How Vanessa Bayer's Childhood Battle With Leukemia Inspired 'I Love That for You' (Exclusive)

Vanessa Bayer

The co-creator and star talks to ET about her new Showtime home-shopping comedy.

Five years after leaving Saturday Night Live, Vanessa Bayer has co-created and is starring in her first original series, I Love That for You, which is loosely inspired by the actress’ own childhood battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. 

On the Showtime comedy, Bayer plays an aspiring home-shopping program host named Joanna Gold, who has overcome her own childhood battle with cancer and is determined to be a top seller like her idol, longtime SVN host Jackie Stilton (Molly Shannon). But when her job at SVN is on the line, she says that her cancer has returned, much to the surprise of her colleagues as well as her own parents, played by Bess Armstrong and Matt Malloy. 

“This character had childhood leukemia and I had childhood leukemia,” Bayer tells ET, explaining that she always wanted to write something about that time in her life because not only was it a difficult time but it proved to be interesting and darkly funny, especially in the way she was treated. “I would sort of use the fact that I was sick to get special treatment and I would sort of capitalize on the perks of having cancer.” 

She adds, “So, I thought it would be fun to do something where I explored that element about it,” especially when it all goes away. “We sort of love the special treatment that we get and when that time is over, when people forget about it, we’re like, ‘Well, where’s my special treatment?’” she explains. 


In addition to that, Bayer is a lifelong fan of the home-shopping experience. “I’ve always thought it was such a fun world,” she shares, revealing that one time, “I bought a ring that was rose gold and yellow gold. I’ve always kind of loved that stuff.” 

It turns out that she shared that passion with co-creator Jeremy Beiler. “We both realized we both were really interested in this world,” she says of bringing their two ideas together. “So, we decided to do a show about home shopping together and we realized that putting these elements of my life and having my character have a similar experience would be a great way to build the show.” 

As a result, the snappy workplace comedy sees Joanna not only get a second chance at stardom, but also navigate unexpected perks and attention that comes with battling cancer while also trying to quickly learn the ropes of SVN. 

Quickly coming to her aid are backstage producer Beena (Special’s Punam Patel) and stage manager Jordan (Greek’s Paul James), who help her around the office as Joanna tries to stay in the good graces of SVN CEO Patricia (Jenifer Lewis) and fend off her right-hand man, Darcy (Matt Rogers of Las Culturistas), and competing host Beth Ann (Ayden Mayeri). 

“Matt Rogers and Punam Patel are just so incredible. The whole cast is just so wonderful,” Bayer says of the ensemble, adding that they wrote the series “in a way that would make people laugh out loud.” 

“She’s a great writer and she wrote a killer, great script with Jeremy,” Shannon shares. “The whole project is fantastic.” 


As for the humor infused into Bayer’s series, as well as her seven seasons on SNL, she credits her health scare for teaching her the meaning of comic relief. By making jokes about her cancer, she found it helped remind people in her life that she was still the same person. “I still loved to laugh,” she says. “And I think it was the thing that helped them relate to me and help us just get through this all together.” 

And when it comes to those perks she referred to, Bayer admits she cashed in at times -- and so did her family. “I would come into school late all the time and the attendance woman would ask no questions,” she recalls, before sharing, “I got my dad out of a speeding ticket once because he said he can only think about his daughter who had leukemia and the cop said, ‘OK.’ 

She adds, “My family would use it as an excuse so much. And we would see if we could get away with it. We called it, ‘Dropping the L bomb.’ It would really make us laugh.” 

I Love That for You premieres Friday, April 29 on demand and the Showtime app before its on-air debut Sunday, May 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT.