Vanessa Bayer's 'I Love That For You' is a hit, inspired by her childhood leukemia and home-shopping network obsession

·6 min read

If you’re not already in love with Saturday Night Live veteran Vanessa Bayer, you will be after watching her new Showtime comedy I Love That For You (on Crave in Canada April 29), alongside fellow SNL alum Molly Shannon and Black-ish star Jenifer Lewis, based on Bayer’s experience with childhood leukemia and her love for home-shopping television.

“When I was 15 I was diagnosed with childhood leukemia and...obviously it was difficult, but also, I think something that I really found about it was that there were some perks with it, I could really use it to sort of get away with a lot of stuff,” Bayer said ahead of the series premiere. “I would come into school late all the time and our attendance woman was really strict, but with me, she'd be like, ‘go ahead.’ I just got sort of special treatment and I think I really sort of capitalized on that.”

“That's something we really wanted to explore in this show too, is the idea that when you're going through a difficult time it's hard, but also you get treated in such a special way that sometimes, when that time is over, or when people forget about it, you sort of miss the way that you were treated.”

Vanessa Bayer as Joanna Gold in I LOVE THAT FOR YOU. (Tony Rivetti Jr./SHOWTIME)
Vanessa Bayer as Joanna Gold in I LOVE THAT FOR YOU. (Tony Rivetti Jr./SHOWTIME)

In I Love That For You Bayer plays Joanna Gold, who is a survivor of childhood leukemia. When Joanna was sick as a child, she would watch the home-shopping channel Special Value Network (SVN), mesmerized by what she was seeing, which ultimately helped comfort her during that difficult time. Now an adult working at Costco in Cleveland with her dad, Joanna gets an opportunity to live her ultimate dream, to be a host on SVN.

Arriving for duty, Joanna is bright eyed and bushy tailed, just excited to be in the same room with all these people she watches on TV. Her new boss Patricia (Lewis) enlists SVN icon Jackie Stilton (Shannon) to show Joanna the ropes.

“My character, Patricia, is pretty much large and in charge,” Lewis said. “She is an ice queen and she sort of moves all of her employees around, she plays with their heads a little bit, and she keeps them all on edge so they can do their job better.”

“She has to keep it moving. She has to sell, she's all about the money,...that's who she is. But in real life, of course, she's got a big heart, and still a hot mess.”

Jenifer Lewis as Patricia in I LOVE THAT FOR YOU. (Nicole Wilder/SHOWTIME)
Jenifer Lewis as Patricia in I LOVE THAT FOR YOU. (Nicole Wilder/SHOWTIME)

At the end of the first episode of I Love That For You, it’s Joanna’s time to host her first live show, which doesn’t go very well and Patricia fires her. In a state of panic, seeing her dream flash before her eyes, Joanna yells out “I have cancer.”

When it sinks in that she said “have” instead of “had,” Joanna’s put in this awkward situation where she got her job back, everyone is being far nicer to her, but Patricia wants Joanna to use her “current” cancer diagnosis as a selling tool on SVN to reel in the sales, which we see play out in the following two episodes.

Bayer, a fan of home-shopping networks in real life, got the opportunity to go to QVC with her co-creator Jeremy Beiler for the series, instantly seeing the space filled with screens of all the countries where QVC was broadcasting, and she got to meet hosts Jane Treacy and Mary Beth Roe, who Bayer has watched since she was a kid.

“They would get crazy calls sometimes, viewers would call them, and they'd have to handle a lot of stuff at once, and it was just all so interesting to see,” Bayer explained. “I've just always been very kind of mesmerized by the hosts and the way they sell things, and the way they talk, and how kind of glamorous they are.”

“I always really loved that world, a lot of times the hosts, because they have to be constantly talking and stuff, they end up sharing really interesting, funny things about themselves, which I thought was a really fun area for comedy.”

Molly Shannon as Jackie Stilton in I LOVE THAT FOR YOU, (Tony Rivetti Jr./SHOWTIME)
Molly Shannon as Jackie Stilton in I LOVE THAT FOR YOU, (Tony Rivetti Jr./SHOWTIME)

'There's nothing really that is off limits with comedy'

While the concept of a comedy focused on someone who had childhood cancer, but is pretending to currently have cancer, may be difficult to grasp by a summary alone, the first three episodes of I Love That For You are truly some of the most appealing, innovative and just downright funny moments we’ve seen on television. The collection of employees at the home-shopping network is reminiscent of some of the early 30 Rock episodes but not at all in a way that seems redundant of any previous workplace-based comedy shows.

“I think there's nothing really that is off limits with comedy,” Vanessa Bayer said. “When I was sick I would joke around a lot with my friends about it,... it reminded my friends that I was still the same person, which I think sometimes when someone gets sick or is going through something that's scary, people sort of forget that they're the same.”

“I think in some ways, that's probably why I went into comedy… It's really nice to be able to joke about things that are difficult and scary, because it just, I think, makes us all feel better… I hope that it really makes people laugh and makes that stuff feel a little less scary.”

Jenifer Lewis really says it best, I Love That For You “is a hit.”

“I've never heard of any of these networks doing a show and getting it on the air so quickly,” Lewis said. “That always tells you how excited they are about it.”

“Molly Shannon and Vanessa Bayer, coming out of that Saturday Night Live world, I had to step up to the plate, they are comedic giants. Their timing is…so quick, the wit is so tight. They know exactly where to land it.”

“It’s [Vanessa Bayer’s] baby so you can go to her and ask her anything,” Molly Shannon added. “Also because she's from the world of Saturday Night Live, she loves improvising in scenes.”

“It's just great when you have a person who's starring and who's also a writer, it just makes it so easy.”

Showtime’s I Love That For You premieres Friday, April 29 (on Crave in Canada) with subsequent episodes dropping Fridays

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