"Jonah, you're not even a man," begins one of many epic insults hurled in the face of Jonah Ryan, the needling, socially maladjusted pisher of a human on HBO's "Veep," embodied with no-holds-barred gusto by one-time Chicago actor Timothy Simons. "You're like a an early draft of a man," he's told, "where they just sketched out a giant mangled skeleton but they didn't have time to add details — like pigment. Or self-respect."
Jonah is the guy everyone loves to hate, and Simon's lanky 6-foot-5 frame is invariably the butt of the joke some way, somehow.
"That clown car got a giant clown in it," observes a character as Jonah drives up in an episode of the current season (airing 9:30 p.m. Sundays).
The vice president's press secretary (played by Chicago native Matt Walsh) reluctantly introduces Jonah to his family: "This is Sasquatch." And then as an aside, letting Jonah know just how welcome he is in the guy's home: "The edible garbage is out back in the alley."
Don't feel bad. Jonah brings it on himself. He's the worst. The kind of guy who tries too hard with a hip salutation ("What's up, young-ass b------?") or an impromptu insult ("You take that chicken soup and you shove it up your soul!").
This season his character was fired from his White House job and now spends his days posting a "gossiptainment" Wonkette-type political blog with dubious content. Consider this exchange with one of his interns debating whether or not they should publish an unsubstantiated rumor:
Couch-bound web lackey: "We just don't know the facts."
Jonah: "OK, but we just, we put it out there. And then something will arrive that backs it up, right? That's just Journalism 101."
It's has been an inspired performance these past three seasons, of a character both odious and endlessly entertaining.
When Simons landed the role on "Veep," it was his first major gig. It has led to appearances in "Draft Day," the indie drama "Beneath the Harvest Sky" (opening in Chicago next Friday) and high-profile upcoming releases that include the screen adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's "Inherent Vice" and a James Franco-Seth Rogen vehicle called "The Interview."
But Chicago is where he got his start, moving here in 2002 after graduating from the University of Maine. Despite the pedigree of several Second City alumni who appear on "Veep," Simons' six years in town were focused on straight theater.
"I took one class at Second City called Improv for Actors, and that was it," he said when we caught up by phone this week, "and that was only because my agent told me I had to.
"It wasn't that I didn't like it. I just wanted to be part of that small theater scene. You know, going through theater school, you see the original cast listed in the front of Samuel French (the publisher of most play scripts) and at the beginning it says, 'This play was first performed at this theater' — and so many of those plays were workshopped and performed in Chicago. That's what I wanted to be a part of. The creation of new stuff. That's why I moved there."
He worked a bit with the Hypocrites (including a New York production of artistic director Sean Graney's terrific play "The 4th Graders Present an Unnamed Love-Suicide"). Said Graney: "I cast him because he was beautifully awkward, terribly smart and incredibly friendly. He could make people laugh at any second with his big smile."
Simons was also, in his words, a "dedicated" member of the theater company's softball team. "And since moving to LA," he said, "I have not missed a summer to get back and play at least one game, which I have been very happy about."
During his time in Chicago he worked a "bunch of odd jobs. Starbucks barista on Michigan Avenue, set carpenter for plays for a long time, bouncer at Joe's on Weed (one of the worst jobs I've ever had) and bartender at the House of Blues."
The city is also where he met his wife, Annie, with whom he is now parent to two-year-old twins, a son and a daughter. "(My wife) grew up in the northwest 'burbs but had lived in the city a long time when we met. Until I met her, I was one of those people that had no idea what Illinois was outside of the city limits."
During our chat, we talked about Jonah Ryan's disgusting home life, the startling number of Chicago actors on "Veep," and Simons' appearance last week on "The Late Show with David Letterman." For the record: Simons is as delightful and unlike Jonah as they come.
Q: I looked up Jonah Ryan's blog and Ryantology.net does not exist, even as a parody. I can't believe no one's snagged that site and done something with it.
A: I know! That's sort of in a department that's so far removed from me at HBO, but I'm surprised. Remember when the lights went out at Super Bowl a couple years ago? Within seven seconds there were 15 "Super Bowl Lights" parody Twitter accounts. We live in a world in which whatever you do has a parody account online in moments. So I'm actually surprised someone hasn't bought the domain name for Ryantology.net. I just figured somebody would grab it. I'm surprised that somebody wasn't just like, "What, $15? Yeah, sure. (Expletive) it, I'll buy it."