Jenny Mollen lives a busy life. You may recognize her from her roles on television or in films; as the New York Times bestselling author of the essay collections I Like You Just the Way I Am and Live Fast Die Hot; as a previous columnist for publications such as Parents; a writer; and an Instagram influencer (her Instagram @jennymollen has 418K followers). Oh, and Mollen, who has two sons with her husband, actor Jason Biggs, is also known for her creative lunches she packs for her kids, which she documents on Instagram at @dictatorlunches.
As we speak over Zoom, she’s settled onto her sofa in her New York City home where she now lives, though she grew up here in the Valley.
She visits often—her dad, well-known personality Dr. Art Mollen, still lives here, as does her brother—and as we speak, the Chaparral High School graduate reminisces about her childhood.
“My dad’s old building was on 16th Street, so I grew up in that area. Ajo Al’s was like an every Monday night experience,” she says.
And, her first job was here in town, too.
“I worked at this place called Mountainview Yogurt. It was on Mountainview, near Eddie Chan’s. Then I worked at NYPD Pizza.”
Her childhood influenced her current career in other ways, too.
“Duck and Decanter is one of my favorite places, ever. I have a cookbook that comes out in September, and I have a Duck and Decanter tuna salad in the book because I’m that obsessed with Duck and Decanter. It’s like the best tuna I ever had in my life,” she shares.
The cookbook will be the fourth book Mollen has authored. Her witty, say-anything tone made her first two books—the collections of essays—wildly popular. Sony TV optioned her comedic memoir I Like You Just The Way I Am and Warner Bros acquired the rights to Live Fast Die Hot, and Anne Hathaway is attached to star in a film on Mollen’s experiences.
Her latest book, City of Likes, is currently available for pre-order and will be in stores next month (she will also be in town doing a book signing for it at Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix on June 23). The novel is a satire of the seductive allure of social media centered around Megan Chernoff, who just had a second baby and moved with her family to New York, and her new friendship with a popular “momfluencer” named Daphne Cole. After she becomes an influencer in her own right, her relationships are tested and she has to find her way back to her real life.
“My first two books were based on my life,” Mollen shares. “Comedy is my coping mechanism. My first book is kind of my manifesto for crazy women everywhere.
“With the third book, I think everyone expected that I was going to write a mom memoir because I had kind of become this voice in this ‘mommy world’—accidentally, I kind of fell into it with Instagram—but I sat down to write that [book] proposal and I was bored out of my mind. I had a standing column with Parents magazine at the time, and I was writing a lot about being a parent, and I didn’t love that the older my kids got, the more real they became. I didn’t want to exploit them for comedy. When they were younger, they were just props in the story. But when they became true, real characters, I felt like I was crossing a line and I wanted to be conscious about that. I was also struggling idea that if you’re so busy trying to curate your life online and demonstrating to all of these strangers what a good parent you are, how present are you for your kid in your real life, and are you even really there as a mom?
“I kept coming back to that question, and that’s when I set out to write the novel.”
Mollen explains that the book is based on her own life in two ways.
“I felt like I was getting to a point with Instagram where I was making a lot of money off of it, but to make that money, I had to feed this insatiable beast.”
“I wanted to explore the psychology of it… how does it happen, why does it happen, and how do you get out? How do you stay healthy?”
She also wanted to write about female friendships.
While writing is now Mollen’s main career, she initially began pursuing a career as an actress. She acted in shows at Chaparral High School, and then attended UCLA as a theater major.
It was while she was at UCLA that she wrote a one-woman show, which led to her first agent.
Still, she says she “didn’t have confidence” in her writing, and continued to pursue acting, landing jobs “here and there.”
Still, she says, “It wasn’t the warm welcome I anticipated. I continued to work inconsistently and bob around, and then when Twitter started, that’s when my life went into a different direction. You didn’t have to be a comedy writer to write jokes. I quickly found myself rising the ranks on Twitter, and before I realized it, I kinda had a following.”
Since she had a bit of a platform (she’s been called one of the funniest women on Twitter and Instagram by the Huffington Post), Mollen decided to write a short story. Not only was it published, but it crashed the servers on the site it was published on.
She continued to write for the site for a while before writing that first book, and has also contributed to places such as Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Elle.com, and more.
While her acting credits include roles in shows and films such as Angel and Crazy, Stupid, Love, she says that she now prefers to concentrate on writing (though she does have a project currently in development).
“I never want to be sitting in a trailer facilitating someone else’s words again,” she says about acting. “From [the moment my book was a bestseller] I realized I’m never going back. I had total control. I could be the master of my own universe.”
And of course, spend time with her husband and sons.
“Before my kids I just was never fully vulnerable like I am now. I never let anybody in in that way. Now I feel like I’m an open, bleeding mess! They’ve taught me so much about how much love I have to give. I never know love like this. But that’s two-sided, right? That’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a mom.”
She pauses for a moment, then laughs.
“I’m just trying to understand motherhood and adulthood and survive it like the rest of us!”