Tune into HBO’s political comedy Veep and you’ll find that there are few—if any—heroes. Set in in Washington, D.C. and, more specifically, the offices of Vice President Selina Meyer (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus), the show’s cast of characters are as cut-throat as they are inept. But even in this world of selfish—and endlessly entertaining—political monsters, one (debatably) lovable villain manages to stand out as the worst and most doofy of them all: Jonah Ryan, played by Timothy Simons.
Jonah—who, over the course of three seasons, has gone from White House staffer to political blogger to campaign advisor to (again) White House staffer, this time under Selina—manages to garner immediate disdain from anyone he meets. Armed only with misplaced cockiness and frat boy bravado (although it seems unlikely that any frat would ever take him), he often finds himself as the target of the Veep staffs’ best and cruelest insults. Among some of the most memorable:
“Jonah, you’re not even a man, you’re like an early draft of a man where they just sketched out a giant, mangled skeleton but they didn’t have time to add details like pigment or self-respect. You’re Frankenstein’s monster if his monster was made entirely of dead dicks.”
Dan: “I was trying to use Jonah for intelligence.”
Selina: “That’s like trying to use a croissant as a fucking dildo...It doesn’t do the job, and it makes a fucking mess.”
Jonah: “Look who it is. It’s your favorite Jonah.”
Amy: “You’re not even your mom’s favorite Jonah, Jonah.”
And yet, despite his aggressively obnoxious personality, you kind of end up liking Jonah (also known as “Jonad”) or, at the very least, wanting him to stick around so that he keeps getting expertly burned. And it’s that likability that compelled us to call up Timothy Simons—TV star and noted Tweet Beat fan—to talk about season four of Veep, working with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and why you shouldn’t bring up jizz or Hitler at the grocery store.
Jezebel: Straight off the bat, I can’t wait for the new season of Veep and am so excited to talk to you about Jonah. He’s so terrible and yet I often find myself feeling really sorry for him because, from my perspective, it seems like he just wants to feel accepted by the ol’ Veep gang. Is that complexity a choice you made as an actor or was it written into the character?
Timothy Simons: It’s always going to end up being a combination of both. Our writing staff is super talented so they’re going to have that stuff in there—they’re going to write those truly sad and pathetic moments. [Veep showrunner Armando Iannucci] really wanted the show to feel very real and rooted in real life, so just based on that, every single choice you make as an actor has to be backed by reality.
I guess I have done a lot of work going in and trying to support every single awful choice that Jonah makes with reason. Like, every awful choice he’s made, he’s made for a very specific reason. It’s weird to be speaking about it because it’s something—I don’t want to sound like I’m giving myself a giant compliment or whatever, but maybe that’s where that feeling of feeling sorry for him comes from. We really try to back everything up, even if it’s a horrible choice that the person’s making. Ha, I don’t know.
You make sure he has motivation.
Yeah. And I think he really does want to be a part of that gang. Or at least he wakes up every day and looks in the mirror and thinks he’s doing this right, even though it’s so clear to everyone else that he’s doing it wrong.
Do you think he’s jealous of or wants to be Dan? Because I feel like Jonah admires him as much as he hates him.
Reid [Scott] and I have talked about this a lot because we’ve had this sort of ongoing two-man thing ever since the beginning. I’ve always looked at it as that Jonah thinks he is a Dan. He thinks he’s this very attractive, very smooth, silver-tongued go-getter that’s destined for success. So I don’t think he’s jealous of him as much as he thinks they’re equals. It’s just that stuff has shaken out for Dan a little easier. He’s thinking, “I’m gonna get to whatever level Dan’s at.” It’s that thing like, “I’m not going to be jealous of your success. Mine will come in time.”
So it’s not at all aspirational.
Yeah, I think he looks to him as an equal even though it’s clear they’re not.
That’s even more sad!
It really is! Dan has this history and this backstory of being kind of a player in the dating world of D.C. and Reid has this smoky-eyed thing that makes you believe it could have happened. I truly believe that when Jonah looks in the mirror, he thinks he sees the same thing.
But in a way, they’re two sides of the same coin in that they’re both very selfish and motivated. It’s just that one—Dan—feels no human emotion and the other—Jonah—maybe feels too much.
It’s all based on wanting to be close to power, wanting to move up the food chain and wanting to not only be near important people, but ultimately to become an important person themselves. It’s all the same motivations, just a different way of being able to go about them. I’m the funhouse mirror version of Dan.
At the end of last season, it seemed like Jonah got what he wanted in that he’s finally back working at the White House (under Selina, no less!), but it’s sort of like getting a first class ticket on the Titanic. It might feel nice now, but soon that ship/administration is going to sink. What does that mean for Jonah? Is he excited to be a part of the team or will he try to find a way to get out ASAP?
For Jonah, I don’t think it matters who he’s working for so long as it’s the president. He’s not actively looking for an opportunity to jump ship. He’s back in the White House and I think he’s going to do everything he can to hold onto that build more influence and power out of what he’s given.
You have to give him credit that no matter what he’s given, he always goes after it and tries to make it bigger and make it—it’s like when he makes food choices on the campaign trail, he puts all of his effort and energy into it so you gotta give the guy credit for that!
But I don’t think he cares about the administration and—we don’t have a political party on the show, but even if the next administration was the opposing party, I think he’d be like, “Well, I just want to work at the White House and work for the president because that’s where all the power is.” He would just change his views.
He’s not really a man of strong integrity.
No. Oh, my god, no.
This is very unlikely, but do you think he’ll get a shot with Amy now that they’re working together?
You know, I don’t know. I think in Jonah’s perverted mind, they already have gotten together. It’s the whole “your perception is your reality” thing. He’s spread enough rumors—and I’ve put it into as many scenes as I can, mentioning that Amy and I dated. If you just say it enough and enough people believe it, it becomes true.
I’m sure Jonah’s done that super awful bro-y thing where someone’s like, “Oh did you seal the deal?” and he gives a little knowing nod or whatever. He would never deny it. So essentially, they did date and they dated for awhile, you know? If the perception is out there that they dated, he doesn’t actually have to date her. He can just use that as the foundation to go onto other women.
That sort of sums up what you were saying about his entire personality. He’s all “If I believe this, then it’s true.” Or “If I put it out there, everyone will believe it” when, in actuality, everyone is so hateful towards him.
Whenever people treat him like shit, I go with this idea that he’s not going to keep showing up unless he can rationalize that hatred to himself. So, as Jonah, I rationalize it as “People are jealous of me. The know where I’m going to end up. They’re jealous of my rise to power, they’re jealous that I can’t be killed—my political career will continue and they’re jealous of that.”
That’s my rationalization of how he’s getting out of bed in the morning.
He does take hits so well.
Maybe Jonah Ryan is the Great American Dream. He was almost a self-made millionaire!
He’s the Jay Gatsby of now.
Yeah! He had—is it that “there are no second acts in American lives” or that “there are second acts in American lives”? I can’t remember.
Neither can I, but either way, he’s killing it.
The dude is now on his third act and there definitely aren’t third acts in American lives. But Jonah just wakes up every day and keeps after it and somehow it works out for him.
That’s so inspiring!
It is. Jonah is an inspirational story. If you’re born into moderate wealth in the Northeast and have parents who can grandfather you into a lower ivy and then pull some strings with your incredibly rich uncle to get you onto the campaign trail, you can accomplish anything.
An inspirational tale for upper-class white men with few talents.
Armando Iannucci’s writing is so rapid-fire and his insults are so incredible. Do you have a favorite insult that’s been hurled at Jonah?
There have been so many of them, but I remember from last year when there was a moment where it looked like Jonah was going to get $4-6 million selling his website Ryantology and Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] said something like “Jonah with money? Oh, fuck. That’s like if Hitler could fly.” I really liked that one, but there are so many of them.
Sometimes the best insults are the dismissive ones—the ones that are less about the language and how harsh they are, but when you watch this horribly self-centered and selfish person (and every character is pretty selfish) completely dismiss someone’s entire life in one sentence. They’ll boil someone down to garbage and dismiss them. That’s even more insulting.
In the season three finale, Jonah is negotiating with Dan about everything he wants as a new member of Selina’s staff and he says he wants an assistant. Dan responds with this great, cutting line, like, “Oh, you want a Jonah.”
“And henceforth they will no longer be known as Jonahs.”
Yes! To have to work that into your own contract is so funny and brutal.
That’s one of those things where I mark Jonah’s progression a little bit. When he first came in, fresh off the campaign trail and into the White House as a junior staffer, I don’t think he would have been able to spot that Dan might do that to him—that Dan might hire an assistant named Jonah just to do that to him. But he has stuck around long enough that he’s actually become a little bit of a political animal! He notices things like that and is able to call them out. Little moments like that are fun—they show the growth of a really awful character.
He’s wised up!
He’s wised up a little, for sure.
When fans approach you, do they try to be mean to match the tone of the show? Or are people generally gracious?
Every now and then, they’ll throw out an insult. “Jonad” is always the quick in-and-out. People will say, “Oh, hey, Jonad” because that’s the quickest one. If you start going into the longer ones that are more set up, you can’t always—if you’re in the grocery store and you bring up “if Hitler could fly” or “the Jolly Green Jizz Face,” you’re either bringing up Hitler or semen in a grocery store to a stranger.
You’ve already walked away by the time the whole line is out of their mouth.
I don’t want to tell anybody how to live their life, but in broad strokes, I’d say avoid referencing Hitler and semen in the grocery store.
That’s a fair rule.
That’s fair! I feel like that’s fair. Um, wait, shit, what was the question?
I wanted to know if people Jonah you in public.
Honestly, it usually goes away pretty quickly and they say they like the show and we talk for a second. People usually aren’t awful about it. But on Twitter, I’ll put something out and I’ll get back, “Oh, whatever, Jonah, you fucking whatever.” I get a lot of it on Twitter, but I don’t know necessarily if the hateful responses from people online are character specific. They might just be doing what a lot of the garbage people on Twitter do.
They’re being assholes, not fans.
Yeah, maybe they’re just being assholes! Maybe they’ve never seen the show and are just like “Fuck you.”
So I’d be remiss not to ask you what it’s like working with Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
It’s hard to really sum up how great she is because now, after four seasons, she still has not waned. We’ve become friends over the course of the show and it really is amazing to work with someone like her. Clearly, she’s a generational talent, if you look at it. She works incredibly hard and she has a mind for not just comedy, but for performance of whatever kind. There’s this thing, especially when we’re building scripts and rehearsing them—it’s not just that you can throw to Julia and she’ll make it funny. She will make a scene real and have emotional weight and it will also be funny. She works tirelessly to do that. It shows with the fact that she was on Seinfeld, which is an incredibly incredible show, and then she follows that up with Old Christine, which is a different style of show that runs five years and wins Emmys, and then she goes into Veep. She can put herself into any situation and succeed because she is just really fucking talented and she works hard.
One of the great things about Veep is how the ensemble cast supports each other’s jokes and gives each other room to shine. It’s impressive that Julia, as such veteran celebrity, is still able to do that.
She’s confident enough that she doesn’t need to try and take the show from everybody else. People love watching her so she’s not one of these actors who feels like she needs to grip onto it tightly or else they’ll lose the audience. She lets everyone have moments and she doesn’t try to, uh, “star bump.” That’s a term I’m making up right now.
I like it.
She knows it will help the show if everyone on screen is put in the best position to be funny and entertaining. You don’t run into any of those weird things you hear about and that I’ve been very lucky to never have to deal with. Like joke stealing. You hear about that, like, “Oh he got a laugh, so that’s my joke now.” That doesn’t exist on Veep. It’s a whole process devoid of ego from the writers, from Armando and from Julia. We all put that stuff to the side.
That’s so heartwarming.
It’s pretty stupid, actually. We’re kind of a fuddy-duddy cast. We shoot in Baltimore and all know each other super well and it all is kind of heartwarming. We do love each other. We go out to dinner and movies together and we’re an “early to bed, early to rise” cast. Nobody’s ever going to be telling stories about the ridiculous parties they had with the Veep cast in Baltimore. It’s a couple glasses of wine and in bed by 10.
Oh, god. I have the most insipid and obnoxious smile right now. Were you into Armando’s work before Veep?
I was not clued into until after I auditioned and got a call. This is one thing where if you know—you live in New York City, right?
So you probably know actors or have talked to enough of them to know that auditioning is the worst fucking thing in the entire world. The best course of action after auditioning is to never fucking think about it again. Because if you think about it, it just makes you feel awful. So I had forgotten that I auditioned for Veep and then I got a call that I was going to be called back and was going to read in a room with Armando and Julia.
It was then that I started—I wanted to be more familiar with his style because I was going to be in a room with him. So I started watching everything he had done and it started with In the Loop because that was the most accessible thing, so I started there and it was truly amazing movie. It was one of those things where, as I was watching it, for the first time, I was like, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do if I’m not able to work with these people.” For me, it was like, “This is everything, comedy-wise, that I want to do. It’s encapsulated in this style.”
So after I watched In the Loop, I went and got everything. I even bought a region 2 DVD player and ordered from Amazon UK just so I could watch The Thick of It and The Armando Iannucci Shows. I’m still making my way through Time Trumpet.
His sketch show is one of the most sad, intense and funny things that I’ve ever seen.
It really is! And he’s been working long enough that nothing will ever ring false with him. He’s really going to boil it down and have it dignify something and that’s why people have that reaction to him. He’s not just going to put in something like, “Yeah, fine, let’s just do this.”
Yeah, there are never any throw-away lines.
So I was looking at your IMDB page and it says you’re in the Goosebumps movie!
I am! Yeah!
Are you ready for that responsibility? You’re shouldering a lot of nostalgia.
I think I was about six months too old to be fully Goosebumps’d. Does that make sense? There were people in my own grade who loved Goosebumps, but I read different—I’ve always read a lot, but somehow I didn’t really read Goosebumps. Maybe I read one or two, but was just six months too old when they first came out.
And that does not mean I wasn’t super excited to be involved with Goosebumps because I really was, but I have a weird gap in my nostalgia history.
You can detach yourself a little.
So the last thing I want to say is that, as a blogger, I’m very sad that Jonah’s blogging career was so short-lived.
It was short-lived! And I remember—I know this is your parent company—but someone forwarded me a Gawker article that was like “We Have to Talk About Jonah.”
Ha, that article.
Here’s the thing! And I hope it’s ok to say this, but when I saw that, I was like, “If Gawker’s telling me that I’m doing something wrong, that probably means we’re doing something right.”
I think you just struck a nerve. You hit too close to home.
It was fun to do that, to have that blogging off-shoot, because in modern day politics, blogs like Drudge Report and, on a larger scale, The Huffington Post, are part in parcel to the political process. You can’t talk about politics without talking about that part of it. 10-20 years ago you could have, but now you can’t have a political show without it. So it was fun to have that little off-shoot.
For better or worse, it’s there.
For worse for Gawker!
Eh, they got over it. Well, those are all of my questions, but it was very cool to talk to you.
No problem at all. I’m glad it worked out! I think it worked out because I met Erin Gloria Ryan on Twitter. I made a joke where I was like, “It’s FUCKING BULLSHIT that I haven’t been on Jezebel’s Tweet Beat yet” and somebody made her aware of that.
Everyone wanted me to ask you about Tweet Beat.
I loved that. I fucking laughed so hard when I saw that. Like “Who the fuck is Timothy Simons?” Oh, my god, that made me so happy.
Welcome to the big leagues of the feminist blogosphere, Tim.
I should just retire!
You’re too far in it now.
I got where I need to be.
Soon someone’s going to write a think piece about you. You might be called “problematic.”
I think I’m pretty unproblematic right now. I haven’t become problematic yet.
Yeah, it seems like you’re doing pretty well.
Maybe I’ll become problematic for six months just to switch it up.
Yes, please give us something to work with.
Image via HBO.
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