‘Veep’: Jonah Ryan Isn’t a Real Person, But His Character Was Based on One

Writers are often asked where they get inspiration for their works, and many say they draw from real-life examples. This can be obvious for television shows like Law & Order, which often takes news headlines and spins them into plots for the series. Others shows take time to consult with real-life representatives from the professions and situations they portray in order to make sure they get the details right. This attention to detail can be an important part of the show coming across as acceptable to viewers. 

The use of real-life inspiration doesn’t end with plots, however, and many writers craft entire characters around counterparts from the real world. That was the case for Jonah Ryan’s character in Veep

Timothy Simons attends AOL Build to discuss his show 'Veep' at AOL Studios on June 15, 2016 in New York City.
Timothy Simons | Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

‘Veep’ often touched on real-life events

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Veep premiered in 2012 and spent seven seasons following Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ portrayal of Selina Meyer through her time in the White House. Along the way, the series had lots of opportunity to poke fun at real-life politicians and the nature of American politics in general. 

While the series was obviously comedy that often walked the line between meaningful and just plain silly, the show earned lots of accolades for its smart commentary, and it remains influential despite coming to a conclusion in 2019. A lot of what makes the show work is its memorable dialogue delivered so perfectly from the characters who were each carefully written to point to specific representations of the political underpinnings. From the President of the United States to the aides whose names never make it into the history books, Veep pulls the curtain back on the people who make America work in a hilarious fashion. 

Who inspired Jonah Ryan’s character on ‘Veep’?

Jonah Ryan was portrayed by Timothy Simons and was a crucial character for Veep‘s entire run. Jonah Ryan was a frequent target of the show’s infamous barbs. An unlikable White House aide in the early seasons, viewers get to watch as Jonah rises through the ranks, becoming a contender for the presidency by the final season. An obvious foil to protagonist Selina Meyers, Jonah Ryan is also a clear jab at conservative American politicians, but was he referencing someone in particular? 

Many have speculated that Jonah Ryan was fashioned after Ted Cruz, and there’s some truth to that speculation. As Jonah’s character takes on more and more powerful roles on the show, the writers had to turn to new inspiration in order to make him adapt to the demands of running for Congress. 

The initial character, however, was not inspired by Cruz. As Mental Floss reports, Jonah Ryan was originally written to be a “fat, short, heavy smoker” that was inspired by creator Armando Iannucci’s interaction with a rude White House staffer who refused to meet with him for research purposes. Many other senior White House officials — including President Obama’s personal assistant — carved time out to talk, but this unnamed staffer was too busy. Ironically, his refusal to share his perspective ended up getting him memorialized more fully as an unlikable character! 

Many TV characters are based on real-life counterparts

Whether it’s drama or comedy, the best entertainment connects with its viewers in a way that rings true, and that means finding inspiration from real life. Often, television series draw the foundations for their characters from real-life versions. Shows like Seinfeld and Louie feature comedians who play fictionalized versions of themselves, allowing them to spin a semi-autobiography into neat plots and plenty of laughs. 

Meanwhile, some inspirations come from unlikely places. The character of Gomer Pyle from The Andy Griffith Show was inspired by a real-life gas station attendant who provided service to writer Everett Greenbaum. One of television’s most iconic characters — and a favorite of President Barack Obama — was Omar Little, the cold-blooded killer from The Wire who abided by a strict moral code. Omar was based on the real-life criminal Donnie Andrews

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