Instagram’s ‘Crazy Jewish Mom’ explains how she drives her daughter nuts

At some point, every close knit mother-daughter relationship takes a turn toward Crazytown. Kate Siegel and her mother Kim Friedman, however, have never left the place. 

It goes a little something like this: Mom and daughter love each other, but they want to kill each other. Mom knows all of her daughter’s sensitivities and constantly brings them up. It all plays out on @crazyjewishmom, the Instagram account that documents their volatile, playful, and guilt-laden text conversations, which usually concern boyfriends (get married already!), making babies (because the biological clock is ticking!), the vajay, the family pet Thor (he’s humping the Thanksgiving turkey!), and financial insecurity (you quit your job to write this book about me?!). 

Let’s just hope she doesn’t try to set me up with her dealer. #nationaldrinkwineday #crazyjewishmom

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Kim throws out the bait, and daughter Kate takes it. Kim will say anything. Kate will respond emotionally every time. In comedy, we’d call this straight-man/crazy-man. On the Internet, we’d call this true love, screengrabbed at perfect moments and posted for all the world to see. 

Today @crazyjewishmom has more than 700K followers. The success of the Instagram account culminated in a book, Mother, Can You Not?, a collection of short stories by Siegel about—you guessed it—her relationship with her mom. The stories are at once heartwarming and horrifying.

#TBT to #thanksgiving #crazyjewishmom cc: @ASSHOLETHOR

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I called Kate to check in about the new book, which comes out on April 5. She tried to conference in her mom, but her mom didn’t pick up. “This is ridiculous!” shouted Kate. “Let me text her.” 

It was a totally apropos beginning to our raucous interview, which included Kim and Kate interrupting each other a lot. Maybe texting would have been a better way to go…

I really enjoyed the book. It was a neat way to get to know more about the mother-daughter relationship behind the texting relationship that we see on Instagram. Texting relationships are extensions of the real-life relationship, of course. I am wondering what about texting that you, Kim, really love? Kate says you’re really bad at technology, but you seem to be a master of the textual form. What is it about texting your daughter that you love?

Kim: Kate and I fought a lot when she was growing up. When you’re a kid and you’re in the same house, you can walk away, slam the door. When you call someone, they can say, “Hey, I gotta go.” Texting is magic. It’s a magic carpet is for me. It’s like, “Oh wait a minute, I can say anything I want, I can say whatever I want, and she’ll get a ding and read it.”

Kate: Is that what it is? Because you know that my phone dings and I might be excited to receive a text?

Kim: You can’t say “I gotta go,” or just hang up, or say “I’m working.” I love texting. I wouldn’t even write a book. I would text my life story to someone. I just text the publisher my entire life story. Text is like, you get an idea, you do it immediately.

So you find texting to be passive-aggressive?

Kim: I don’t find it passive-aggressive. It’s more controlling. You can control the conversation.

Kate: You know with my emails, I go in every so often and look. Whereas you know that when I get a text, I’ll look because my phone vibrates

In terms of the way you two engage via text, I noticed that there’s a specific dynamic going on. Kate gets annoyed or has an emotional reaction to your craziness, Kim, and because she keeps engaging with your craziness, she gets laughs. But they are always at her expense. I also got a better sense of your personalities beyond just the jokey texts. Kate, you seem like you’re someone who enjoys a level of stability and consistency, whereas Kim, you come across as a risk-taker. So I found it ironic that your mom’s pushiness and eagerness about your life and career actually transformed into the thing that made you both personalities online. 

Kim: She actually was kind of a risk-taker growing up. She’s an incredible singer. She was a performer first. I felt like, fearless! She was way out there, but she did always think that she was too far-out.

Kate: I am very thoughtful, and I try to evaluate situations more carefully than just jump into things as a macro life-rule. I’m not averse to taking risks, doing exciting things. In the dynamic, as it plays out in the Instagram, my mom is for sure more in that direction than I am.

Kim: In a funny way, I disagree with you. I was appalled that you quit your day job. I mean, it’s nice that she is doing this book, she is writing, but she has no job and lives in a hole in Brooklyn. We lived in a house in L.A. I actually think she’s unfortunately turned into the opposite now. She’s a loose canon!

Kate: I think she’s stressed out. She’s having a panic attack about, she doesn’t think anyone is going to buy this book—she’s handing out my résumé like she used to give out my number to men.

Kim: Alicia, let me send you Kate’s resume—she could do stories like this for the Daily Dot!

Nah, just give him my social. #givingoutmybrasizeisthenewgivingoutmyphonenumberwithoutpermission #crazyjewishmom #chanel

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Cool. Anyway, I love stories that happen because someone just gives up and they’re like: ‘Fuck it, I’ll post this.’ It’s that moment of ‘I have nothing to lose here so I may as well just be honest, because if I’m not honest about my feelings then I will lose my self-respect.’ Is that how you felt about the incessant messages you were getting from your mom?

Kate: I was at this bachelorette party, actually, and my mom knew that I was there. She was sending me a lot of ridiculous messages, and I read one out loud to friends at the party. Then I had an a-ha moment because everyone was totally losing their marbles. I had been screengrabbing these conversations for years. Sometimes you have to have a second set of eyes to see that something is really funny. I started posting them on my personal Instagram. Then I had a conversation with mom, and I asked her if this is something that it would be cool to do. And she said sure.

There’s a belief today that young people aren’t concerned with Internet privacy, which is something I found interesting in your dynamic—that Kim, you’re older and you’ll say anything, whereas Kate is more reserved. Kim, you said OK to her posting the convos, because you were like, ‘Hey, do it, you want to be a writer!’ I want to hear more about that—the sort of differing Internet privacy concerns that you both have. 

Kate: It was incredibly stressful. I used to be very, very private and concerned about Internet security and things like that. I used to be very private, and not share much personal information online. I think that it was a switch, honestly. At first I was like, OK, I am doing this, so fine, you can’t put anything off limits.

Kim: It’s sort of like performing, like improv. That’s what it is seems like to me.

Kate: At a certain point, it’s like it doesn’t work unless you’re open and honest. It’s like, I’m sharing my personal life and the intimate details of everything, and all of the funny comes from relatable moments between me and my mom. If I’m being disingenuous, that’s not where people are going to find funny moments.

Kim: That’s my whole background as a Hollywood TV director and theater director in New York. You have to write or act or direct, and it has to be personal and it has to be true. The camera can smell everything. Readers can tell when it’s not real. You have to be willing to put it all out there and not care.

Best Valentine’s Day since 1776! @jonnybglass and @hamiltonmusical. #crazyjewishmom #happyvalentinesday

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Do you feel like, with Mother, Can You Not?, you’re writing memoir, or comedy—or both? Or autobiography? Or something else?

Kate: I don’t think it’s an autobiography at all. All of the stories are centered around my relationship with my mom, so it’s a very specific set of experiences that are all centered around our relationship and fun things that we did together. It’s probably a cross between comedy and memoir.

Kim: You haven’t earned an autobiography.

Kim, I’m curious about your background as a TV director. What shows did you work on? And I know you left L.A. to live in New Jersey, closer to Kate, who was at Princeton and now lives in New York. Did you retire?

Kate: She worked on lots of stuff, like Star Trek: Voyager, Beverly Hills 90210, Dynasty, Love Boat, [and] Sabrina, the Teenage Witch . . .

Kim: I really stopped working a lot when Kate was applying to college. Trying to be a full-time mom and a work as a full-time director is hard. Working full-time and having a kid is hard, whether you’re a waitress, nurse, doctor, whatever. Directors are a little weird, you can be there at 5am and be off at 10pm. When she was thinking about college, I slowed down. I wanted to be around full-time. I’m also a controlling drone mom, helicopter, whatever you want to call it. Then she went to Princeton…

Kate: She chased me to the East Coast.

Kim: She’s my only child, too, so we have that syndrome. Now I’m in Jersey and doing what I want to do. I was a theater director before I came to L.A. Then I stayed in L.A. and got married, did TV. Now I have two secret desires. The first is to be a disc jockey on the radio. The second is documentary/docu-reality films.

Oh good. #crazyjewishmom cc: @bumbleapp

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Has your relationship changed at all since starting the @crazyjewishmom Instagram account? Since writing the book?

Kate: I don’t really think so. I think there’s a lot more to do. This interview with someone who wanted to talk with us about our relationship wasn’t something we did before the book.

Kim: Our relationship is the same, except for one thing. I was more honest about how I felt about your boyfriend. If people were reading and I was texting you about it, then that’s something that had to happen. You can’t be worried about someone in the same way.

Kate: I think she had to come to terms with the fact that I was sharing things she was writing to me. I think you’ve always voiced your concerns about my relationships and what not.

Kim: Back then I felt more comfortable about talking directly to you. Meanwhile, god knows, I had to become very practical about my concerns.

Mother Can You Not? (Crown Archetype) is available now via pre-order, and officially goes on sale April 5.

Illustration by Max Fleishman

Alicia Eler

Alicia Eler

Alicia Eler is the author of 'The Selfie Generation: How Our Self-Images Are Changing Our Notions of Privacy, Sex, Consent, and Culture.' She is the visual art critic at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. Her work has been published in the Guardian, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, New York Magazine, CNN, LA Weekly, Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Sun-Times.