How ‘I Love That for You’ Creators Vanessa Bayer and Jeremy Beiler Turned Their Obsession With Home Shopping Into a Comedy

·15-min read

It’s funny how you can think you know everything about a person, until you learn that you don’t. Vanessa Bayer and Jeremy Beiler wrote together on “Saturday Night Live” for years, producing the beaming, off-kilter characters Bayer became known for during her time as a cast member. Yet not once during those 2 a.m. writing sessions did they realize their shared passion for the home shopping network.

It wasn’t until a “magical brunch” in 2017 that they made this crucial discovery and decided to create a show about it. “I Love That For You” stars Bayer as Joanna Gold, a babbling, big-hearted Costco employee whose lifelong dream is to work for the Special Value Network. When she lands a hosting gig, she moves out of her parents’ home and into her new life hawking pillow mists and purse hooks on live TV.

Joanna’s unabashed excitement when she steps into the studio for the first time wasn’t much of a stretch. In the early stages of development, Bayer and Beiler toured QVC’s headquarters – an experience the former described as “a real dream come true” and the latter as “more important to me than my wedding.”

“There’s this magnetic quality that [the hosts] all have, where they can talk and talk and talk and you’re just drawn in,” Beiler elaborated. “They’re painting a story around a product.”

As Joanna quickly learns, the key to selling products is selling your own story. On her first day, Joanna struggles to carve out a personal brand, as the one thing that truly sets her apart – her history of childhood cancer – is a label she’s tried to escape her entire life. When she finds herself on the brink of getting fired, she blurts out that she still has cancer, and the lie becomes her lifeline.

The humor and heartbreak intertwined in that premise comes from Bayer’s own experience as a leukemia survivor.

“I always wanted to do something about that time when I was sick, because it always felt like there were these interesting and honestly humorous elements about it,” she said. A self-described attention-lover, “There were also these perks that I really enjoyed. This felt like a fun way to explore that.”

Beyond her own character, Bayer said they wanted to explore “the overarching theme that everyone’s trying to be their own version of special and stand out.” From Jenifer Lewis’ stone-cold boss to Molly Shannon’s star host, the characters’ polished personas often mask the messiness of real life, making way for vulnerability and hilarity in equal measure.

“Everyone sort of has this complex that they don’t feel like they’re enough, which is, I think, very relatable to a lot of people,” added Bayer.

Read on for TheWrap’s full interview with the Emmy-nominated duo, in which they discuss bonding over stolen snacks, their favorite “SNL” sketches and the moment they fought to keep in the show.

Vanessa Bayer and Jeremy Beiler on the set of I LOVE THAT FOR YOU. Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/SHOWTIME.
Vanessa Bayer and Jeremy Beiler on the set of I LOVE THAT FOR YOU. Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/SHOWTIME.

TheWrap: Since ‘I Love That for You’ was picked up for a pilot a couple years ago, you’ve gone through a few different titles. Were you making these changes as you were figuring out the tone of the show?

JB: We’ve been developing this particular show for a really long time, so it has gone through many stages of evolution. Initially, it was [called] ‘Big Deal,’ that was what we used for a while. Then the phrase ‘I Love This for You’ came to us, and it kind of infused some new energy. We hadn’t shot it yet, so still had time to change things. And then we realized, with Showtime’s help, that we were sort of shooting from the hip on the first version of ‘I Love This for You’ and that ‘I Love That for You’ is a much more widely used version. We felt like it still communicated everything that we loved about it.

Your creative partnership began when you were both working on “Saturday Night Live.” How closely did you collaborate while you were there?

VB: Yes, we met at SNL and we used to write together a lot. In fact, a lot of my favorite things that I got to do there I wrote with Jeremy, and yeah, we just really hit it off and had a lot of fun writing together.

JB: We ate a lot of giant matzah balls at two in the morning.

VB: We would order in matzah ball soup most writing nights. I started a little before Jeremy at ‘SNL,’ so I was able to show him where they hide all the snacks. There was a different department [from] ‘SNL’ on our floor where they were always sent snack gifts. I’m getting into the snacks too much.

JB: We would always trespass into other offices and steal pretzel rods.

VB: Some stuff was just gonna go to waste, so I think we were really doing a service to everybody by finding the snacks at two in the morning while we were writing.

JB: So yeah, we loved writing together, and we wrote some stuff that just felt really fun and easy. We both left in 2017. And then we were having brunch one day, and Vanessa mentioned that she had an obsession with home shopping and that she wanted to make a show about it. I’d always wanted to make something in that world, and even had started slightly writing something. We couldn’t stop talking about QVC and how much we both love it.

VB: It was actually amazing that we had written and worked so much together, and we had never really talked about home shopping while we were still at ‘SNL.’ And then we had this magical brunch, which I believe was some kind of Jewish food.

JB: Certainly some type of smoked salty fish.

VB: We went on this tour of [the QVC campus] when we were working on the initial stages of writing. I don’t mean to speak for you, Jeremy, but I think for both of us, it was a real dream come true.

JB: Oh, it was more important to me than my wedding.

What about the world of home shopping made you want to make a show about it?

JB: When we’re writing a sequence of one of the hosts on air selling something, one of the hardest things to do is to end their sentence. There’s this magnetic quality that they all have, where they can talk and talk and talk and you’re just drawn in. They’re painting a story around a product. I think one of our favorite things about it is finding the little phrases that they use, which in a way plays into the title of ‘I Love That For You.’ We have a lot of ‘Love that, love that.’

VB: Something else that I think we could do for hours and probably days on end is come up with the product names. A lot of the names that we have come up with, that we thought were really great, the legal team will say that name is already taken. Coming from ‘SNL,’ we understand how exciting it is to be doing live TV. And so it just felt like such an exciting, rich, fun world that we were already both very fascinated by.

Are there any favorite names that didn’t make the cut?

JB: I’m just remembering right now, ‘Ya Gotta.’ We never decided what it was, just a brand called ‘Ya Gotta.’

What did your writing process for the show look like?

VB: Well, we had a whole writers’ room that was a really incredible and brilliant group of people.

JB: [It was] led by our really amazing showrunner Jessi Klein. It was all on Zoom, which was a little bit of a struggle, but people just made it fun. One of the things [we did] was ‘Take A Risk Thursday,’ [where] you show up wearing a piece of clothing that you’re on the fence about or that you wouldn’t normally wear out.

VB: Obviously, the room was always very supportive. It encouraged me to not return a lot of things that I had thought of returning. It felt like a natural fit for this [writers’] room to be always talking about shopping and showing each other stuff we’d bought.

Joanna Gold is extremely cheerful, nervous and kind of awkward – in other words, a trademark Vanessa Bayer ‘SNL’ character. How do you take such a big character and sustain it for a longer, more emotionally ground arc?

VB: I think because Jeremy and I have worked together so much at ‘SNL,’ he really understands my voice. We could figure out a way to try and make it seem like this is like a real person, and not just a character. We’re always trying to make sure that the show feels grounded. It’s definitely been fun to figure out how this – for lack of a better word – ‘light alien’ explores the world.

JB: Also, Vanessa is a really incredible actor. I think the reason that the show functions at all is not just because she’s so funny, but because she can do all of that as well, and you really feel drawn into this person. I’m really excited for people to see Vanessa in a way that they haven’t seen her before.

Is there anything you were able to carry from your shared ‘SNL’ background into this experience?

VB: Yes, totally. I think just kind of the excitement of live TV and the fact that you’re going out there and anything can happen. When Jeremy and I went to QVC, and we talked to these hosts, they told us about people [calling] in and they never know what the callers are going to say exactly. You know, we don’t take callers on SNL – thank goodness – but you sort of never know what’s going to happen. And just the idea that only so much can make it to screen with ‘SNL,’ and with home shopping you want to be put in time slots that are more appealing than others. It’s everybody sort of working to make this live thing come together.

JB: We’ve input a certain competitiveness among some of the characters, which is not unique to ‘SNL.’ Hopefully, many people will identify with that. But it was just sort of fun to input things that we had both experienced.

Speaking of which, what were some of your favorite things that you worked on together at ‘SNL’?

VB: We wrote this thing called ‘Santa Baby’ with Ryan Gosling, where he and I play characters that think Santa is real. And then we’re at a party and we hear Santa’s there, and we really want to see him. I remember us writing that and then getting to be on set that day was so fun.

JB: That’s a big favorite of mine, too. And also, Vanessa’s weather woman character Dawn Lazarus that we wrote together. One of our favorite things to do is figure out the best sort of gobbledygook for Vanessa to try and hold a smile and say. We found these fun ways of butchering words and making things sound really weird. That was a character we actually tried in a number of different sketches, a number of different settings. None of them made it to air. First, I think she was a lawyer, and then a game show host. And then finally, it found its home in the weather lady.

Vanessa, you wrote a children’s book about your experience having leukemia as a kid. ‘I Love This For You’ takes a much more irreverent approach by centering on an adult who’s pretending her cancer came back in order to keep her job. Was there something else that you wanted to explore here, that maybe that you hadn’t seen before in a comedy?

VB: I always wanted to do something about that time when I was sick, because it always felt like there were these interesting and honestly humorous elements about it. Even when I was sick, I would joke with my friends a lot about it. It would sort of be this language that we used to get through it. Like Jeremy said, initially, we were just talking about doing this [show] about home shopping. And then we were trying to figure out what was my character going through? Like, what was her struggle, what does she want? Something that I always would do when I was sick is kind of use it to my advantage. You know, I would come in late to school because I was watching TV or sleeping in, but they would always think it was because I was sick. As someone who’s always loved attention, I got a lot of attention from it. So while there were obviously very difficult parts of it, there were also these perks that I really enjoyed. This felt like a fun way to explore that.

JB: I feel like another kind of relatable aspect of it is just the ways people get labeled. I think many people have experience with being considered to be in a box, [where] you know one thing about a person, and [it’s like], ‘Oh, that’s all you are.’ But yeah, it didn’t really become a show until we found the people that would be in it and what they’re struggling for and what they want, most specifically [with] Vanessa’s character. She was really open and wonderful and deft at sharing aspects of that and letting us cannibalize her life for entertainment.

There’s such a range in how the other characters treat Joanna before and after she reveals that she has cancer. Did those interactions come from personal experience?

VB: For the Joanna character, for sure it’s stuff that I experienced personally. Everyone sort of treated me very special after I was diagnosed with leukemia. And, you know, I liked that [laughs]. I remember when I was in college, people didn’t know that I had been sick. But I could just mention it, and all of the sudden, [the] focus was on me, and everyone was just like, ‘You’re an inspiration.’ Not necessarily that, but I could really stop people in their tracks and kind of make it all about me very quickly by just mentioning that. [laughs] And so I think that that is certainly something that’s in that character. But then we wanted to kind of explore these other interesting characters with the overarching theme that everyone’s trying to be their own version of special and stand out. Everyone sort of has this complex that they don’t feel like they’re enough, which is, I think, very relatable to a lot of people.

One of the central relationships on the show is that of Joanna and her idol Jackie Stilton, played by Molly Shannon. How did she become involved in the project, and what does she add to the dynamic?

VB: When we thought of her for the part of Jackie, we were just like, ‘Oh my god, she would be so incredible.’ When she actually said yes to it, it was so easy to tailor everything to her because she does feel so like this character of a mentor. She just has this warmth about her and this genuine quality. It’s also fun to see her – and I think she has a lot of fun doing it – as this woman who wears all these leather jackets and is wearing so much jewelry that every time she walks, there’s jangling. It’s sort of a role that I haven’t seen her in before.

JB: It was a special, amazing day when we found out that she was interested in doing the show. It just made everything open up. A huge part of the story of the season and the show is this amazing female friendship. Also, Molly is such a perfect fit because she’s brilliant at striking the tone that we are going for in the show. She’s so uproariously funny, and also real and grounded.

How would you describe your shared comedic sensibility that led you to this character and premise you’ve developed?

VB: We both gravitate towards subtle weirdness. Like, just everyone being a little off in a subtle way.

JB: It’s kind of hard to explain, but I just always aligned with your taste, Vanessa. There’s something a little bit instinctive about it for me. We also like wordplay – not literal wordplay, but changing one word in a sentence to something weird always makes us laugh.

Is there a specific scene or line that made you laugh the hardest when you were in the process of writing it?

VB: I was talking about subtlety, and then I’m going to bring up such a broad moment. But one thing that made us laugh so hard was in the pilot, [when Joanna falls] into the box. There was a point when, because of time constraints and stuff, it seemed like maybe we weren’t going to be able to do it. And we were both like, ‘Absolutely we’ll pay a million dollars if we have to. We have to have me fall into this box.’

JB: I have one from the pilot where Joanna is learning about the pillow mist and her line is, ‘Oh, that’s so fun that it was developed in a science way.’

VB: Using words lightly wrong is so funny to us, just not quitting hitting the air right.

“I Love That For You” streams Fridays and airs Sundays on Showtime.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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