Despite her indoorsy nature and the ongoing pandemic keeping her housebound, Jill Kargman has had a busy quarantine.
The writer and actress, who is hosting the 2020 CEW Beauty Awards starting Thursday, brought imaginary characters to life on her Instagram—enter “Dzanielle,” the Upper East Side mom navigating lockdown, or “Viktorija,” childhood best friend of Melania Trump—and also snagged a recurring gig on sister-in-law Drew Barrymore’s talk show.
Each of Kargman’s in-character monologues are improvised, but they were years in the making, starting with a show she did called “Stairway to Cabaret” at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2016. “I had all these characters in the hopper anyway, and when some of my friends were getting depressed this year, I’d do little schticks for them to cheer them up,” she said.
Like much of her work, Kargman only writes what she knows, inspired by the attitudes of those around her in her native Upper East Side. “At first I was mocking people. I wasn’t trying to be derisive, but just hold a funhouse mirror to the privileged complaining about 2020 when in fact, they were so fortunate and cosseted in this life, to be in this petri dish of perfection,” she said. “And then, I just got goofier and goofier.”
While most of Kargman’s work is native to Instagram—where her feed is largely political memes and regular appearances from her fictional personalities—the subject matter is wide-ranging. Most recently her characters have been giving their highly stylized takes on the 2020 election (including Viktorija proclaiming supposed friend Melania’s “freedom”), while summertime saw Dzanielle’s aptly named “beach kvetches.”
Kargman’s penchant for optimism throughout 2020 was informed by her family’s trip to Amsterdam last year. “Our very last day, we went to the Anne Frank House, and it’s a 350-square-foot apartment with seven people [who lived] in it. We come home, and the pandemic hits five weeks later,” she said. “That trip reframed our entire year. But my friends didn’t see quarantine through the prism of a trip like that.”
Another source of joy was the camaraderie of being in New York, where Kargman avowed to stay before quarantine. “I have a husband of 19 years, but I always joke that New York is the love of my life,” Kargman said. “I know it sounds crazy, but I never had a bad day. I just felt so lucky, and so emotional about New York. We would go out at 7 p.m. after Lester Holt and join the chorus of thousands of people cheering on these health-care workers. It felt so magical, and I was in a really good place.”
Kargman did add a caveat, though, mentioning her family was “on top of each other” in their old apartment. “I’m so lucky we each had space, or else we would’ve killed each other,” she said.
With that in mind, Kargman’s decision to stay in New York throughout the pandemic was less of a decision and more of a doubling-down. “I never aspired to have a second home, which seems unusual on the Upper East Side. So many people have their escape hatch that feels like a psychological life raft. I never wanted that,” Kargman said. “I don’t drive. I feel marooned, and I’m constantly asking someone to schlep me to Starbucks.”
Moreover, the exodus from New York is still lost on her. “I would rather have sirens over crickets every day. After 9/11, I had friends who left and I remember thinking I’d rather die of anthrax than die of boredom,” Kargman said.
As a correspondent on “The Drew Barrymore Show,” Kargman also gets to flex her creative muscles outside of social media. “I feel really lucky in the middle of a pandemic, when it’s hard to sell a show of my own, to have a job and a group of people who are so wonderful,” she said. “Drew [Barrymore] is like a human rainbow, and it’s what this country needs right now. Launching a show in a pandemic is ballsy and cool, and a balm for everyone’s souls.”
Self-soothing for Kargman goes beyond watching her sister-in-law, having homed in on her own beauty rituals. “This year, I spent more on candles, I love a candle. And there was something really calming about that aromatherapy, and then a face mask or face oil,” she said.
Kargman relies on the expertise of aesthetician and eponymous skin-care brand founder Georgia Louise—“She has this alchemy of different serums,” Kargman said—to maintain her self-described Morticia Addams resemblance. One of her favorite self-soothing rituals was following along to Louise’s Instagram videos of facial massages.
Kargman’s favorite beauty maxim, “Pallor is valor,” was born out of several bouts of skin cancer: she limits her sun time as much as possible. “During quarantine, I got even paler. I look like I was exhumed from a grave, I call it cadaver-chic. I do not go in the sun at all, and at 46, I’m the color white, like when you paint a door. People will make fun of it, but I lean into it and almost embrace it more,” she said.
In addition to baths with Jo Malone Red Roses Bath Oil, Kargman has upped the ante on her near-daily mask routine, which she said would otherwise be impossible without the downtime offered by quarantine. “In Japan, as a wedding gift, they give brides a 60-day supply of SK-II sheet masks and have them do one every day for 60 days before the wedding. Being inside, I wanted to make 2020 my wedding,” she said. “I think the anxiety of 2020 has taken two years off of my life, and the masks have added them back.”
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