September 15, 2019

Liz Astrof on ‘Confessions of a Stay-at-Work Mom’

Award-winning executive producer and veteran television writer Liz Astrof has written for and produced a number of sitcoms, including “The King of Queens,” “2 Broke Girls,” “Last Man Standing,” “The Conners” and “Coupling.” She’s also worked with her brother Jeff Astrof on his show “Trial & Error.” 

Now, she’s come out with a new memoir about parenting called “Don’t Wait Up: Confessions of a Stay-at-Work Mom,” about work and parenting her now 12-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, and her own childhood experiences. From stories about surviving Great Wolf Lodge to tales about eating her way through Fat Camp and taking care of her kids’ illegal Chinatown turtles, Astrof doesn’t spare any grimy details. 

Astrof spoke with the Journal about working in television, writing her book and what she hopes other parents will get out of it. 

Jewish Journal: Why did you decide to write the book?

Liz Astrof: It was totally a bucket list thing. I had been working in TV for so long but I couldn’t tell these stories in a TV show. I took a personal essay writing class at UCLA Extension after another one of my pilots didn’t get picked up. I loved it. It had this great atmosphere. I met with the professor to work one-on-one after that and she said I was going to have a book. I heard you can’t get anything published unless you’re famous, so I was worried. But it happened anyway. 

JJ: What was your inspiration for the book?

LA: I love David Sedaris. That was my goal. [Jeannette Walls’ 2005 memoir] “The Glass Castle” made me want to write, even though it’s not a comedy book. Augusten Burroughs and Nora Ephron. I wanted that quirky family point of view. I’ve always wanted something that was mine because in TV, it’s not yours. A lot of TV comedy writers probably doubt themselves a lot like I do. I start off every project with, “I can’t do that. Why did I even move to L.A.? What was I thinking? I must have blacked out 20 years ago. I changed my whole life and I should have stayed in New York and married someone I didn’t like that much who supported me.” Writing the book was such a great process and much easier. You can meander, which I like to do. 

JJ: What do you hope mothers get out of your book? 

LA: I hope mothers can give themselves a break and some relief and know we are all messed up and terrified. I also want working mothers and stay-at-home moms to have an understanding of each other. I always say things people don’t say because they’re afraid of what others think. It’s permission to not be perfect, or close to perfect, or good, really. You don’t have to love your kids all the time. It didn’t start out as a parenting book because I still don’t consider myself a good mom. But when I started writing it, my agent said the arc was all about how I was afraid to be a mother. It’s all about being surprised that I show up for my kids, and that I want to. I hope mothers will know that we’re all thinking terrible things a lot. 

“I hope mothers can give themselves a break and some relief and know we are all messed up and terrified. I also want working mothers and stay-at-home moms to have an understanding of each other.”

JJ: How did you wind up working in show business?

LA: My brother was working on “Friends” and he told me I should be a writer. I took a class and moved out here to see if I could get an agent. I think I did it because my brother suggested it. 

JJ: Which of the shows you’ve written for do you consider your favorites? 

LA: “2 Broke Girls,” “King of Queens,” “Kath & Kim” and “Trial & Error.” I think “King of Queens” was probably the funniest show because it’s totally in my wheelhouse, which is [a] lower-middle-class [story]. I relate to working-class people like in “King of Queens” and “2 Broke Girls” the most.

JJ: Is that because of how you grew up?

LA: I grew up in a very working-class town in Seaford, Long Island, and those are the people I relate to the most. The shows I grew up watching like “The Odd Couple,” “All in the Family” and “Laverne & Shirley” were those people. They were normal. We were the only Jews in our town, which is very funny to people on Long Island. 

JJ: What was that like?

LA: [It] was isolating at times. There were cultural differences. I didn’t celebrate the same holidays as many of my friends. I was one of two kids who had a bat mitzvah and no one even knew what that was, which was kind of a novelty in a way. The only other Jewish girl in my grade became my best friend. We gravitated toward each other. I also met other Jewish kids in nearby towns at Hebrew school and sleepaway camp.

JJ: How does your Judaism influence your work?

LA: Being Jewish influences my writing when I’m writing about myself, my kids and my family. For example, one essay in the book, called “Happy New Year,” is about spending Rosh Hashanah at my brother’s house.

JJ: What’s next for you?

LA: I have a deal at CBS Productions, so I’m developing an Israeli show called “La Familia” I’m trying to adapt for here. I’ll probably develop the book into a show. I’m developing my own stuff and creating my own show once again. And I’m always trying to write another book.