc and work in a group. I like being in a writer’s room and the instant gratification of everybody laughing at a joke.
I’m a mother who shot out three kids in four years. All I wanted was to carve out time to be alone. My identity was submerged in these kids. Writing books suited me as a new mom for those years. After being in a writing room, I found myself lonely and isolated writing my new book. I couldn’t wait to come back to the season two writer’s room.
Tell me about creating the narrative arcs and episode ideas for season two.
I had a bunch of ideas that I put on index cards and we fleshed them out together. Even though my name is on four episodes, they were all collaborations. Everybody brings in ideas and then we individually break off to write a script. I’m the one writer on staff who actually lives on the Upper East Side. I have a little file of anecdotes that are specific to living in that area. That said, we need everybody’s voices to make it relatable for everybody.
What’s one of your favorite ideas you brought to the table for the second season?
The first day I came in and said, “I want Brooke [Abby Elliott] to be a business leader.” All these Upper East Side moms have their kids go off to school and then they start handbag lines or jewelry companies. They all have husbands who don’t care whether it’s successful or not. They just fund it. It’s something for them to do and it keeps them from stressing about stupid shit like gossip or the husband boning the secretary. I was like, “If I get one more trunk show email, I’m going to have to write about this.”
I thought it would be funny to set it up like Brooke was just another mom starting a handbag company, but it actually winds up in every store and a huge success. The twist is that Brooke does have business acumen and style chops.
While we were writing this, I threw a boat party for my sister-in-law, Drew Barrymore, and in walked the owner of Hayward, a legitimate handbag line and a beautiful, beautiful store. She said, “I love the show. If there’s anything I can do.” I was like, “Be careful what you offer. I want to have Brooke start a handbag company.” We ended up using all her bags and her store. For the store opening scene, that’s the actual Hayward store. It was the perfect coincidence that I happened to meet her.
How do you feel writing guest stars into your show? I ask only because the second season features so many excellent guests.
We wrote the show as is and try to plug in free cameos, like Javier Muñoz, the new Hamilton. We said to Cindy Tolan, our casting director, “We want to shoot for the moon here.” She laughed at us for some of them.
Blythe Danner was a huge fan of the show and said, “I want to do anything. I’ll sweep the studio. I’ll sweepthe floor.” I was like, “You can do more than sweep the floor. How about playing my mom?”
Molly Ringwald, who was in our season finale, is so amazing. That was, for me, the craziest. She’s an icon and teen idol for me. Being able to act with her was the most surreal, bizarre and incredible experience.
Let’s dig into your love of Molly Ringwald.
I worship her. I missed my prom and felt like a communist because it’s such an American rite of passage. I said to my husband, “I want to have a fortieth birthday prom and right this wrong.” He was Ducky and had a little bolo tie and I was Molly. Our friends went all out. People went berserk. There’s actually a shot in the finale of season one that’s an overhead establishing shot of my actual party. I invited the crew. It was awesome.
We had written the role of Joy Green because there are so many books on happiness and I feel like a lot of these people are really miserable. Joy is like one of those people who becomes a life coach, but has no business being one. It’s the funny contradictions in people. We wanted to have it so everyone comesback from wherever quoting Joy Green’s Joy Manifesto. We needed somebody awesome to play Joy Green. We sent it to Molly and crossed our fingers. When she accepted, we died and went to heaven.
She’s never played a villain. She’s never played someone hateful. She’s so lovable, but she nailed Joy. She was great in episode nine, but wait until you see the finale. She was way beyond. She’s incredible. She loved doing it, so I felt really lucky.
On set, how much do you feel you keep to what’s written on the page?
We always shoot as it’s written. If we have time, which is not always, we do a fun run where we mix it up. I probably do more of that than the other actors. I take more liberties in terms of making up shit on the fly.
You don’t shy away from making controversial jokes.
I feel like most of our viewers are very, very smart. They get that when a character says something inappropriate we’re not making that comment ourselves and that we are making fun of people who make that comment. You have to be smart enough to get that. It’s a satire.
Sometimes people get offended and they don’t realize that we are actually mocking people that are small minded. For example, during snow apocalypse, our blizzard episode, Lex’s hotel is essentially shut down. There is room service piling up in the hallway. He’s like, “My God, it’s like the Superdome out here.” Most people were cracking up and some people were offended. The joke is that Lex is a pampered character who lives in a bubble and to him the room service being down at a luxury hotel is the Superdome. You have to get that extra step.
The episode where you travel from Manhattan’s Upper East Side to Brooklyn is a classic. Tell me about writing neighbors with completely different world views and exaggerating their perspectives.
Weirdly, not that much of what we wrote is an exaggeration. I didn’t drink placenta but people –Brooklyn people – do it.
The way that I observe different communities is always through a comedic lens. There are people who are saying “Down with a man,” but have $24 artisanal mustard and they’re five year-olds. That all does go down. SORRY. THIS PARA DOESN’T QUITE MAKE SENSE.
What I decided in my real life, when I was thinking about moving to Brooklyn, is that I would rather be the chill mom in an uptight world than the uptight mom in a chill world. That’s why I stayed on the Upper East Side. I’d rather be the loosey-goosey one in that world. I would be an “Odd Mom Out” in either world, to be honest.
What kind of environment do you like to be in when you write?
Tony Hernandez was our producer and he started Jax Media. He’s really the King of New York comedy and females in comedy. He produces BROAD CITY and INSIDE AMY SCHUMER. I feel so lucky to be part of the Jax family. He has a writer’s room in the Jax Media headquarters. BROAD CITY moved out and then Julie Klausner’s DIFFICULT PEOPLE moved in. When they moved out, we moved in. I’m not a spiritual person, but it’s a happy room and it’s a happy office. It’s right in the heart of the West Village. I feel like I’m extricated from my life and I’m in a really vibrant neighborhood on Bleecker Street. I’m so happy there. He keeps piles of wine for our 4 o’clock and tons of coffee. To me, that’s my dream environment. I feel really creative there.
I also get ideas in the shower or walking home. I walk everywhere in New York or take the train and put my headphones on. I get ideas all the time and just put them in that notes app on my iPhone. I’ll come in and start rambling about things and we all build off each other.
What is your go-to film, series or book to recommend to other writers or comedians?
I love reading all of Woody Allen’s books. Everyone has seen his movies. I’ve read every word he has ever written, every New Yorker article. I think he’s a fucking genius. When people say, “I love ANNIE HALL.” I say, “Go read his books.”
You’re almost closer to his brain because there aren’t all these variables and other people involved in the project. I love his movies, but there’s something really intimate about his writing. That would be my number one.
I love SOUTH PARK. That’s my other extreme. I’ve seen every episode. I think Trey Parker and Matt Stone are geniuses. When I meet people who don’t watch SOUTH PARK, I feel like we can’t truly ever be friends.
I saw a documentary about how they make SOUTH PARK and they turn around an episode in 6 days. They have no fear. Some people are tiptoeing and don’t want to offend, but Matt and Trey have balls. That’s so hilarious. They slay me.
What is a line of dialogue from ODD MOM OUT that you feel captures the essence of the show?
There’s a part in one episode I wrote, The O.D.D. Couple, where Meredith Vieira plays our therapist. She says, “Your son has O.D.D.” By the way, that’s a real disease and my real son has it. In real life, I started laughing when the kiddie shrink said that my son has ODD as my show is called ODD MOM OUT. It felt like fate—or a joke for CANDID CAMERA. O.D.D. stands for Oppositional Defiance Disorder, which means you can’t take no for an answer. I said, “Isn’t that just being a K.I.D.?”
That is my perspective of parenting. There is this label that they put on my kid. I’m dealing with it even though I refuse to accept it, but I have to. I talked back as a kid. My husband was like, “You totally have that.” It is hereditary, so maybe I do. Whatever, I’m fine with it. The show’s not about parenting. It’s about fitting in.