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Comedy writer Jessi Klein reflects on the disorienting experience of new motherhood

Klein was the head writer of Inside Amy Schumer and is one of the lead voices in the animated Netflix series Big Mouth. She has a new book of essays about motherhood called I'll Show Myself Out. Klein talks about how having a baby made her feel like a stranger in her own body and life. "There's just no way to comprehend how completely your old identity vanishes," Klein says.

42:19

Other segments from the episode on April 27, 2022

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Wednesday, April 27: Interview with Jessi Klein; Review of Gaslit and The Offer

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

When my guest, Jessi Klein, won an Emmy for her role as head writer of the Comedy Central series "Inside Amy Schumer," it was just three months after she'd given birth. As the ceremony was ending, instead of heading right to the party with her friends and colleagues, she had to go to a dressing room set aside for her where she could pump. That entailed figuring out how to unzip her fancy dress by herself and put on her nursing bra. The Emmy didn't negate that she was still exhausted, uncomfortable in her post-childbirth body and about to return to the daily struggles of her new life. She told that story in her 2016 book of personal essays.

Her new book picks up the story from there and is all about the anxieties, the joys and hard work of being a new mother and the difficulty of figuring out who her new, unrecognizable self was. When the book concludes, she's in her mid-40s, and her son Asher is approaching his 5th birthday. The essays are funny-serious or serious-funny. The book is called "I'll Show Myself Out: Essays On Midlife And Motherhood." Jessi Klein is now the showrunner and an executive producer of the new Showtime comedy series "I Love That For You" about a group of people working at a home shopping network. It stars SNL alums Vanessa Bayer and Molly Shannon. Jessi Klein is also an actor on the Netflix animated series "Big Mouth" and has also written for the series "Dead To Me," "Transparent" and "Saturday Night Live."

Jessi Klein, welcome to FRESH AIR. I enjoyed the book so much. Thank you for returning to our show.

JESSI KLEIN: Oh, my gosh. Thank you so much for having me.

GROSS: I'd like you to start with a reading. And this is one of the serious parts.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: And this is in a chapter where you're thinking about, what is a hero? You know, the classic definition of a hero is, like, a guy - and it's always a man - who sets out on this perilous journey to right some wrong or fight some battle and, after facing danger after danger, returns home to his wife or mother or daughter or whoever. But all the women have stayed home, and...

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: ...The man has become the hero. And you're trying to, like, rewrite that narrative in your mind so that mothers are heroes, so that you as a mother can see yourself as a hero. And this is part of that thought process.

KLEIN: (Reading) Every mother you know is in this fight with herself. The sword that hangs over you is a sword of exhaustion, of frustration, of patience run dry, of her bladder practically exploding like a water balloon as she enters her third hour of sitting in a chair trying to get you to sleep. It's the sword of missing a meal because there wasn't time to eat while she was packing a diaper bag with the endless amount of stuff you needed to go to the park, the sword of sneaking one bite of string cheese while sitting on the edge of a damp sandbox, the sword of indignation at how little she feels like a human when she so often has to look and behave like an animal. And mostly - and this is the spikiest truth - it is the sword of rage - the rage and shock of how completely she must annihilate herself to keep her child alive.

(Reading) Ultimately, the hope of impossible delight almost always wins out over the impossible torment. I know this because here I am alive writing this, and here you are alive reading it, which means our mothers did what heroes do. They kept us all alive to tell our own tales one day. And what I can tell you is that so much of the heroism of motherhood is the ability to swallow the sword, to swallow the pain and frustration and keep everything inside.

GROSS: I want to pick up on a line from that reading about how completely you have to annihilate yourself to keep your child alive. Can you talk a little bit about that?

KLEIN: (Laughter). Sure. Yeah. I mean, I guess that was one of the most shocking aspects for me of what I experienced becoming a mother that I - you know, people always tell you there's no - there's sort of no way to know exactly what being a parent will be like. And that's definitely true. But you kind of feel like, oh, well, I have an idea (laughter). And then I really didn't. And I just think, you know, all of your kind of former identity and the things you just do on a daily or minute-to-minute basis, the clothes you wear, the way you think of yourself - it just all kind of has to explode away because the baby/child is just - it's so all-encompassing. And people say that all the time. But you don't really - there's just kind of no way to comprehend how completely your old identity kind of vanishes, I guess. Or at least that was my experience of it.

GROSS: Did you have a period during early motherhood when you were trying to adjust to your new life and your new self and your new body where you were having second thoughts about becoming a mother?

KLEIN: (Laughter). Well, this is one of those moments, Terry, where it's kind of the crux of, like - what was hard about writing this book is that it feels, like, so terrifying to answer that question yes. It feels like one of the biggest cultural taboos is to say that you've had a second thought about being a mother, or honestly, even to just really to talk about the hard stuff. But I - and I can't speak for all moms. I can only speak for myself. But I also feel like I could speak for (laughter) a lot of my friends, maybe. But yeah, of course, there are those moments where you're like, I can't believe I've gotten myself into this.

And of course, I, you know, love my son beyond anything. He's the thing I love most in the world. And I did feel that way from the beginning. And I also felt all these other things. And I think it's that and that our culture and our society just doesn't want to accept, that both of these feelings can live side by side.

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah. We don't like contradictions very much (laughter).

KLEIN: No. We really love a black and a white.

GROSS: Yeah.

KLEIN: We don't love a gray.

GROSS: So let's rewind the clock a little bit. And this might sound like, you know, an obvious question that gets an obvious answer, but why did you want to become a mother? - 'cause not everybody does.

KLEIN: No. Not everybody does. And nor should everyone. I will say I'm really, like, one of those people that just is really to each their own. I remember, many years ago, I was in a writers room. This was long before I had kids. I was, I guess, in my maybe early 30s. And someone said to me, well, you know, you just have to have kids (laughter) because - I mean, it makes me laugh now. But I was like, ugh - said, you just have to have kids because if you don't - you don't really know what love is until you have kids. (Laughter) And I now have a kid. And I'm like, no. I don't agree with that. I think I knew what love was.

(LAUGHTER)

KLEIN: I mean, I got it. I mean, I've been loved. I love people. I'm loved by somebody - you know, lucky enough to be loved by a few others - different capacities - daughter, friend, you know, at the time, girlfriend, whatever. Anyway - so yeah - I have now been around the barn on it, and I can say I don't agree with that (laughter). But in terms of - so yeah - why did I become a mother, Terry? I don't know (laughter). I mean, I think there was a huge part of me that wanted to, especially - after I got married, my husband very much wanted to have a kid. And I was still very, I would say, a little bit ambivalent about it. I definitely knew that I had never been a very maternal person. I love that you thought this would be an obvious answer as I talk for 7 hours. But I had never been a very maternal person. There was a part of me that thought I wouldn't have kids.

And then after I got married, I ended up kind of doing a couple of tests that I can't remember the name of anymore, just to check my sort of fertility status because I was like, you know, having a bit of a career moment. And I was like, If I do become a mom, I'm going to leave it till the last possible moment. I can leave it. Which I kind of thought, in today's world, I, you know, was like maybe when I'm 50 or something or for - some - later. And then the tests revealed that I was actually - had like half an egg left. And it wasn't going to be easy, and I needed to go through all this fertility stuff. And then as soon as I found out that I might not be able to have a child, I really went into a spiral about it and was just - I really - I just wanted to have one.

GROSS: You said something like before I had kids. You have one child in this book. Do you have another child?

KLEIN: No, no, no, no. Absolutely not. No.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: OK.

KLEIN: I mean, I was just saying kids in the sort of, you know, before you have kids, before one has kids. I have kid. I love my kid. I will not be having another kid.

GROSS: I thought maybe I missed something really important (laughter).

KLEIN: No, no, no, no, no, no. You've gotten it exactly perfect all the way through. I have one kid. He's going to have to learn to make friends.

GROSS: I want you to describe the feeling of your body having been broken from, you know, from the act of giving birth and feeling like this should be such a joyous and fulfilling moment for you. But you felt like you were living in a damaged body.

KLEIN: Yeah. I mean, and I will say I was lucky on a variety of fronts, you know, the privilege of good health care and all of that stuff. And I had an amazing doctor. And I chose to deliver at a hospital, which was excellent. Shout-out to Lenox Hill in New York City. And I didn't have an especially difficult labor, you know, relatively speaking. I think, like I say in the book somewhere, it's like it was uneventful, which is like the best thing you can say about a labor. But, you know, that doesn't mean it wasn't still pushing a human out of my vagina. And, you know, it's a very intense recovery even under, like I said, for me, pretty kind of decent circumstances. Some people really do have, you know, come out of it quite injured in terms of tearing and other kinds of complications that can go wrong.

But, I mean, the minimum is that you're just - your body is freaking out, you know, as your hormones kind of overnight turn upside down. You don't have a person in your body anymore. They're now on the outside. Your breasts are insanely swollen. You're trying to figure out how to breastfeed. There was - I remember a moment when I looked down at my stomach right after, like, you know, within an hour after giving birth. And I just remember I was like, what? What is this? Like, I just - and I remember - this is not a real thing. I don't know what it was. I remember it was the words that came in my mind. I looked at my skin. It's this crazy texture. It looked like basketball skin, like, sort of puckered and like a basketball. I - it just - and then you just are bleeding for so long. And you can't go to the bathroom. And you're in pain. And you're bleeding. And that's for many weeks. And again, that wasn't a particularly difficult birth.

GROSS: Among other things, I mean, you gained 50 pounds while you were pregnant, and then you had trouble losing it.

KLEIN: Sure did.

GROSS: You literally didn't recognize yourself in the mirror. What was that feeling like of physically feeling like you are a different person and you want to be the person who you were before?

KLEIN: You know, it's a mix of feelings. I think, on the one hand, you want to sort of be body pos (ph) and accept it and, like, this is gorgeous. And I, you know, the amazing thing my body did. And - but, you know, of course, I've lived - for me at the time, I was - I guess - I gave - I was 30 - I was almost 40 when I gave birth. So I've lived 39 years living in America, knowing what I'm supposed to look like to be acceptable. And, you know, post-partum body wasn't it. And it's hard. Yeah. I've never looked the same. I'm very lucky to be healthy. And I exercise. But a person grew inside of me, and I just don't have the same body anymore. It's like a real shift that I think, you know, I think about it every day.

GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest as comic writer and actor Jessi Klein. Her new book is called "I'll Show Myself Out: Essays On Midlife And Motherhood." We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with comic writer and actor Jessi Klein. She was the head writer for the Comedy Central series "Inside Amy Schumer." She's a voice on the animated series "Big Mouth," and is now the showrunner of the new Showtime comedy series "I Love That For You," starring "SNL" alums Molly Shannon and Vanessa Bayer. Her new book is called "I'll Show Myself Out: Essays On Midlife And Motherhood." The book ends when her son Asher is 5, and Klein is in her mid-40s.

Was there anything that felt really good to let go of that you no longer had to do because you were so busy being a mother?

KLEIN: I mean, I think every parent will tell you, like, you know, one of the best things about it is it's just like - the excuse that never gets tired if you want to get out of something where it's like, oh, the baby. And you just, like, you never have to go to a party you don't want to go to again. You get a full pass. And those excuses are generally pretty valid. So that's a nice thing. I think one of the things I really cherish about becoming a mother is that there's just - you're so busy. You're keeping a person alive, and it does give you this kind of - I'll call it no-F's-left-to-give vibe about your life and a lot of that vanity, a lot of kind of also trying to be - make nice with other people in certain ways, like, having to apologize for things. You just kind of stop doing that. And that feels, in some ways, like a superpower.

GROSS: Yeah. What were the kinds of things you stopped apologizing for?

KLEIN: I think just any time we need to ask for something. I just think, as women, you know, we're so used to sort of saying I'm sorry in this very reflexive way, almost as, like, just an opening gambit to any sentence (laughter) that you say. Like, I'm sorry, could I - you know, you just - we actually, on "Inside Amy Schumer," had done a sketch about...

GROSS: I remember that sketch. I love that sketch.

KLEIN: It's a great sketch.

GROSS: It's several women sitting around together. Everything they say starts with, I'm sorry.

KLEIN: Every - yeah. It's actually - it's, like, a group of, like, incredibly impressive scientists and researchers at a conference, and they still all say I'm sorry, just endlessly. And I think Amy's sister, Kim, I believe, wrote that sketch. Anyway, and it really changed my life in general. But definitely once becoming a mother, you just - I think there's just a sense of urgency and - both urgency and power where just, like, those little things, just throughout the day - I don't want to have to apologize for, like, moving through the world as I am, just trying to get my baby from morning to night, like, unscathed and safe (laughter).

GROSS: Now that your son is 6...

KLEIN: Yes.

GROSS: ...And you've been a mother...

KLEIN: Yes.

GROSS: ...For several years, how do you feel about your body and your life? Do they still seem unrecognizable in a scary way to you?

KLEIN: I would say in some ways, they do still feel unrecognizable. I think the body of it all, you know, has fallen into a little bit of - like, it's static. I think, just again, in the world of, like, how I think women mostly think about any - I think women without kids, who haven't given birth, hear a certain amount of static about their body in their heads all the time. And so I think I'm in static land, where sometimes I feel OK about it. Other times, you know, like, I just - I feel like I've purged my entire closet twice (laughter) or just realizing, like, just certain things look so small. You're like, how did I ever - there was something I reached into the back of my closet to give away the other day where I just was like, God, that was a really different human being who wore that dress, whatever, 12 years ago.

And in terms of recognizing my life, there are still just really specific moments having a child where the surrealness of it will still just, like, strike me like a little lightning bolt sometimes. There was a moment - I wrote a chapter about potty training my son, and there was a moment - which was a really hard process for us (laughter) - and there was a moment where we just ended up in this, like, incredible - I call it, like, a bad one-act play, where we're sitting - he and I are on the floor of a handicapped stall at a Starbucks bathroom. And I just was like, what is this life? What am I - I'm like, me and this little boy are screaming at each other (laughter) in a public restroom at a coffee shop. What? I don't understand this at all.

GROSS: Is there anything else you want to add about things that you find unrecognizable about your life now as a mother, even though it's been six or seven years that you've been a mom?

KLEIN: (Laughter) There are little things every day. There is, actually - because just as he grows up and gets older, his interests are really funny. And he's recently decided that he's a Yankees fan. I guess somehow - I - maybe, like, a friend at school - he knows that at Yankees games, they play that song "Cotton Eye Joe" (laughter), like, during breaks between innings. It's like, if you're familiar with how they do this at Yankee Stadium, it's really such an irritating song. It's like, (singing) Cotton Eye Joe.

Like, it goes like that. And now he wants me to play it in the car all the time - all the time. And we were driving home from the park the other day, and I tried to put on just, like, the Beatles or just something to expose him to, like, better music. And he's like, Mom, can we hear "Cotton Eye Joe" again? And it has to be that kind of remix - terrible Yankee Stadium remix of "Cotton Eye Joe." And that is a song that I'm just listening to. If people at home know - it's the worst version of that song. It's, like, a techno version of "Cotton Eye Joe." And when I'm driving a Prius around with this kid and that song blasting, those are moments when, like, I do not recognize this life (laughter).

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is comic, writer and actor Jessi Klein. Her new book is called "I'll Show Myself Out: Essays On Midlife And Motherhood." We'll be right back after a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COTTON EYE JOE")

REDNEX: (Singing) If it hadn't been for Cotton Eye Joe, I'd been married long time ago. Where did you come from? Where did you go? Where did you come from, Cotton Eye Joe? If it hadn't been for Cotton Eye Joe, I'd been married long time ago. Where did you come from? Where did you go? Where did you come from, Cotton Eye Joe? If it hadn't been for Cotton Eye Joe, I'd been married long time ago. Where did you come from? Where did you go? Where did you come from, Cotton Eye Joe? If it hadn't been for Cotton Eye Joe, I'd been married long time ago. Where did you come from? Where did you go? Where did you come from, Cotton Eye Joe?

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with comic, writer and actor, Jessi Klein. Her new book is called "I'll Show Myself Out: Essays On Midlife And Motherhood." It's about no longer recognizing her body or her life and having to figure out who her new self is while also figuring out how to be a mother. The book ends when her son Asher is 5 and Klein is in her mid-40s. Klein was the head writer for the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning Comedy Central series "Inside Amy Schumer." She's a voice on the animated series "Big Mouth" and is now the showrunner of the new Showtime comedy series "I Love That For You," starring "SNL" alums Molly Shannon and Vanessa Bayer. Early in Klein's career, she was a writer on "SNL."

One of the things you write about in the book is the kind of tensions in a marriage that a new baby can create. Did that happen in your marriage?

KLEIN: Sure. Yeah. I mean, I think it's extremely common. I think, like, there's an old - like, the saying that, like, you know, when a baby - a new baby is born, it's like a bomb goes off in your house and in your marriage because it's - it is - I mean, the baseline thing that's going on is no one's sleeping, you know? And that is, like, one (laughter) of the primary forms of, like, military torture that exists is, like, sleep deprivation. No one is at their best just because you are so tired.

And so I feel like that's kind of, honestly, the - just the baseline is, like, anything, like, just in a normal sort of pre-baby life, like, a lot of things - you're just - when you're awake, you're much more pleasant (laughter). And, like, I remember when we had to sleep train him. Like, you have to sleep train a baby when they're, like, around 4 months old, where they have to learn to be in their crib. And that's something where I fully lost my mind. I mean, I just could not - I just couldn't do it. I couldn't hear him crying. And I was sort of of the mind to be like, well, I'll just Velcro myself (laughter) - just with a 4-month-old baby. I just could not, like, let him cry it out. And my husband was like, we've got to do it this way. And he was very regimented about sort of following a plan and doing a process. And it was - and a lot of people had told me, like, when you sleep train, like, the mom has to kind of just get kicked out.

(LAUGHTER)

KLEIN: Like, because - I mean, I literally went up to the roof one night - like, we just were almost in - like, almost - not - we weren't in a physical altercation, but it was as close as we've ever come. Or I think I just - also, we were so tired, and I was like - I was trying to go in the baby's room, and he was like, you will not go in that room (laughter). And I think I really became, like, such a bad - like a bad TV scene of me being like, do not block me from my baby.

(LAUGHTER)

KLEIN: And he's like, you're losing your mind. And I think I ultimately did just, like, pour a glass of wine and go up to, like, our roof and just chilled out while he sweated it out. And thank - and I was very grateful because it totally worked, and he taught the baby how to sleep.

GROSS: Did you have a pet together, which a lot of people think of as a starter child?

KLEIN: (Laughter) No, no. I - we didn't have a pet. I mean, I have - when I was a child, I had a guinea pig named Chumley (ph) - may his memory be a blessing.

(LAUGHTER)

KLEIN: I was very attached to - but I would certainly not describe the love and care that Chumley required as anywhere near a baby. No. But we weren't even that prepared. Yeah, we didn't have a dog. We didn't have a cat. This was all completely new.

GROSS: Your son has - or at least he had - trouble adapting to change. And you were moving to a new home, and you were really worried about your son adapting. So you had asked his teacher what could you do to prepare him for it? And she suggested, write a little book...

KLEIN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...Like, a very short, very simple little book. Tell us about the book that you wrote to prepare him for this big change.

KLEIN: (Laughter) Yes. This was an indispensable tool, and I highly recommend it for anyone else with little kids. Yes, our preschool director was like, one of the best things for when you have to help a child go through any kind of transition or event coming up is to just write a little book that just basically - I mean, I (laughter) - as a writer, I was like - I remember I sent her a first draft of my little book, and it was still, like, four (laughter) pages - four, like, typed pages. And she was like, you're an idiot. She's like, no, it's, like, five sentences. And it basically is - here's what's going to happen, you know, which for this moment was, like, we are going to move into a new house. Here's what will be the same, and here's what will be different. That's, like, a key part is, like, what's the same and what's different? And what's different is the house itself, and what is the same is that, you know, you will live there, and I will live there, and Dad will live there, and your nanny will be there. And, you know, we'll still do these - you know, we'll still play, and we'll still be together, and you'll have your toys. And that's it.

And it was, like, this magical thing where I just realized, like, I could read him these little books that I would make, and he - it just seemed to work (laughter), to get him to be - like, to understand that this thing was going to happen, that there was still something familiar to glom on to from the prior life and that it would be OK.

GROSS: We've talked about the difficulties of being the mother of an infant and of a young child. But what do you love about being a mother and things that really surprised you about how much you love part of being a mother?

KLEIN: I mean, I do really - my son is such a funny, sweet, just endlessly surprising, smart boy. And I feel - I do feel so lucky, like, to be his mom. And he - I mean, I - one of the things that I really do love is, like, the things that he does that make me laugh. And we're - especially now - at 6, you really get into "Kids Say The Darndest Things" (laughter) territory. Like, the other day, he was not brushing his teeth well enough, and I was like, you got to brush your teeth or you're going to have cavities. And he's like, well, what happens if I get a cavity? And I was like, well, it's not great. You know, you're going to get it filled. And it's - and then I realized, like, oh, I don't want to overscare (laughter) him about cavities because at some point, he might have a cavity. So I realized I need to dial it down. And I was like, well, but if you do get a cavity - I was like, it's not the biggest deal. And then he just looks at me, and he goes, what is the biggest deal? I go, what do you mean? He goes, what's the biggest deal in the world? (Laughter) And I was like - uh. And thank God, he - I was like, what is the biggest deal in the world?

It's - these questions. I never thought of what the biggest deal in the world is. And then I really was like, oh, God, I got to come up with an answer. And then he, thank God, filled in, and he just went, is it getting a pet? Is getting a pet the biggest deal in the world? And I said, yeah, I think it is. It's definitely one of the biggest is getting a pet.

GROSS: Let's take another break here. If you're just joining us, my guest is comic, writer and actor Jessi Klein. Her new book is called "I'll Show Myself Out: Essays On Midlife And Motherhood." We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DICE RAW SONG, "PREGUNTA")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with comic, writer and actor Jessi Klein. She was the head writer for the Comedy Central series "Inside Amy Schumer." She's a voice on the animated series "Big Mouth" and is now the showrunner of the new Showtime comedy series "I Love That For You," starring "SNL" alums Molly Shannon and Vanessa Bayer. Her new book is called "I'll Show Myself Out: Essays On Midlife And Motherhood."

I want to talk with you about your new show on Showtime. And you're the showrunner and executive producer. It's called "I Love That For You." And it's set in part at a cable home shopping network called SVN, which stands for Special Value Network. It stars Vanessa Bayer, who co-created the show, and it's based in part on her having had in real life leukemia as a child. So the character she plays had leukemia as a child and kind of never quite regained her confidence after that in her ability to take risks. But what she really wants to do is to become, like, a host on a home shopping network because that's part of what got her through the hospitalizations and the recovery and the chemo and all of that. And she finally auditions for the job, and she gets it. But she's really bad at it and she gets fired by her - she's called into the office, she gets fired by her boss. And the boss says to her, you have to tell us who you are. You have to tell us what you're selling us about yourself, what you're selling the audience about yourself. And so the Vanessa Bayer character thinks about it and blurts out something that is no longer true, but it's the only thing she can think of. And here's the scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I LOVE THAT FOR YOU")

VANESSA BAYER: (As Joanna Gold) I have cancer.

MOLLY SHANNON: (As Jackie Stilton) Oh, my God. What?

BAYER: (As Joanna Gold) That's right. I had it when I was a kid, and she back.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Oh.

BAYER: (As Joanna Gold) I just found out recently, and I didn't want to tell you all because I didn't want to burden you. So sorry I messed up last night, but I guess I've got a couple, two, three things on my mind, all right? Patricia, you wanted to know my story. You wanted to know what I'm selling you. What's my deal? Well, I have an answer for you. I'm a survivor, and I know that obstacles just make us stronger. They make us better. They make us appreciate the little things, the details.

JENIFER LEWIS: (As Patricia) Keep talking.

BAYER: (As Joanna Gold) Like this beautiful cross-stitch hem and this bow, which I feel like it almost sounds, like, a '50s quality to it. And, you know, as someone who's battling cancer, I'm telling you, we're all going through something. And we all deserve a garment that says, here I am. And not only am I going to be OK, I'm going to be fabulous.

GROSS: So that's Vanessa Bayer in a scene from the new Showtime comedy series "I Love That For You." And my guest, Jessi Klein, is the showrunner and an executive producer. This is a very enjoyable series. Did you watch a lot of home shopping shows while making this show?

KLEIN: Oh, yeah. I mean, it's funny because I - my primary connection to home shopping growing up was that my grandmother - may her memory also be a blessing, along with my guinea pigs (laughter). My grandmother was very into home shopping. A lot of the gifts that she would buy me were, like, little pieces of jewelry from home shopping that, you know, I would question now the actual value of things that were presented as gold and had gemstones. It was the thought that counted, and I loved them. But anyway, you know, I - so I had seen it, and I would watch it with her. And I was like, yeah, I know it's kind of, like, a kooky environment, and the hosts are kind of, like, a little over the top, but I hadn't seen it in a long time. And then when I was working on this show, I started watching it again. And it's truly so much crazier than you - than I remembered (laughter). I mean, it's really wild to watch it. It's very funny.

GROSS: What is wild about it?

KLEIN: Well, I think what it is - you know, they are doing it live. It's on 24 hours a day, basically. And it's all over the world. And these hosts are - the volume of things that they're selling is so high and the amount of time they have to be talking and kind of just endlessly, dare I say, yapping about the stuff without a break is so intense that inevitably they start to kind of reveal things about their lives and who they are kind of by accident. And those are the moments that are very, very funny. Like, there's a clip that we watched over and over again that I believe is - I think it was Isaac Mizrahi from a while ago selling something on there. And somehow they get - him and this other host get into a conversation about whether the (laughter) - about whether the moon is a planet. And they just, like - I can't remember which one, but one of them is like, yes, the moon is absolutely a planet, honey. And you're like, oh, my God, what are you talking about? And that - I mean, that happens like a thousand times a day, not about the moon specifically, but just people have their tells. It's hard to talk. I'm just - I'm sure you're aware of this. It's hard to talk for, like, 9 hours a day and not slip up with something that is revealing, something that maybe you wouldn't want to have revealed.

GROSS: Well, I think we should end with Beyonce...

KLEIN: Yeah. Let's take it to Beyonce.

GROSS: ...A song of hers that you played over and over for a time. Well, tell us about the song that you loved especially.

KLEIN: Oh, yes. I got very obsessed with - well, like, everyone else is very obsessed with the entire "Lemonade" album. And then I was specifically obsessed with the song "Hold Up," which I conservatively would say I listened to 2 billion times.

GROSS: What was it about the song? I mean, the song is about jealousy.

KLEIN: I think it taps into a little bit of craziness that even, like, spills over beyond being about the jealousy. I, you know, at the moment that album came out, I was really in like the full throes of, like, toddler land, like - or I guess even a little younger. And I think there was like a constant feeling of, like, rage, like, just always feeling a bit thwarted in life in general and exhausted and definitely bickering with the husband and kind of horny and not, like, connecting and just - but, like, I remember driving around in my - I do have a walnut brown Prius, which is not a popular color for a Prius. But - and just like feeling that, like, just bursting kind of shock and rage at like the circumstances that I was emotionally in. And there was something about that song that just - I would blast it from my window all the time, and it was just really cathartic.

GROSS: I think we can all agree it's a lot better than "Cotton Eye Joe."

(LAUGHTER)

KLEIN: I mean, honestly, I mean, I would say - it's - you could almost call them opposites.

GROSS: Jessi Klein, thank you so much for talking with us. It's really just been a pleasure.

KLEIN: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

GROSS: Jessi Klein's new book is called "I'll Show Myself Out: Essays On Midlife And Motherhood."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLD UP")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Hold up. They don't love you like you I love you. Slow down. They don't love you like I love you. Back up. They don't love you like I love you. Step down. They don't love you like I love you. Can't you see there's no other man above you? What a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you. Hold up. They don't love you like I love you. Oh, down, they don't love you like I love you. Something don't feel right because it ain't right, especially coming up after midnight. I smell your secrets, and I'm not too perfect to ever feel this worthless. How did it come down to this, scrolling through your call list? I don't want to lose my pride, but I'ma f*** up a b****. Know that I kept it sexy, you know I kept it fun. There's something that I'm missing, maybe my head for once. What's worst, looking jealous or crazy, jealous or crazy?

GROSS: After we take a short break, TV critic David Bianculli will review two new comedy dramas, "Gaslit," about the Watergate scandal, and "The Offer," about the making of "The Godfather." This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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