Vanessa Bayer spent seven years on Saturday Night Live playing pop icons, child newscasters, Bar-Mitzvah boys, and Totinos-loving housewives but her latest comedy on Showtime is giving her a brand-new character to test out: herself.
Well, sort of.
I Love That For You is a half-hour comedy about a woman who, after surviving childhood cancer, lands her dream job at a home-shopping network. She ends up flubbing her chance at stardom so spectacularly that the only way she’s able to hold onto her on-air slot is to lie about her cancer recurrence. It’s a wild premise, one that probably wouldn’t work for anyone but the former SNL breakout.
When Bayer was young, she battled childhood leukemia and that experience has always fueled her comedy career in one shape or form. With this new series – which also stars comedy heavyweights like Molly Shannon and Jenifer Lewis – she wants to push the boundaries of how likable she really is, and pay homage to a fascinating world we haven’t seen depicted on TV before.
Uproxx chatted with Bayer about using her experience with cancer to her advantage, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ famously-soft blankets, and the SNL sketch she never thought would get made.
I suppose the question you’re going to get the most is, how much of this story is pulled from your real life?
It’s definitely inspired by the experience that I had growing up having childhood leukemia and also just always being a huge fan of the home shopping networks. I used to watch a lot of QVC when I was little. A lot of it is sort of pulled from experiences that I had of missing out on certain moments. I was diagnosed with leukemia when I was 15 and so I had to play catch-up on being kind of an adult and some of that is explored in the show. But then also the fact that I was always someone who really loved attention and so when I got leukemia, I really loved like all the attention I got for it, all the special treatment and everything.
That’s always been something that my family and my friends have really joked around about, the fact that I always kind of used it to my advantage. I’ve always wanted to do something where I explored that because I do think it’s kind of a funny take on that time and a funny way that I handle things that I think a lot of people do, because why not? We’ve earned it.
Speaking of, your character makes a kind of cringe choice at the beginning of the season, but she’s still someone you end up rooting for every episode. How did you manage to make me like someone who lies about having cancer?
Well, we wanted to show that she tells this lie, and then it’s hard for her. She sort of does it in the moment and then it’s like, ‘How will she handle the fallout from it?’ We really explore that as the season progresses. But also, in general, I’ve learned in comedy that I am generally able to … I don’t know if it’s because I smile so much or just because I look sort of innocent, but I’ve been able to get away with making unlikable characters relatively likable. It’s a bit of a thing I can get away with. And so I guess we’ll just see how far I can push it before people have had enough.
Did you ever second-guess your decision to write a TV show based on such a personal struggle in your life?
So I used to do standup about this time, and I’ve always thought about different projects I could do. I tried to write a movie about it once with a friend. I think the thing that’s really nice now is that I’ve had quite a bit of experience working in comedy, and I have a lot of distance from that time too. I always wanted to do something about this, but I also wanted to do something about home shopping because I find it to be the most amusing, mesmerizing, incredible world.
So getting to do those things together has really been a dream come true. When I was finished with SNL, I was thinking about a home shopping show that I could create and then I happened to have brunch with my friend and now co-create Jeremy Byler. Randomly, we had both independently been wanting to do a show about home shopping. We worked together for years on SNL and we used to write together all the time and we never talked about that. And then we were figuring out what my character would be and I thought my experience with childhood leukemia would be like such a great way for this character to sort of come of age in this story about this world that we love. So it’s sort of all organically sort of came together. It’s two of my favorite things: home shopping and talking about when I had cancer.
How much QVC product have you bought over the years?
This is a great question. So I watched it a lot when I was really young and I didn’t have my own money so I didn’t buy that much stuff, but I remember once my mom let me buy this ring that was rose gold, yellow gold, and white gold – which, you can just imagine what a beautiful piece that is.
All the golds.
Right. But when Jeremy and I found out that Showtime was going to buy our show, we bought each of our three Showtime executives who we work with the most … We wanted to thank them for agreeing to do the show with us. So we went on the QVC website and we bought each of them a blanket by Casa Zeta-Jones, which is Catherine Zeta-Jones’ homewares line. And they have all told us independently that they love these blankets. That they’re so soft. That they’re really incredible blankets.
Thee Catherine Zeta-Jones is on QVC selling blankets?
I have seen Catherine Zeta-Jones selling stuff on QVC, yes, and it’s so fun! That’s another really fun thing about the world of home shopping is a lot of times these really huge celebrities will come on and sell stuff from these lines that they have. And it’s so fun to watch because there are always people who call into home shopping and want to talk to the hosts and the vendors about like the products. But then there are people calling in because they want to talk to Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Is she going to be on the show at some point then?
At some point, I hope that she hears or sees this. But it just kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?
It’s very meta, but you could have her sell her own products in an episode.
Exactly. It would be great exposure for her.
More people would learn about the blankets. It can only help her.
She needs our help.
Molly Shannon plays your mentor on the show. Did you two swap stories about your SNL glory days?
She’s a legend. Yeah, we’ve talked about it. I think she’s still really close with Lorne. I think we both really feel like we got so much out of that job. That job really prepares you for other jobs because you sort of get a taste of all parts of the business. If one of the sketches that you helped write gets in then you get to help decide what the wardrobe is, what the set looks like the hair and makeup, and all that stuff. It’s such a great job to get you ready for the rest of your career. Also, the hours are completely insane. It’s so funny because when I was doing this show, they’d be like, ‘Is it okay if we call you in early?’ And I’d be like, ‘Yeah, when I was on SNL no one even asked me.’ So it just prepares you. It’s just good to learn that early that like, just don’t take yourself so seriously because everybody’s working hard.
What’s one sketch you pitched that you were surprised actually made it in the live show?
Okay. This is the first one that comes to mind. This was my third to last show, Aidy Bryant and I wrote this sketch with Chris Pine, who we loved, who was so funny and so nice where … basically we’re office women and we just sing ‘The Boy Is Mine’ by Monica and Brandy. I can’t remember if I was Monica or Brandy, but we were on a desk, just singing it to him. It was really easy to write. There are a few setup jokes and then we’re off.
This is one of many sketches that I did where we used real songs and because of that, they’re really hard to find online because the songs aren’t licensed or something. But it did great with the audience. I feel like they really enjoyed it. We had funny wigs on but you wouldn’t think that just Lip-Syncing a song to Chris Pine would make it on the show.
‘I Love That For You’ premieres via Showtime on April 29th.