This post discusses plot points from the Veep episode “Library.”
In the season-six premiere of Veep, Jonah Ryan, so often the one getting burned, has an amazing self-burn: “It’s not nice, Dan, to make fun of other people who are supposed to be your friend,” he yells during a CBS This Morning interview with Dan Egan, “just because I look like a penis.” Jonah, you see, is bald. Initially, he lost his hair because of testicular cancer. Now, he’s just keeping his head bare to win sympathy.
Though we do see a hint of stubble in the second episode, Timothy Simons, the actor who plays the obnoxious gofer turned freshman congressman, is aware that shaving his noggin opened up the door for even more insults thrown his way. In fact, the penis one hit particularly close to home when he went to the gym once. “Somebody took a picture of me and a friend and I was wearing this headband and I saw the picture and I was like, ‘Oh Jesus, it’s legit,’” he said. “I look like a 6-foot 5-inch dick.”
Simons talked with us about his escapades this season and Donald Trump looms over his fictional TV show.
The A.V. Club: How did the news come to you that you would have to shave your head?
Timothy Simons: It was something that they kind of planted seeds of doing over the summer. I think I talked to Dave [Mandel, showrunner] and he made the joke, “How do you feel about shaving your head?” Then a couple months later they actually called me in and were like, “Hey, come into the office and sit down for a second.” I was like, “Oh, I think I know exactly what this is about.” But, still, it was one of those things where—kind of like everything—you’re like, “This will be super funny.” But I did the thing where I was like, “All right, cool, I’ll take one night to think about it.” Like you should do with every big decision. But it ended up being a pretty easy decision, just because I figured if I shaved my head and I have a really fucked-up looking head then it will be funny. But if I shave my head and I have a completely normal looking head then it will be funny. It’s not that big of a body modification commitment for an acting job. But it was fun, it was really fun to do. I liked the commitment aspect of it.
AVC: You posted a video that even with the shaved head it took a really look time for makeup to do your eyebrows and everything else.
TS: Yeah, it did. I assumed this is going to be great. I’m going to be called with just enough time to put on some clothes and run in there. But no, for the first couple of episodes they had to cover my eyebrows. Because I think I’m basing this off of what a kid named Lenny in the fourth grade told me, [which] was if you shave off your eyebrows they never grow back, and I’ve never bothered to look that up to see if it’s true. So I didn’t want to shave my eyebrows. It ended up taking forever.
AVC: What was your reaction upon seeing your shaved head at first?
TS: My head was normal-shaped enough that it was like, okay, it’s just normal, shaved-head funny. But there were times when I was like, this is the first time I’ve ever looked like a badass. There was one moment where I had a shaved head and a full beard and I was like, “This is the most badass I’ve ever looked in my life.” If I just didn’t talk ever, I might be able to pull this off. I don’t know if this is a funny story, but I remember thinking—I guess anxiety has kicked up ever since I had kids—at one point, “What if this is one of those things where everyone is going to be like, ‘Ha ha ha, this is going to be so funny, he’s going to shave his head.’ And then we just shave my head and it’s clear I have a brain tumor?” Everyone was going to be like, “Oh man, this is going to be so great,” and then the room was just going to go silent, you know. It ended up not happening. I feel like maybe that’s depressing.
AVC: Your hair is starting to grow back incrementally on the show even in episode two. Was that a whole process too?
TS: I showed up a couple of weeks later and [producer Morgan Sackett] said, “Jesus, your hair grows like a werewolf.” That was the only thing. The season tracks week to week except there is this one time jump that was like three weeks. Basically we shot one episode a week so it really worked out so wherever my hair was at the beginning of the week we just did, but there was always, “How much do we cut it back?” and all of that. Luckily, apparently I have some sort of gene that allows my hair to grow back super fast so it just continues growing throughout the rest of the year.
AVC: Jonah is really the only character, besides Ben and Kent, who is still in D.C. politics. What was your reaction to your storyline?
TS: Even not taking Donald Trump into account—because last year when the storyline was playing out and over the summer as they were breaking stories no one was really taking Donald Trump seriously—so even taking that aspect out of that it seems crazy that somebody like him would succeed in politics because he is so universally despised and because he so often says the wrong thing and has absolutely no moral code outside of just wanting to be powerful and influential or whatever those things that Jonah goes after. But untalented people have been failing upward in Washington for a really long time.
I called a bunch of Congress people—some staffers, and congressmen and congresswomen—just to kind of talk with them about what it’s like to be a freshman in Congress over the summer. I’ve always sort of viewed Jonah as more of a Ted Cruz kind of guy. Sort of universally despised, but falls ass backwards into this weird influence simply out of his own idiocy. One of the jokes that I heard on one of those calls was about Ted Cruz and I think it applies to Jonah. Which is, he’s so unpopular that if you shot Ted Cruz on the Senate floor you wouldn’t be able to find a witness, which I thought was a perfect encapsulation of Jonah. But you kind of unfortunately at least have to, for the moment, pay attention to Ted Cruz because he has this sort of weird groundswell of voters behind him. I guess the long and short of this is that it seems outlandish for someone like Jonah to be in this situation, but if you look at even pre-Trump there are plenty of examples of absolute idiots succeeding in this world.
AVC: Do you think Donald Trump in the White House softens the joke that Jonah has made it this far, because we have a president who has made it this far?
TS: Jesus Christ, I don’t know. I mean, I do suppose it changes what any political satire, what any political joke can count as a gaffe or a possible career-ending move. It changes that. It changes what counts. I don’t know, I do feel like day to day even though Trump is so terrible and ridiculous, day to day we still laugh at Jason Chaffetz and we still laugh at Ted Cruz and we still laugh at those guys, at just how bad they are at their jobs.
I do feel like there is this weird separation, like Trump almost gets graded on a curve that everybody else doesn’t, if that makes sense. We’ve seen it in the last 24 hours—somehow Bill O’Reilly is going to get fired because [there’s] the idea that Donald Trump can do these things and be the president and Bill O’Reilly can do these things and he should lose his job on Fox News. Somehow these two things do not equal each other. There’s a better way of wording that and somebody else has done it.
TS: There was also another joke. There was actually another “pussy” joke that had to get changed too because the fucking “grab ’em by the pussy” stuff. If you can imagine a group of writers on set reading the news and being like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” How many fucking lines are we going to have to change because this idiot keeps moving the fucking goalpost? But I don’t think it was one of those things where we were shooting the scene and there was like a mad rush. We probably had alts for it already. Especially in our show—we don’t really want to comment on anything too directly. Like anything that brings these two parallel universes too close together we go away from it immediately. So I think it happened a few times, but it is really fucking unbelievable that we had to cut a golden shower joke because it was too close to something the president has done.
AVC: And a pussy joke.
TS: And a pussy joke. We’re just getting beaten to a pulp. Not the show, just the electorate. I’m sorry, I want to be very clear, the electorate.
AVC: The cancer story is so typically Veep in that Jonah is the one person who doesn’t get your sympathy for going through cancer.
TS: Something that I brought up—I don’t think it ever made it in—but I like the idea that people would respond to his cancer in this way. They would be unhappy that it didn’t kill him, but they would at least have some solace in that it possibly shortened his life expectancy. It’s cancer and he still doesn’t get sympathy for it.
AVC: And it is ball cancer on top of that.
TS: Of course. Because he didn’t follow his own advice on “check ’em, don’t neglect ’em.”
AVC: Do you think having gone through that has changed him at all?
AVC: No, absolutely not, in the same way that I don’t think his molestation at the hands of Teddy [Patton Oswalt] changed him at all. He never saw the one-to-one connection of his own serial sexual harassment of other people. He never put that together. Related, it’s funny, cancer gets the one character who in a sea of unsympathetic people is possibly the most. I like the idea that there are always going to be moments throughout the season—and I feel like it’s happened in every season in the past—in which you see some human reaction from him and you do start to feel sympathy or empathy or you start to feel a little bit for him but he will immediately make you pay for that.
AVC: In the second episode, you see him be so hypocritical when he talks about his surgery but refuses to listen to a woman talk about her mastectomy. But you see him have a connection with a woman at the end and you think, maybe there is hope for us all. And then Dan comes and takes that away from him. That’s exactly one of those moments.
TS: Yeah, there is an odd sweetness to that guy that will in that moment maybe make you forget. Like, oh, maybe he will find love. Oh, wait, 15 minutes ago he was asking a woman to not talk about her mastectomy because he thought it was gross.
AVC: Being in Congress and shaving your head opens up the door for so many insults thrown Jonah’s way. Is there any one that sticks out as a favorite?
TS: Oh my god. I’m going to have to come back to you on that because the only ones I can remember are from last year. For me it’s always the simple ones. Like from last year I think the worst one that’s ever been said was the simplest one: “He’s the wrong shape.” That the one that really sticks with me. I know that there were some good ones. I’m going to email the writers and see if they have one that sticks out in their heads.
[Simons got back to us and noted that he gets called a “fire damaged department store mannequin” and “Jean-Luc Retard.” He added: “Jesus I take a lot of shit on this show.” —ed.]
AVC: Jonah has been on this improbable rise. Is that going to continue?
TS: Our show’s funnier when everybody loses, but oddly it’s a little funnier when Jonah wins. You would expect Jonah to lose that congressional run, but it’s just a little bit funnier if a guy like that wins. I think you really do start to see Jonah get a little bit of that begrudging Ted Cruz-like base of support even though he might be hated by everybody in Washington, but for some reason the voters of New Hampshire have connected with his bull-headed, infantile behavior. I think it will be fun. You do get to see a little bit of swagger with Jonah getting a little bit of power in Congress.
AVC: You’ve said the show doesn’t want to interact with real-life politics. But what was the experience of doing the show while seeing the election unfold?
TS: I think we were finishing up the third episode when actual election night happened. I think there are a couple of things. Number one, I’ve always been somebody that’s been interested in politics. Being on the show has made me a lot more informed going into it. I know a lot more about government than I did. It’s also given me just a lot of access to smart people who know a lot about it and who I can ask questions. I am sort of ill-informed about a lot of things. That has been a great thing for me personally, just being less ignorant myself. But also it’s a funny thing. I think people meet us and they assume that we know a lot more about politics than we actually do. People will really get into it. I’m like, I don’t really know a lot about tariff reform or export trade reform. That’s really not something I know about.
When it came to the actual election of Donald Trump, comedians are comedians because, inherently, no matter how you choose to cover it there is a very deep well of empathy and that’s just how we deal with it. I think the reason you saw artists and comedians respond to the election of Donald Trump the way they did is because it is horrifying for people that have that sort of empathy.
When it came to actual election night, that night I don’t think anyone was actually thinking about the show. Nobody was really thinking, “Wow, how does this affect our show and what we do with political satire and what does that mean moving forward?” Eventually we all had to have that conversation. I think the night of it was really just like, this is going to affect a lot of people, a lot of marginalized people, a lot of people who might not have a lot of political power. It’s going to affect their lives very heavily before it ever affects mine. That night I drank a lot of wine and smoked some cigarettes and tried to figure out what the fuck—I have a 5-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. There was that part of me that was, “What the fuck do these guys do going forward with this?”