Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Jonah and Vanessa Bayer on Sound Advice, sibling rivalries, and childhood bribery

Illustration for article titled Jonah and Vanessa Bayer on Sound Advice, sibling rivalries, and childhood bribery
Illustration for article titled Jonah and Vanessa Bayer on Sound Advice, sibling rivalries, and childhood bribery

Those with siblings know that growing up with a brother or sister can be a constant hellscape of hair pulling, scream fights, biting, and offhand remarks that cut just a bit too deep. Then, somewhere around when you go off to college, your siblings stop being the worst and become your similarly parented partners in crime, the people you commiserate with and with whom you share the same sense of humor.

Jonah and Vanessa Bayer know the latter part of that equation all too well. Together, the pair write and produce Sound Advice, the Above Average series that Vanessa—who also appears on Saturday Night Live and in the new film Trainwreck—hosts. Blending Jonah’s background in both music journalism (including some for The A.V. Club) and playing in bands like United Nations with Vanessa’s comedic sensibilities and growing Rolodex, the two have used their sibling relationship to their greatest advantage, forming a working, non-quibbling pair that must make their parents very proud.

The A.V. Club talked to the Bayers about their lives, their work, and their most embarrassing childhood videos.

The A.V. Club: Let’s start with basics. Who’s older?

Vanessa Bayer: Jonah.

AVC: How much older are you, Jonah?

Jonah Bayer: I’m two years older. I’m 35; Vanessa is 33.

AVC: Do you remember anything about Vanessa being born or figuring any of that stuff out?

JB: Not really. I don’t really remember Vanessa being born or anything like that, I don’t think.

VB: You don’t?

JB: No.

VB: I bet you were a little jelly.

JB: Do you remember being born?

VB: No, but you remember our first house and I don’t remember our first house.

JB: I remember the first house we lived in—

VB: Because we moved when I was two and you were four.

Illustration for article titled Jonah and Vanessa Bayer on Sound Advice, sibling rivalries, and childhood bribery

AVC: Do you remember Vanessa being a baby, or was she always just there?

JB: Yeah. When SNL did that Mother’s Day episode, Vanessa found this video of us being interviewed when I was 5 and she was 3.


VB: It’s so cute. My mom found it.

JB: And Vanessa is obsessed with it, and literally shows it to everyone I see, everyone I meet through her.


VB: Well, it was on a VHS tape and SNL digitized it, so now I have it in my email. And Jonah is so cute in it that I have to watch it pretty much every day.

AVC: Why is it so cute?

VB: Oh my god. First of all, he has such huge glasses. I’m going to send you a picture, Marah, so you can get a better idea.


He’s just so cute and his answers to things are so cute. And he’s pretty calm and playing it cool, but he also kind of freaks out a couple times because he gets excited, and it’s just the cutest thing you’ve ever seen in your life.

Illustration for article titled Jonah and Vanessa Bayer on Sound Advice, sibling rivalries, and childhood bribery

AVC: What are the questions? What are you guys talking about?

VB: Our school did this thing where they were worried about kidnapping and stuff, so they had all the kids come into the library and your parent would interview you, and the police took this tape of you where you said all this information about your name and your parent’s name and where you lived and all this stuff, so they’d have a record of everything. So it’s kind of a very intense reason we made the video, but then the video is so cute.


AVC: Jonah, you’ve seen the video. Do you think it’s that cute?

JB: I’ve seen it a bunch of times. It’s pretty cute. But when Vanessa is introducing me to Amy Schumer and she’s doing the voice of me in the video and stuff, I’m sort of like, “I wish everyone hadn’t seen this movie.” It’s not the coolest intro. But it is pretty cute.


VB: But you knew Amy, and I had to show her.

JB: That is true.

Illustration for article titled Jonah and Vanessa Bayer on Sound Advice, sibling rivalries, and childhood bribery

AVC: At least you’re 5 and not 11 or some really awkward age.

VB: Yeah, totally. It’s just pure cute.

JB: Yeah. And they asked me what I want to be when I grow up, and I say, “I haven’t decided yet,” which I think is a pretty good answer.


VB: Yeah, so mature. Especially because I say that I want to be a doctor, a nurse, and basically She-Ra and Wonder Woman.

AVC: Well, you can be all of those if you’re acting.

VB: I actually feel like I’m still headed toward that goal, so…

JB: And I still actually haven’t figured out what I want to do. So we’re both figuring it out.


AVC: Have you guys always been friendly with each other? I have a younger brother and we always hated each other growing up, but now we’re tight.

VB: I feel like we always cared about each other, but I personally think—and Jonah, I don’t know if you agree with me—but I think we became friends when you went to college.


JB: Yeah, I agree.

AVC: Why then?

VB: I feel like, once Jonah went to college, I don’t know. I feel like there was some separation so we could actually be friends, like we weren’t just together all the time.


JB: And then when Vanessa got into comedy, I felt like we had a lot of other stuff to talk about.

VB: When I was in college and stuff, and even when I was living in Chicago, I used to brag about Jonah so much and talk about all the music he was doing and all the articles he was writing and stuff. I feel like I remember people being like, “Oh, there she goes again, she’s bragging about her brother again.” And I feel like I maybe lost some friends over it. But were they ever really my friends anyway? But I used to brag about Jonah all the time. I remember that being a thing that I would do. And, I mean, I still kind of do.

Illustration for article titled Jonah and Vanessa Bayer on Sound Advice, sibling rivalries, and childhood bribery

AVC: What would you say?

VB: I’d be like, “My brother is interviewing this band, he’s going on the road with this band Jimmy Eat World,” and I just would brag about everything he was doing. And people would be impressed, I think, but sometimes they would be like, “Let’s talk about something else.”


And Jonah did go on the road with Jimmy Eat World when he was very young. Right, Jonah?

JB: That is true, yeah.

VB: He went to Europe with them.

JB: I did a feature in AP [Alternative Press] on Jimmy Eat World when I was in college and they flew me to Europe for like a one-page story, which I feel like would never happen now.


VB: And then I was studying abroad in Paris and I went to see Jimmy Eat World, and I stayed until the end of the show because I wanted to go back and meet them. And who recognized me, Jonah?

JB: The tour manager.

VB: Their tour manager recognized me and I got to go backstage and hang out with them. And then I realized once I got back there that I didn’t have anything to do. Because I was used to only meeting bands when I was with Jonah, and then I used Jonah to get backstage and then I just was like… “what’s up…” I didn’t know how to navigate the backstage area without Jonah, I realized. But they were really nice.


AVC: Yeah, what do you say? “Good show, guys.”

VB: I guess what happened was Jonah went to Europe with them and then Jonah came to Philly when I was in college there, and we saw them together, and then we hung out with them for a little and I thought that was like the coolest thing in the world. And then I studied abroad in Paris and I went back there and they all knew Jonah but they didn’t remember me at all. They were nice because I was Jonah’s sister, but also, I had nothing to say to them except, like, “That show was really awesome!”


JB: It’s pretty boring back there.

AVC: People imagine that it’s really exciting. They think bands are doing blow and writing songs.


VB: It’s like backstage at SNL, like if you come back after a show or something, or a lot of times even at the after parties, we’re just pretty tired, and like, “Hey, what’s up.” Just getting a drink and kind of chilling out. Nothing crazy.

AVC: Did you guys ever fight when you were little?

VB: Yeah, although we weren’t allowed to physically fight. Jonah never beat me up or anything.


JB: It’s really important to me that that goes on the record, by the way.

VB: But we would fight. I remember Jonah was kind of a smartass with me, like my mom would be like, “If you’re not going to say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” And Jonah would be like, “okay fine,” and then he’d just start laughing.


JB: I also used to—

VB: I know what you’re going to say.

JB: I don’t remember this; Vanessa does. Can you explain it, Vanessa?

VB: The thing where you would be like, “I was born two years before you, so—“

JB: No. You can tell that, too, but I used to always make Vanessa make me lunch.


VB: Oh yeah.

JB: Because we would get home and she would always want to run on the treadmill, and the treadmill was right where the TV was, and I would be like, “You can run on the treadmill and I’ll watch TV upstairs if you make me a sandwich.”


VB: Yeah, I would have to make Jonah snacks after school to get him to switch to the other TV.

JB: That’s not really fighting, but I feel like that’s pretty much as big of a dick as I got. Which is kind of a dick.


VB: You used to say that Mom and Dad had two more things of love for you because you were two years older. Also, I remember you used to make little jokes about me, and one time, we went to Arby’s and I didn’t want to get a sandwich or something, and you thought it was because you had made fun of my weight or something. Which you didn’t really do but then I remember you were so worried about it and you were like, “Vanessa, you look great. And I just don’t want you to ever think I’m really making fun of you. I’m just joking.” You got really serious about it.

JB: Really? I don’t remember that.

VB: Yeah. But, again, I feel like we’d fight, but we really liked each other, so the fighting was never very vicious. Except I remember when we were in high school, Jonah used to be in these super loud hardcore bands, and they would play in our basement. And I would get so mad at you guys because I’d be studying and you guys would be playing so loud.


JB: Yeah, Vanessa was a really good student and always studying, and I didn’t really care that much. So that could be annoying.

VB: Jonah and I were in French class together one year, like I was in ninth grade and you were a junior, Jonah. And I would tutor Jonah in French because even though Jonah is really smart, he didn’t care. He just wanted to play guitar. And I remember being in your room and tutoring you, and you’d be like, “Okay, I gotta play guitar now.” Like you were playing guitar while I was trying to tutor you. Even though, again, it was insane that I was tutoring you because you were so smart, but you were way more interested in playing guitar.

AVC: It’s good that you guys were so supportive of each other. A lot of times, siblings will know the absolute worst things to say to one another.


VB: I feel like Jonah kind of was like that with me and I was kind of like that with him. I feel like, we’d be in the car and I’d like start singing and stuff to make you mad. Right? A little bit?

JB: You’d start singing? Maybe.

VB: That may be more recent.

JB: Yeah. That’s a move you do now.

VB: I feel like Jonah would make fun of me in a way that would make me really mad, but that wasn’t really that mean. Right?


JB: Probably.

AVC: How did you influence each other?

VB: I think with Jonah, I would always try to listen to cool music that Jonah liked, so even if I liked pop music or whatever, I wouldn’t admit it to Jonah. I tried to impress Jonah with the music that I was listening to all the time, so that kind of influenced the music that I would listen to. Also, Jonah was so into music and he was so into MTV that I feel like we would just watch hours of MTV when we were really young, so I feel like I know a lot of music stuff that most people my age don’t know, because people that were slightly older were into it.


JB: Yeah. We watched a lot of MTV. And I would always listen to NOFX and the Misfits and the Dead Kennedys and stuff, which is not really the kind of music you like when you’re a 15-year-old girl who is just really into studying and stuff. But I would like go see Bad Religion and get Vanessa a T-shirt.

I don’t think Vanessa really made me a better student, but I felt like, because she got all A+ grades and she was in all AP classes and I wasn’t really trying that hard, if I got an A or something, my parents were so impressed. Even though Vanessa got that for every grade, if I tried hard and got a good grade, I got a lot of credit for it. So it actually made things a little easier for me.

AVC: So your parents were just cool with whatever?

JB: Yeah, because I was never really a bad student. I had like a 3.5. Vanessa spent so much time studying and worked so hard, and I just didn’t really care that much. I just cared enough to get by, I guess.


VB: But Jonah was really smart. He was in the advanced program. He was in Horizons, in middle school or something, which was the thing for kids who are really smart. They’d take them out of class so they could do all this stuff for smart kids. And I was not. A fun fact.

AVC: Did you have a sibling rivalry at all? Were you competitive with each other?


VB: Not really, but I do remember one year I went to the doctor and Jonah and I weighed the same amount, and I was mad.

JB: I don’t remember that.

VB: I totally remember it.

AVC: How old were you?

VB: We both weighed like 85 pounds or something. We were pretty young. But, yeah, I feel like we both weighed like 85 pounds. I remember just being pretty annoyed because, you know, he was my older brother and he was taller and stuff.


AVC: Did you guys keep secrets from your parents together? Did you ever cover for each other?

VB: I don’t think we did. Do you think we did?

JB: Not really. I feel like we weren’t really bad. I was straight edge and Vanessa was into school, so we never really snuck out to party. We were pretty tame, overall. We were losers.


AVC: When did you guys start actually working together?

JB: I guess when Vanessa was in Chicago. Vanessa would open for my bands and stuff, and that’s how Sound Advice kind of started.


VB: Oh, that’s right. That’s true. Jonah would go with AP on Warped Tour and he came to Chicago and I would talk to some of the bands he was friends with, like Motion City Soundtrack. Jonah let me hang out with them and I hung out in their tour bus and was giving them notes and stuff. And I think that’s how we came up with Sound Advice.

Also, Jonah’s band would play at the Empty Bottle in Chicago and I would go up first and just tell bad jokes. Jonah would always want me to do it, even though the audience would be super bummed out. It’d be all these hardcore kids that just wanted to rage, and they’d be getting ready to see Jonah’s band and then I would just come up there and be like, “Empty Bottle? More like Empty Club!” It was really fun, and I remember one year it was Jonah’s birthday and I brought this huge birthday cake and no one was interested in eating the cake except for me.


JB: I think that’s technically when we started working together, and then once Vanessa moved to New York and stuff, it became a lot easier.

AVC: How do you work together now? What’s the process?

JB: Usually I’ll go to Vanessa’s apartment, and then we’ll order so much food, and then we’ll watch TV for a little while.


VB: Maybe watch some Bar Rescue or Impractical Jokers or other shows that are Jonah’s favorites. And then, we write Sound Advice together. We’ll just come up with the questions for it and we’ll think of bands that we want to have. It’s really fun. And then when we’re shooting Sound Advice, Jonah will throw out ideas or sit with our director, Pete Schultz, and they’ll go through the questions.

JB: It’s cool because with Sound Advice, when it started it was more like me trying to book people I knew, so the first one we did was with Fun, and we did one with NOFX, and then through SNL Vanessa became friends with so many cool bands. Vanessa became friends with Drake and Jenny Lewis—


VB: I love that you said I’m friends with Drake, and I’d like that to be on the record.

AVC: That you’re friends with Drake or that Jonah thinks you are?

VB: I just like that Jonah said, “Vanessa became friends with Drake.” I think, you know what, I’d call him a friend. Does that mean I text him and he texts me back? You know, some friends are better at communicating than others.


JB: It doesn’t mean they’re not your friend.

VB: It doesn’t mean they’re not your friend.

JB: Now I feel like it’s flipped. Vanessa is friends with all of these huge bands, and I’m still friends with a lot of bands but definitely more punk bands or that kind of thing.


VB: I don’t know, I still feel like you’re getting acts. Jonah knows all these publicists from working in the music industry.

JB: That’s true.

VB: Also, what’s funny is that when I was in high school people used to call me Jonah’s little sister, and a lot of times when I see bands at SNL, their publicists or their managers or whatever will know Jonah, and they’ll call me Jonah’s little sister. And it’s really refreshing and fun.


JB: [Incredulous.] Like they’ll say, “This is Vanessa Bayer, Jonah’s little sister?”

VB: That’s what I’m saying! They’ll be like, “This is Jonah’s sister,” or “That’s Jonah’s little sister.” They will. I’m telling you.


JB: Okay, yeah. I mean, it’s possible. It seems a little bit patronizing.

VB: To me?

JB: Yeah.

VB: It’s a badge of honor.

JB: It’s so cool of you.

VB: It’s cool of you!

AVC: Jonah, you’re on set, but you also get to make your sister say weird things. Not that she wouldn’t say those things, but is that helpful for you to have some of the snider comments come out of a mouth that’s not yours?


JB: Yes. It is the best situation for me. We talk about this sometimes, but me and Vanessa will write this stuff, and we never make it really mean-spirited, but some of it is so ridiculous. We’ll write it and we’ll think it’s so funny at Vanessa’s apartment and then we’ll get there and I’ll be like, “There’s no way I could say this to this person’s face.”

We were editing the Haim episode and Vanessa asked them how they get so much time off from Urban Outfitters. I remember writing that and it’s so insulting when somebody’s spent their whole life trying to do music and stuff, to be like, “So, you guys work at Urban Outfitters. How do you get so much time off?” They were like, “Oh, we don’t work there.” That kind of stuff, I don’t think I could deliver it in the way Vanessa does. She does it so well.


VB: That’s so nice. But I would say we legitimately are friends with them, so that makes it easier.

AVC: It’s got to be tough figuring out who has a sense of humor about themselves and where their lines are.


VB: Totally.

JB: Some musicians are so naturally funny, and some, not so much. But I think Vanessa is really good at, if the people are really good, just letting them talk, and if they’re quiet or something, she’s good at being the focus of attention.


VB: That’s very cool of you to say.

JB: It’s true.

AVC: Your fake Haim song was very accurate, by the way.

VB: Thank you.

JB: I think their label is going to put that out. I’m just starting a rumor, but maybe it’ll get picked up.


VB: We love them. I listen to them so much, and I think they’re so good. It’s sort of like the more I like the band, the more fun it is to do them and also the more scary it is. But they’re all really fun.

AVC: Jonah, is it weird seeing your sister on TV or in commercials?

JB: I feel like it was weirder at first, because before Vanessa was on SNL she was doing comedy for a long time but she wasn’t an actress or something, so it was kind of weird to have her on TV and stuff. But it got pretty normal and now I feel like it’s not that big of a deal. And I get to go to so many sweet parties.


AVC: At least she’s not telling sex jokes or something that you wouldn’t want to hear from your sister.


VB: That’s true.

JB: I had seen Vanessa do stand-up for years when she was in Chicago and stuff, and I was always really impressed by that. I mean, sometimes it is weird, like we were just in L.A. a couple days ago and we went to the movies and they showed the Trainwreck trailer and it was pretty crazy to see Vanessa on a movie screen, but it was awesome. So it’s never really freaky, it’s always just like, “Whoa, this is cool.”


VB: That is so cool of you to say.

AVC: Especially because she is your little sister. That’s how people recognize her. They say, “She’s Jonah’s little sister.”


JB: That’s basically her second name at this point, I think.

VB: Another thing that’s really cool is when I was growing up I’d go see Jonah when he’d be in bands, like in high school or college or whatever. I always would think it was so cool. I feel like I saw more of Jonah’s hardcore bands—like those were the shows that I’ve seen more than any other concert—these hardcore shows in these scary, dark venues. But I was always so excited to go to them.


AVC: What do you guys want to do together in the future? Do you have other projects you’re thinking about, or are you just hanging in there with Sound Advice?

VB: We have some ideas.

JB: We do. We also have some more ideas for Sound Advice. I mean, Sound Advice is awesome because it’s music and comedy, so it kind of brings both of us together.


Me and Vanessa also have had this band for about the last 10 years. It’s called Jammin’ Vibes, and we just put out a song on this “Everyone’s Gay” compilation, and all of the songs are just about our family.

VB: Yeah, and they’re pretty good.

JB: They’re pretty good.


AVC: What kind of music is it?

JB: It’s kind of like The Moldy Peaches if they were way better.

VB: Whoa! Very cool. You said it.

JB: Except we only sing songs about our family. It’s very lo-fi, but it’s pretty good. I guarantee you’ve heard nothing like it.


AVC: Are your parents proud?

JB: Yeah, they love it, I think. Don’t you, Vanessa?

VB: Yeah, they love it. Even when we were just in L.A., we ate a bunch of meals together and we sent our parents pictures showing that we were eating healthy meals together.


I think they’re just really excited that we’re so close and we get along so well, and that we hang out so much. They’re really happy about it. And it’s nice because, since it’s just the two of us, if they come to New York they can see both of us.

Illustration for article titled Jonah and Vanessa Bayer on Sound Advice, sibling rivalries, and childhood bribery