"I’ve always been a writer and a producer, but suddenly I became the cue-card holder, the prop master, the graphics guy, and the hair and makeup person, too."

Molly McNearney
Credit: Courtesy Molly McNearney

In the beginning of the quarantine, we were all wondering how we were going to fill our days. I was on group texts with a bunch of other moms who were sending links to “How to Make a Birdhouse out of a Milk Carton” and “How to Make Play-Doh with Flour and Tears” and all the different activities I could do virtually with my kids, Jane and Billy, like log on to the MoMA or the zoo. But on the third day of lockdown, we decided to put Jimmy Kimmel Live! back on the air. And that was like adding a whole other child into the mix.

We obviously couldn’t have our typical crew of 140 people with us, so it was just Jimmy and me. And we were doing it with a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old pulling at our legs all day. I’ve always been a writer and a producer, but suddenly I became the cue-card holder, the prop master, the graphics guy, and the hair and makeup person too. It would be time to shoot the show, and I’d say, “Jimmy, do you even have an ironed shirt?” And then I would quickly find an iron, all while helping cover the bags under his eyes and pressing play on the ninth straight episode of PAW Patrol to distract the kids.

Shooting the show at our house was kind of like having the whole country on your Zoom meeting. So on top of everything else, I was also trying to clean the corners of our home that I knew everyone was going to see on YouTube. People started criticizing things like our wallpaper in the comments, which drove me crazy but also made me think, “Wait, maybe our wallpaper does suck.” [laughs] You truly start to go nuts when you’ve been only in your own company.

Jimmy and I are accustomed to working together, but we’re not used to working this closely with each other. In our kitchen. In our pajamas. And we’re definitely not used to having our kids as our co-workers. On a morning when we’re filming, we get up around 6:30 a.m. Jimmy makes coffee for me, thank God, and breakfast for the kids. He’s an excellent cook, so he whips up these elaborate pancakes while I put hot water in one of those oatmeal-to-go cups and hand it to them with one eye still closed. [laughs] We get Jane to school on an iPad, and we all sit there together as Jimmy and I start to read the news, which seems to be getting worse by the day. And then we try our very best to take that news and make a show a few hours later that’s entertaining and enlightening.

We’re all absorbing such dark topics like racism, death, economic decline, and skyrocketing unemployment right now. This is not stuff we can make funny. But we’re also all dealing with universal feelings like, “Get me out of my house. Get me away from my kids. And our president is a child at the wheel of a car.” So our goal with the show is always to make people laugh and feel seen while picking the right moments to dive deep into important topics.

For me, writing for the show is cathartic. To ingest the daily horrors and turn them into jokes, holding leaders accountable along the way, is a privilege I do not take lightly. I’m so thankful to have the show as an outlet particularly when the president attacks my husband. We’re lucky to have this platform to stand up and defend not only the voiceless but also, occasionally, ourselves. What’s funny is that the day the president tweeted that Jimmy was a “wacko last placer,” it didn’t even come up at dinner. I swear to God. We were more focused on each other and making sure Jane’s ketchup was “on the side” and that Billy’s booster seat was buckled.

Still, as much as I love my work, I think I’ve learned more about myself as a mom during this time than anything else. Motherhood is relentless, especially in quarantine—10 a.m. in quarantine with kids feels like 3 p.m. One day when I was feeling particularly exhausted, I imagined that I was tucking my 75-year-old self into bed and that my one wish was to wake up in this house with my children at these ages. How nice it would be to have just one day like this, stuck inside, with the sounds of their tiny feet running all over the house. I remind myself of this every once in a while, and it has really helped me be more in the moment with my kids.

Whenever normal life returns — it’s gonna return, right? — I already know that I don’t want to go back to working 14-hour days and having my phone out at our dining room table. Those days are done for me. We’ve been able to have such great conversations with our kids at dinnertime lately about the protests they’re seeing on TV and what racism and white privilege mean. Our president has fueled us to teach our kids the importance of honesty, integrity, and taking care of one another. More than anything, I think this actual quality time with them has made Jimmy and me step back and say, “What we were doing before wasn’t enough.” Oh, and maybe we were showering too much before. Hopefully, we can all take the lessons we’re learning from this wild, tiring time and bring them into the next phase, whatever that may be.

As told to Jennifer Ferrise.

McNearney is the co–head writer for Jimmy Kimmy Live!

For more stories like this, pick up the September issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Aug. 21.