Rachel Bloom has one a voice that would be perfectly at home on a Broadway stage. Instead, she uses it for something much better: the art of comedy. While she already has credits to her name like writing for Robot Chicken, her biggest claim to fame is through the comedy music videos she releases on her Youtube channel, racheldoesstuff. She is now tackling a much more daunting task: her own show on Showtime called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. We got to sit down with her at Fun Fun Fun Fest just before she took the Yellow Stage. Here is the exclusive interview.
How did the idea for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend come to you?
What happened was I released an album last year, and I released a couple music videos for that album. And this woman named Aline Brosh McKenna –she’s the screenwriter who wrote The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses, We Bought A Zoo- she was just fucking around at work one day, right around the time I released my album, and saw one of my videos on Jezebel. And she watched all my other videos, and she set up a meeting with me to do a TV show. She hadn’t done TV in ten years, so we got together and talked about what could be a good context for a musical television show. She had an idea for a movie called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and she said, “Why don’t we do that as a TV show? ‘Cause that fits your aesthetic.” And that’s what happened. And it’s great.
What did she mean by that being your aesthetic?
My comedic alter-ego is this imbalanced, emotionally unstable person, and it really fit what I was doing.
How did you start delving into that subject matter?
Well, I started out as a musical theatre person, and when I did comedy, I found out that I loved it because it is almost like math to me. It’s very cerebral and in my head, thinking about high-concept sketches. But when I started writing comedy songs, a great thing happened in that it brought out all of these emotional levels that I hadn’t been accessing when I was just writing plain comedy, because music is where my emotions live, as a musical theatre person and as a singer. And that is a lot of what my Showtime show is about: it’s this idea of music being a person’s way of expressing their emotional life. When I write a song, it has to be emotionally relevant because that is where the humor comes from. I also think that in musical theatre, when the emotions are too strong, you sing, and when that emotion is too strong, you dance. So I think music is very much based in overflowing of emotions, so I draw a lot from my emotional life to write. And that’s what happened with the Showtime show. I mean, we spent a couple months before we even pitched the show just telling stories and talking about past relationships and “What does love mean?” and “What’s the nature of love?” We delved into it super in-depth.
You talk a lot about the intersection of love, comedy, and music. Do you see this show as a way to delve into that?
Kind of. We’re delving into different genres. The character is a person who is trying to figure out who she is, but she does it by trying on different personas. So it’s also the use of musical genres to explore themes in life. And I think that’s what’s comedic about it. So I think it contrasts what the musical genre is and what we are talking about. And that tends to be a thing that I do a lot, which is a contrast between the happy song genre but sad subject matter. Happy, sad; light, dark. That kind of stuff.
Do you think this juxtaposition helps you to communicate your thoughts and emotions?
Yeah, yeah. I also think that’s how I am. I think that a lot of the way I live my life is either super lost in fantasy or like dark and dealing with anxiety, dealing with…stuff like that. I kind of live in this space of, like, the juxtaposition between light and dark, but also, I think that’s where you get dark comedy is through these sharp contrasts. Coming from musical theatre, something that always bothered me about musical comedy and musical theatre was that it was cute. It would be like, “[RB enters into a sing-song voice] I’m going to go for a walk today, I’m going to go for a walk today.” And it’s like, it’s not funny; it’s predictable. And I think that the way that you craft your comedy songs; you find hard jokes and you find new ways to surprise the audience. I think playing with juxtaposition is kind of one of the only ways to do that. Just to surprise your audience so they keep listening to songs. Not just because the songs are funny, but because the song has story and characters. There’s always some sort of underlying emotion. And I took a TV writing class in college that was great. According to that, the best stories are either driven by hungry, horny, or cheap. Someone is starving, starving for respect, wants to fuck, or just money stuff. So you kind of base human emotions off that. And that’s what my songs are like: finding kind of the base, fiery, guttural human emotions in everything because I think that’s relatable and that’s what motivates music the best.
You mentioned that you suffer from anxiety [specifically obsessive-compulsive disorder]. How did you first find out, and how do you deal with it?
Well, I always do theatre as a way to kind of push on past emotional problems. So it was sort of like pressing on, pressing on, saying, “Everything’s fine, everything’s fine.” And it wasn’t like I was always feeling depressed. I actually think my art is an escape from it. And it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve really started to, like, be ok with myself when I’m not on stage. I mean, that’s kind of an exaggeration. I’ve been in a relationship for the past six years. I love my fiancé; he’s amazing. But when I was feeling down, I didn’t know how to deal with it, other than delving into writing and acting. So I think that in a strange way my art is my escape. It turns the need to escape into something real, something productive.
A lot of your stuff delves into the world modern American Jewry. One of your works, “You Can Touch My Boobies”, really struck a nerve for me because that pretty much how I was as a seventh-grade boy preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. How did that come about?
So I found in my childhood diary I wrote erotic poetry. I was a very mature ten-year-old- actually, I was literally eleven-years-old. And I always wanted to do a song or sketch based on the erotic poetry I wrote when I was eleven because people aren’t really hornier than when they are like eleven or twelve, but no one ever talks about their sexuality then because that’s scary. So I always wanted to do something. And so I decided to do a music video, and I realized that it would have to be about a boy so that I could be in the video. Because if it was a gay girl, it would have to be a whole other layer. It would not be on premise as to what I was talking about. So I made it a boy, and I picked the brains of my fiancé and my collaborator Jack and all of my dude friends. And the reason it is Jewish-centered is because a lot of my friends are Jewish, and I just thought it would be really funny if it was a Bar Mitzvah boy.
In another one of your works, “Chanukah Honey”, there was this line: “I know why you’re such a tease/It’s ‘cause your last three girlfriends were Japanese.” Do you think that that is kind of prevalent in the Jewish community and why?
[Laughs] I think it’s just a thing that I’ve noticed. I also think that it’s because a very good friend of mine from high school- he’s also Jewish- his last three girlfriends have been Chinese. And we just happen to know a lot of Jewish guys who dated only Chinese girls. It was just a weird thing that came up. I don’t know what it is. I think it’s just that the cultures are similar. But I think anything where Jewish guys don’t date someone who’s Jewish, it’s partially to drive their mothers crazy. Like my fiancé, before we started dating, dated all non-Jews. I mean, he never, ever went on a date with a Jewish girl [before me]. But I got him! [The Texas Travesty correspondent gives RB a high-five]. I hope that wasn’t offensive.
So, I have had experiences with people who were kind of against the miscegenation that brought me into existence. Do you think comedy is a great way to showcase or address diversity?
Oh, that sucks. But it’s the future, though. That’s what America is. Everyone has different things. But yeah, I don’t know if I am qualified to answer that, even though Judaism isn’t technically white. I just went to Auschwitz a couple of months ago, and that was the first time that I was like, “Oh, wow. We’re not white.” Like, if you’re Jewish, in most parts of the world, you’re considered ethnic. But I don’t know. I think it depends on the person. Any subject matter that’s complicated and that has a lot of nuances to it, I think the best way to approach it is to acknowledge those nuances. It’s like people who say, “You can’t make a rape joke” or “You can’t make a black joke”. Like, what are you talking about? That’s such a vague term. That’s like saying you can’t make a joke about airplanes. What do you mean you can’t make a joke about airplanes? Everything is so case-specific, and everything is so in context. And I think this is just good comedy: you should never do it to offend. You should do it to explore what it means and explore the nature of race and explore the nature of whatever it is you are. I think the better you explore those nuances, the better the comedy is. So I think that’s the way to do it: do it sensitively. Be a person, and acknowledge the humanity of the situation.
Do you think through your work you are helping to rep Jewish girls?
[Laughs] I don’t know; it’s so funny. I did do the Chanukah album with my two friends who were raised much more Jewish than I was. In fact, I was raised fairly secularly, actually, even though I have always identified as a Jewish person. There’s already this presence with Sarah Silverman, who is this raunchy, funny Jewish girl. But, I hope I am. That would be pretty cool.