Jeremy Beiler: gay comedy writer on 'I Love That For You'

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday May 24, 2022
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Jeremy Beiler with Vanessa Bayer on the set of 'I Love That For You'
Jeremy Beiler with Vanessa Bayer on the set of 'I Love That For You'

Have you ever been channel-surfing and found yourself enthralled by an item —jewelry, a purse, an ensemble, home décor or kitchen utensils— on a home-shopping network? What about becoming so captivated by the grinning, well-lit pitch people that you don't even think of changing the channel? Then you realize that you're dialing the phone and reaching for your credit card.

If so, you're sure to adore the new Showtime series "I Love That For You," co-created by gay writer/actor Jeremy Beiler and "Saturday Night Live" favorite Vanessa Bayer. Bayer plays the lead character Joanna, a young woman who survived childhood cancer and dreamed of becoming a spokesperson for a home shopping show.

Co-starring Molly Shannon, Jenifer Lewis, Matt Rogers, and "My So-Called Life"'s Bess Armstrong (as Joanna's mother), "I Love That For You" is a dark comedy that allows Bayer to draw on her many-layered acting skills. Jeremy Beiler was gracious enough to answer a few questions shortly after "I Love That For You" premiered on Showtime.

Jeremy Beiler  

Gregg Shapiro: Jeremy, did you know that you wanted to be a comedy writer while you were attending Columbia College in Chicago, and while you were in Chicago, did you partake in the city's famous comedy and improv scene?
Jeremy Beiler: My interest and involvement in comedy actually predates college. I did do some comedy in Chicago; I did a little bit with Improv Olympics. But previous to that, in high school (in Madison, Wisconsin), I actually had a sketch comedy, public access television show with my high school friends. Our moms would drive us down to the TV station and we would make sketch comedy every weekend. That same sketch group — we all went to separate colleges, but we'd come back in the summers and continue to make stuff. Then we all moved to New York together and continued in New York in the early aughts, doing comedy in New York. That really the biggest influence on me, that group.

You co-created the Showtime series "I Love That For You" with Vanessa Bayer. Did you first meet her when you were a writer for "SNL," and if so, do you remember what your first impression of her was?
Yes, I met her at "SNL." My first impression of her, really, was as an audience member prior to that. I just loved watching her. I was such a big fan. As a viewer, I thought she was so hilarious. She's from the Midwest (Ohio), as I am, so we kind of had that Midwestern way of being and that kind of connection right off the bat. I was there for a year and a half before we really started working together. I actually just remembered now that I got her old desk when I first came to "SNL." She moved to a different office and I sat at her old desk, which is kind of fun [laughs]. About a year and a half in, which is probably like 2016 or maybe 2015, I can't quite remember, she pitched this idea to Ryan Gosling for the Christmas show about a couple who still believed in Santa Claus.

The "Santa Baby" sketch, right?
Yes. I was like, I think that's a great idea. I think we had written some stuff together previously that didn't necessarily get on air. But we would have so much fun staying up late writing together, even if stuff didn't get on. But that one was our first sketch that just went really well, and we worked really hard on and was extremely fun.

Ryan Gosling was great. Then it connected with audiences. That was the first moment where we realized, "Oh, we have something fun here that might work." We started writing together every week. We had some other stuff on the air. I would often write her "Weekend Updates." It felt very organic and natural. Then we left "SNL" at the same time and we both realized we, separately, had ideas for a show set in the world of "QVC."

Jenifer Lewis, Vanessa Bayer and Molly Shannon
on the set of 'I Love That For You'  

When did you and Vanessa come up with the concept for "I Love That For You," and how long did it take for it to come to fruition?
We were having brunch at some point in New York in probably 2017 or maybe 2018 and Vanessa said she had this idea for a show set at "QVC" and I, probably three years prior to that, had begun writing a script of my own set in the world of "QVC." At that point, we started developing it for fun and writing it with no real destination in mind. It was just enjoyable for us.

We would get together and put together a pitch. Shows (in development) have what they call a "bible," and we called ours the Torah [laughs], and we started writing our show Torah. We were writing characters and plotlines and ideas, figuring out Vanessa's character. We pitched it together, first to Michael Showalter and (media company) Annapurna, and they really wanted to work on it. Then we got (writer) Jessi Klein and then we all went out to networks and got a few offers, but Showtime was incredibly enthusiastic, and it felt like such a great home for it. We went to Showtime. But all told, this was a five-plus years process, because we also had year-long COVID delays. It took quite a long time.

In "I Love That For You," we get to see Vanessa's acting range up close, such as her ability to go from high comedy to drama in one breath. The scene with her character Joanna and Molly Shannon's Jackie, when she talks about the bracelet, is pure gold. What's it like for you to watch that in Vanessa?
It's so thrilling. She such an amazing actor and comedian. It's just so rare that somebody can be so undeniably funny and then also emotionally open and grounded. It's a wonder of the world to watch her.

It's also thrilling, not just as someone who makes the show, but also someone who gets to watch the show that we make, but even more than that it opens up a fertile world in terms of what you're able to write and what you can create in the show and the plot lines and the moments when you know that somebody like that can step up like Babe Ruth and just hit a home run every time. You start to take bigger swings in the writing. You start to do more interesting, more fun, riskier and more exciting writing. That's the best feeling in the world.

Matt Rogers in 'I Love That For You'  

Vanessa's own experience with childhood leukemia figures prominently in "I Love That For You." Do you think that mitigates the negativity of the way that Joanna plays the cancer card for personal gain?
It's partly her story. She brings all the authenticity to that storyline. She lived it. So, I think that's an ingredient there. In terms of mitigating the negativity, I don't know that our expectation is that because she went through this that the character gets a free pass for being somewhat monstrous. I think it's very important to us, and it was in developing this show, that if this is a person who's going to make this move, and is going to do this, it's going to have real consequences. What she does is awful [laughs], and it will be portrayed as such.

While not necessarily a gay show, "I Love That For You"'s gayness is unavoidable. From gay actor Matt Rogers' Darcy to the fierce Jenifer Lewis, who was one of Bette Midler's Harlettes, as Patricia...
...oh, my God [laughs]!

I've been around a while, so I know all this kind of stuff.
I know that, too! [Laughs] when I told my husband that we got Jenifer Lewis he just absolutely lost his shit.

And I'm going out on a limb here about Perry, who might be a queen, or just Southern.

Can you please say something about the queerness of "I Love That For You?"
I love that you're picking up on Perry's situation, which is sort of intentionally ambiguous, but will go somewhere fun. I guess I didn't overthink it, really. I'm gay and somehow the character of Darcy was very easy for me to write [laughs].

I also think when you talk about Joanna's label of being sort of the cancer person; it's not in any way comparable, really, but I think there is a universal understanding of when you are something, people label you as that. "Okay, that's what you are."

For me, that was a little bit of a way into the character, just from some of my own experiences. "Okay, you're gay. Now that's your thing. You're a gay person." There's that aspect underpinning some of the show, too. But I would say we didn't overthink the queerness. Matt is an incredible performer and we wanted to uplift and shine what he naturally does.

Also, hopefully, it modulates the well-trod area of the gay assistant. Doing something a little more interesting with him, as well. There are a lot of queer people involved in the show, and it feels like a natural extension of the human beings that are making the show to have some of that be on screen.

I previously mentioned Molly Shannon, who is also an "SNL" alum. The part of Jackie plays like it was written for her. Was it? And what has been like working with her?
It's one of the great pleasures of my life to work with her; such an honor. She's unbelievable. I bow at her feet. She's so good.

We developed the show and pitched it and had characters fleshed out up to episode one, basically, before we had it cast. We didn't, at the outset, write the character for her. But, thereafter, once you do a pilot, you spend all this time building an entire season and every episode. It's almost like that's where the building of the character begins. At that point, we did have Molly and so the season is written for her. It is written very much with her in mind. She, just like Vanessa, can do anything. She's unbelievable. It's been amazing to work with her. I'm so grateful.

Jeremy Beiler and his husband Jason Kim  

"I Love That For You" is part of a long tradition of workplace comedies. Do you have a favorite that you looked to for inspiration?
No [laughs], I don't really. I think there's a reason that workplace comedies exist. Partly because we all go to workplaces, and we can all identify with it. For me, the inspiration for the show in that world was much more my own experiences in workplaces [laughs].

The show lovingly pokes fun of the home shopping cable networks phenomenon. Have you ever purchased anything from HSN or QVC?
Oh, absolutely I have [laughs]. What's funny is I started watching it many years ago as kind of a joke. It's like you can't look away. What are these people doing? What is this? It's so mesmerizing. I watched initially to laugh, and then I'm like, "Why am I not turning this off? Why is this still on? Why do I want it to stay on [laughs]?" And then you're like, "Well, that actually is a pretty throw blanket made by Catherine Zeta-Jones' company, Casa Zeta-Jones. Maybe I will buy that [laughs]."

Your husband Jason Kim, whom you mentioned, is also a writer, for TV and other media. What are the challenges and rewards of being married to someone working in the same industry?
Oh, my gosh. Well, our pillow talk is really all about our agents [laughs]. It's amazing, actually. He's an incredible writer and an incredible person. One of the joys is that you get to come home and talk to somebody who actually understands every aspect of this business. There's a shorthand there.

He's a huge reason I'm successful in any way, because he is able to offer me, from such a loving place, this great advice, and great input on how to navigate this career and even how to write certain things. We run ideas by each other, and we share things sometimes. The joys of it are being able to connect in that way and be seen and be understood.

To also have essentially free punch-ups at home over dinner table [laughs]. I would say one of the challenges is that we can get very [laughs]'s very important for us to have real lives, to not have work encompass every possible corner of everything. One of the challenges is leaving work at the door sometimes, not having that be everything.

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