Having established herself professionally as a writer for magazines, movies and TV while raising three children in Manhattan, Jill Kargman decided three years ago that she needed a new challenge.
Until then, she hadn’t acted since college, where she managed to find time to perform in a couple of shows while graduating with honors from Yale University in just three years. Then she put it all behind her to focus on her writing.
As much as she accomplished writing for Vogue, ELLE and GQ among other publications and before beginning to churn out books like The Ex-Mrs. Hedgefund and Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut, clearly an old itch had to be scratched.
Thus, Odd Mom Out, Bravo’s hit show about a quirky middle-aged mother and her off-the-wall friends and family, was born. Kargman, who’s both the star of the show and the executive producer, said whatever doubts and fears she had on the stage back then somehow disappeared.
“At 40, I became an actress,” said Kargman, featured star of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s upcoming Main Event on Nov. 15 at the Kimmel Center. “It felt very natural. A lot of women who come of age are filled with self-doubt. I never had to go through that. This role is a little more absurd than my real life.
“But when a reviewer said I was like a female Larry David, I was over the moon.”
But curb your enthusiasm if you’re expecting Kargman to come out and be her TV self, Jill Weber. In fact, some of the stories she’ll tell will resonate with the audience.
“I’m so humbled and honored to be coming here,” said Kargman, who grew up in Manhattan with an Orthodox-raised mother and an agnostic father, which meant plenty of Shabbat dinners but not many trips to shul. “When I meet someone like myself, there’s a feeling of familiarity. That’s why as I’ve gotten older and have three children, I’ve realized that’s even more important than I thought.”
Whatever success she’s had in life, Kargman never loses sight of the sacrifices of her ancestors that made it possible. That includes the heroic efforts of her grandfather who, after selling off the bulk of his lucrative silk stocking business and using the proceeds to send his wife to London, lived in Paris with other family members posing as tourists and hid in an Anne Frank-type secret room until he could safely make it to America.
Not all of them were so fortunate.
“My family moved about six times during the Holocaust,” she said. “They were going into places posing as tourists and taking pictures. Eventually, the Gestapo came in where they hiding and rounded up a bunch of their friends helping them, who were gassed. We started making a Passover cake as a remembrance. Now my daughter does it, just as my mom did.
“I tell that story in a Jewish setting because it’s so profound. I feel better talking about it with people I can relate to.”
One of the reasons Jewish Federation wanted Kargman for the Main Event is because she’s so relatable, especially with the younger generation.
“She’s the star of a hit show and appeals to a diverse audience,” said Steve Rosenberg, chief marketing officer for Jewish Federation. “We haven’t had a woman in a while and while we didn’t seek out to have one, it’s always great to have someone who appeals to a younger audience. We want to attract younger people, and she’ll even be making an appearance at the NextGen event we have before the Main Event.”
Coming to Philadelphia is nothing new for Kargman, who recently brought her son here to see the Barnes Foundation, take a horse-and-carriage ride and pose before the Rocky statue. That’s continuing an old family tradition. She used to accompany her father here every year for an antique show.
These days, though, her life is hectic. Besides the show and personal appearances and popping up on Jimmy Kimmel Live! or The Tonight Show, she tries to stay grounded.
“I don’t feel famous,” said Kargman, who joked that she “lost her movie virginity with Susan Sarandon” in the just-released A Bad Moms Christmas. “I get stopped a lot by people who say they relate to the show. Sometimes, I pinch myself. But in real life I just feel like a mom in New York. I’m 43. I have my friends, kids and husband.
“I have my whole circle around me, and I’m not going to change.”