Writer and actress Jill Kargman isn’t afraid to go against the grain. Especially when “the grain” is the posh parenting community on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. In “Odd Mom Out,” Bravo’s scripted comedy series that recently aired its final season, Kargman’s character faced showy and competitive parents with eye rolls, an iron stomach, and biting humor.
But those who know Kargman, and her story, know fearless isn’t just a role she played on TV. It’s a trait she’s come to embrace when battling cancer twice and having a double mastectomy after learning she carried the BRCA gene that causes breast cancer. She’ll show Chicago why attitude is everything when she appears as the keynote speaker at the Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation (LSCRF) Fall Benefit Luncheon, held at Hilton Chicago on October 22.
“I committed to the event before I knew I had the gene – it’s crazy,” says Kargman. “Both sides of my family are plagued by breast cancer and it’s something I’m very passionate about. My mom volunteered at Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center for 25 years, getting her hands dirty working with patients. She was such a role model. My grandmother and aunt died from breast cancer, and it seems everyone has been touched by it in some way. I’ve always felt the draw to help.”
When Kargman signed on to the luncheon — arguably one of the most respected and well attended breast cancer research fundraisers in the nation — she had yet to have the mammogram at Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center that changed her life. Imaging revealed she had two lumps that needed to be watched. She returned for MRIs every few months — a time that Kargman admits left her legitimately scared. But she was able to push the stress aside and act when she got another piece of news: test results that revealed she had the BRCA gene.
“My left boob was a ticking time bomb,” says Kargman. When she and her husband, Harry, did their research on the outlook and options, “it was a slapdash decision [to have a double mastectomy]. No regrets. I’ve always been a rip-the-Band-Aid-off type of person.”
Being refreshingly candid about her surgery — as well as her experience battling melanoma twice before the age of 35 — is a big reason Kargman has been able to be a strong voice in breast cancer advocacy. “I’ve always believed laughter is the best medicine,” she says.
“Jill has the courage to say what others are honestly thinking,” says Wendy Heltzer, co-chair of the LSCRF Fall Benefit Luncheon. “By sharing the ups and downs of her life with wit, Jill makes people feel as if they are in on the joke with her, and therefore less alone.” Heltzer adds that, with Kargman’s name on the bill, 1,000 tickets were sold before the luncheon invite even dropped.
The flood of interest is no surprise: Bravo’s “Odd Mom Out” had a cult following. And even though it was based on Kargman’s book “Momzillas” about real-life experiences of raising her three kids (ages 10, 12 and 15) on the Upper East Side, 51 percent of its audience was nonparents, according to Kargman. They came for the zingers and also for the realness. Because while the show was a comedy it did have raw moments, like the opening of season 2 when Kargman was shown getting an actual mammogram. “I wanted to show people that this is what you do when turning 40,” says Kargman.
Though the show was cancelled, she continues to confront the norm in other ways, such as in her most recent books of personal essays, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut” and “Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave: Observations, Rants, and Other Uplifting Thoughts About Life.”
Topics swirling through her mind now include the current political climate and the “pernicious side to social media.” Says Kargman, “I love the keyholes to people’s lives; it makes you feel more connected. But, you’re looking at ambassadors of people’s selves … a curation.”
Follow Kargman on Instagram (@jillkargman), and you’ll see honest glimpses into her day to day — kids, city life, people she meets. Sure, like all of us, it’s a curation. But Kargman never shows off, never brags. Although she could: Her former sister-in-law and friend is Drew Barrymore and her dad is former Chanel president Arie Kopelman.
Kargman will peel back more layers when she makes next career move: hosting a talk show, which can be seen on a yet-to-be-announced streaming service in 2019. With a mix of themes, the show will be a source that anybody — be they a mom, breast cancer survivor or just all-around boss lady – can relate to.
It all comes back to the outside-looking-in vibe she’s so known for. Says Kargman, “I just love observing this world.”
Monday, October 22, 11 a.m. at Hilton Chicago, lynnsage.org
The history LSCRF funds lifesaving research aimed at curing breast cancer, a disease impacting one in eight women. The foundation was founded in honor of Chicagoan Lynn Sage, a mom, wife and friend to many, who lost her battle with breast cancer at the age of 39.
The theme This year, it’s “The Pink Ribbon Awards” inspired by the Academy Awards. Individuals will be acknowledged for their outstanding personal stories, as well as connections to LSCRF, through awards such as Warrior, given to a two-time breast cancer survivor; and Hero, honoring a doctor at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The details Lunch features keynote speaker Jill Kargman, who will have a dialogue with Julia Van Nice, a Chicagoan and Kargman’s childhood friend. The lunch will also feature PURSE-SUE THE CURE, a purse auction. The sold-out event is expected to raise over $1 million for cancer reserach.
Photo by Matt Hoyle