Vanessa Bayer's 'I Love That For You' is a heart-warming comedy that looks at leukemia through a different lens
SNL stars Vanessa Bayer and Molly Shanon, and Hollywood actress Jenifer Lewis talk about their new comedy show, I Love That For You
One of the brightest Saturday Night Live (SNL) stars in recent times, Vanessa Bayer (also known for her role as Officer Debbie Fogle on Brooklyn Nine Nine) continues to entertain the audience with her spontaneous comedy. Her toothy smile and sparkling eyes give Vanessa that girl-next-door quality and she would always nail her sketches on SNL with her self-deprecating humour. The actress takes the lead, and also debuts as the show creator with I Love That For You, a comedy series inspired by her life.
Starring alongside her are Molly Shanon, her witty and sharp SNL senior and Jenifer Lewis, the seasoned dynamic and bold actress who is unofficially called ‘The Mother of Black Hollywood’ (which is also the title of her book). Vanessa plays the role of Joanna Gold Bayer, a Midwestern girl who has overcome leukemia in her teen years and dreams of becoming a host on Special Value Network, a home shopping channel. Finally, as an adult, she gets a chance, through sheer luck. Striving to shed her life-long label as ‘that cancer girl’, Joanna moves out of her parents’ home and starts a new life, but everything isn’t as easy as it seems. On the way, she also develops a warm friendship with her idol Jackie (Molly) who is the longest serving host on the channel and even though her boss, the icy task-master Patricia (Jenifer), isn’t an easy nut to crack, Joanna manages to strike a deal and stay on at the job.
At a virtual round-table conference, the three female leads of the show tell us more about what I Love That For You is about, their friendship off camera, and why more shows focused on female narratives are getting produced. Excerpts:
Vanessa, the show is inspired by your life. Tell us more about it.
I always loved home shopping when I was growing up, specifically this particular channel called QVC that I used to watch. I was mesmerised by the hosts, the way they sold things, the way they spoke and how glamorous they looked. I always loved that world and particularly the hosts because of the way they spoke. They would end up sharing funny things about themselves too, and I thought this was an interesting area to try comedy on. But also, when I was 15, I was diagnosed with childhood leukemia and I think that was a very influential thing in my life because it was difficult. I also found that it had a lot of perks. I could get away with a lot of stuff, like for example, I would be late to school all the time and the person taking attendance was strict, but with me she would let things slide. I was given special treatment. I capitalsied on that and I really wanted to explore this in the show. Even if you are going through a difficult time, you get treated well, and once it’s over, everybody forgets and you kind of miss that. So, it’s this element of my life and my love for home shopping that’s been brought together in this show.
What kind of pre-production work and research went into creating the fictional Special Value Network?
When we were coming up with the show, my co-creator Jeremy Beiler and I, took a tour of QVC, the home shopping network. It’s located in a suburb outside of Philadelphia. It’s such a huge thing that the street it is at is called QVC Road. We saw different studios and offices, there’s such a big process to run this place, it was really cool. I also got to meet the two hosts, Jane Treacy and Mary Beth Roe, who I have been watching on the channel since I was a kid. We spoke to them for an hour. It was so interesting to listen to their stories. They are handling a lot. It was very impressive to see. It looks very pleasant and easy when you watch them, but they really know what they are doing.
Molly, you play Jackie, one of the most popular and longest running hosts on the show’s network. How did you prepare for your role?
Vanessa is a really good teacher. She taught me how these women sell the objects, and how they touch these objects making the viewers feel like they are touching the objects, she really taught me the ropes.
Jenifer, tell us about playing the icy and nononsense boss Patricia.
My character Patricia is pretty large and in-charge. She is a hot mess but icy, and she controls all of her employees. She plays with their heads a little bit and keeps them on the edge so that they do their jobs well. Patricia is all about the money. She wants no attitude from her employees, she just wants the job done. But behind all that, she has a big heart. I love playing this character. Molly Shanon and Vanessa Bayer are from the Saturday Night Live world, so I had to step up to the plate. They are comedic giants, their wit is so tight, they know exactly where to land it. Their timing is so impeccable. I am enjoying being part of this so much.
The show also deals with a serious subject like childhood leukemia but through the lens of comedy. Vanessa, why did you choose to tell this story?
Nothing is off limits when it comes to comedy. It helps to say things out loud — I can speak about my personal experiences. When I was sick I would keep joking a lot and it put my friends at ease. It’s nice to joke about difficult things so it makes us all feel better. Even though childhood leukemia is such a heavy topic, joking about it makes us feel better. It’s fun to examine parts of it that are irreverent.
How much of the story is directly inspired by your life?
Vanessa: Some stuff on the show is hugely exaggerated and is loosely inspired by my life. One such example is in the pilot episode when I am on a date and I don’t even know the concept of exclusive. In real life I was diagnosed when I was 15 and I missed out on the early years of dating so through college when I went on a date with a boyfriend I never really understood what being exclusive meant. I understand it now.
Since the show features a home shopping network, which have been your favourite products?
Vanessa: When we were constantly thinking of products to sell on our network on our show. We found this one product — it’s like a spa where you zip yourself up in a tent with only your head sticking out — and it steams your whole body. It looked really funny. I felt that was the craziest product I saw. When the show got picked up by Showtime, we bought their executives Casa Zeta Jones blankets (by Catherine Zeta Jones’ home line). These are my favourite products.
Molly and Jenifer, what was your experience working with each other and with Vanessa?
Molly: Vanessa wrote the pilot with Jeremy Belier, and it’s her baby. We could go to her and ask her anything. Also because she’s from SNL, she loves improvising in scenes. It’s great to work with a person who is starting out and is also a writer. Her dream is coming true and she’s just so excited. She’s very joyful on the sets. Working with both her and Jennifer is just a dream. Jenifer: Vanessa is an angel made of cotton candy and Christmas mornings. Molly is like a bunny, bouncing up and down. We have a great connection and chemistry.
In recent times there have been more narratives focused on female stories and characters. What do you have to say about that?
Jenifer: I think because of technology, more and more people are able to tell their stories and get out in the world. With the #MeToo movement, the Women’s March, I think more women are getting out — it’s our time. There was Hilary Clinton running for President, then we got Nancy Pelosy as the Speaker of the House, and now we just got, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. I happened to be in DC when she was confirmed and I witnessed h o w excited people were. Women are taking numbers right now. On this par ticular show, the writing is so good because there are three female leads, and their stories are so good. It is the time of the woman!
Streaming on Voot Select today