Interview: Rachel Bloom Talks New Book, Bullies, Musical Theatre, and Adam Schlesinger

"I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are" will be released on November 17th.

By: Oct. 30, 2020
Enter Your Email to Unlock This Article

Plus, get the best of BroadwayWorld delivered to your inbox, and unlimited access to our editorial content across the globe.

Existing user? Just click login.

Interview: Rachel Bloom Talks New Book, Bullies, Musical Theatre, and Adam Schlesinger

Writer, singer, and actor Rachel Bloom's debut book of essays, "I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are," will be released on November 17th.

Ahead of the release, Rachel spoke to BroadwayWorld about some of the book's highlights - including a chapter on bullies, a chapter on musical theatre, and a dedication to the late songwriter Adam Schlesinger.

In her collection of laugh-out-loud funny essays, all told in the unique voice (sometimes singing voice) that made her a star; Rachel writes about everything from her love of Disney, OCD and depression, weirdness, and Spanx to the story of how she didn't poop in the toilet until she was four years old; Rachel's pieces are hilarious, smart, and infinitely relatable (except for the pooping thing).

Pre-order the book here, and check out the full interview below!

I just want to congratulate you on this hilarious and heartfelt new book, this new milestone, in a few years of milestones - the book, the baby, the end of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," the announcements of upcoming projects like this *NSYNC musical and "I'm in Love With the Dancer from My Bat Mitzvah." Reflecting on all you've made so far, can you tell me what are you the most proud of?

I guess I'm proud that I want to continue to write things that push me in new directions, and that tickle my fancy. I'm really proud of the supportive fanbase that "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" created. I'm really proud of the ways that that show helped people.

I revisit your episode of The Hilarious World of Depression a lot; you talked about your Hunger Games, real-or-not-real approach to looping, anxious thoughts. In your book, you talk about your own OCD diagnosis. Across the board, you've had such a great way of articulating the experience of mental illness. Do you have a favorite piece of advice you've received, or advice you've come up with, for dealing with mental illness?

There's so many. I think - my writing partner, Jack Dolgen, once said to me, like, "Give it a seat at the table." Like, if you're feeling the thing, be like, "Okay. You're gonna be sitting at the table now." You can give it a seat at the table. You don't have to feed it, but you do have to be like, "Alright, you're here. Sit down. You're also here. I'm not really gonna pay attention to you, but you're here. Nothing I can do about it."

I think that definitely helped me. And then I really go back to that voice teacher's advice of, if there's a bird in the barn, you don't have to make a nest for the bird in the barn. Let the bird fly out. You don't have to be like, "THERE'S A BIRD IN THE BARN! WE NEED TO GET THE BIRD OUT!" It's just like, alright. There's a bird in the barn. It is what it is.

Did you always intend to write about cool, smart, mentally ill women?

I always wanted to write about f*cked up characters, and characters that I could relate to - the more heightened versions of problems that I related to. And "Crazy Ex" - the way it evolved - became about mental health in a way that Aline and I hadn't planned, actually.

On the subject of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," there's such a strong and intense history of Jewish musical comedy. Were you inspired by any funny, singing Jews in particular?

My grandfather was an amateur stand-up comedian, and an actor and director. And so, there was this kind of Borscht Belt feeling to my childhood. Because he told Borscht Belt style jokes - this is in southern California. So that really opened me up to the kind of Jewish point of view and the Jewish persona in general.

I mean, you look at Mel Brooks, "Funny Girl," and by that extension, Fanny Brice. I'll tell you, when I think of Vivian Blaine in "Guys and Dolls," and Ethel Merman - not Jewish! But there's a Jewish feeling, because of course those musicals are written - they're singing songs written by Jews.

Irving Berlin in general was very formative. The music of Irving Berlin. And then, that's what's interesting about musical theatre, is - it's all Jews. So I'm greatly affected by the music of Irving Berlin, Frank Loesser, Kander and Ebb, Stephen Sondheim. It's all Jews! So even when something isn't overtly Jewish, there's a Jewishness to it.

It feels like it's our art.

Yeah. And that obviously stems from what jobs Jews were allowed to have, of course. You come over as an immigrant, you're only allowed to do certain things, and being in the arts is one of those things you can do. And then that goes back to the history of Yiddish theatre, and theatre in the old country. It really does all kind of tie together.

I definitely can see a lot of Irving Berlin inspiration in your lyrics. One of my favorite parts of your book was when you talked about how you worked around the censors on "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" - I have positively dissected the "Strip Away My Conscience" lyrics because I think they're genius, and I couldn't believe some of my favorites came from having to make a creative work-around. What do you consider your most creative solution to a censorship problem?

Something I don't talk about in the book is, "Your balls smell weird," in "Sex With a Stranger." And the way to get around it was he had stress balls, and I hated that at first, because I was like, oh, that's so cutesy, your "balls" smell weird. But it was really creative!

And that I think was Aline's idea, to have him holding the stress balls to get away with the lyric, "Your balls smell weird."

Could you talk a little bit about your partnership with Aline [Brosh McKenna, screenwriter and showrunner on "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"]?

Yeah, what do you wanna know? There's so much to talk about. There's so many elements and layers.

I love the story in the book about her holding your underwear.

Oh, yeah! I mean, it's definitely the closest - if not one of the closest - relationships I've had with a woman was with Aline. Because a lot of my friends growing up were men, for whatever reason. I don't talk about it a lot in the book, but I think that I was - I don't know! I felt threatened by other women. I felt like they were pretty, and normal, and other things like that I'm surprised really didn't come up in the book.

But she and I talk every day. There is so much to that relationship.

There's a lot in the book about bullying, and feeling terrible while being bullied, and eventually coming to a sort-of understanding of your bullies. I know you did an event for Vulture Fest yesterday with your fifth grade bully - how did that go!

It was great! And the cheat is that my fifth grade bully ended up becoming one of my best friends in high school. So we already had a great rapport together - and these are conversations he and I had definitely already had that we now just made public.

And I think it's cathartic and beautiful, but it takes someone who is evolved - I think it's scarier to have been a bully, and to admit that you bullied, than to say, "I was bullied." Because we don't have a template for redemption.

In the same way that - we explore this in "Crazy Ex" a little bit - we don't have a template for how to break up with someone. You have a template for having been broken up with - well, you're gonna eat Haagen-Dazs, you're gonna be sad. But we don't really teach that someone's gonna have to be the bad guy. And I think it's the same thing with bullies. We don't teach those redemption stories. So I think it's scarier for him to put himself out there as a former bully.

There's a story in the book about a different bully, one you had coffee with. What do you find these former bullies who have reached out to you feel the most sorry about as adults?

They feel sorry that they hurt someone, and that they knew it at the time. I think that's coming from a place of fear. What I found was when childhood bullies feel guilty, they feel guilt because they knew that what they were doing was wrong. But they did it anyway. I find that very interesting.

I know that you had a very negative experience on the first TV show you worked on, but I've heard your writers rooms are incredibly fun and welcoming. How do you make a point to foster that positive environment?

My point of view is - I think it's the staff you hire. You don't hire a**holes, and if someone is being an a**hole you're like, "Stop being an a**hole." You don't have to put others down to be funny.

And then I think: compassionate rejection. I mean, Aline was the showrunner of "Crazy Ex," so I was only in the writers room half the time. But I think that, in general, something I try to do is compassionate rejection.

Actually, I was working on another show - there's this show called "Star Wars Detours" that I think is probably dead, but - this is before Disney bought Lucasfilm - this was a job I actually got from the "Robot Chicken" guys. It was a comedic animated show produced by Lucasfilm that took place in the "Star Wars" universe between the original movies and the prequels. It was a comedic show.

I wrote on that show, and the showrunner, Brendan - I remember pitching something at one point that was super weird, and he smiled, and he was like, "I thank you for the thought." And he was just really good at that compassionate rejection. And I took a note of that - that, "I appreciate where you're coming from," or taking - okay, well, why is this person pitching this thing? I'm gonna take a nugget out of what this person is pitching - I'm gonna take something I like out of what they pitched and maybe try to build off that.

Did you always know you were going to be A Boss? Were you preparing for that in the rest of your life?

I was always the boss on my sketch shoots, to varying degrees of success, because I'm a theoretically good producer in that I can multitask in my mind, but actually carrying out those tasks in an efficient fashion is harder for me. I'm a kind of scatterbrained, middling producer. But I did it out of necessity.

I hadn't thought much about preparing to be a boss because I didn't know if anyone was ever going to make my sh*t. I was too busy trying to pitch, and thinking of stuff that people would maybe pay me to make, but the being a boss thing is - you think about that when something is actually going to happen. Which - most stuff doesn't pan out in show business. And especially in TV.

The story in the book about how quick the turnaround was for "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" was a whirlwind to read about. I can't imagine living it.

Yeah, it was crazy! So I had no real time to think about how to be a boss. I kind of just had to learn on the go when "Crazy Ex" was happening.

Because you don't know when you're gonna be a boss. You don't want to overly prepare, because you don't wanna get your hopes up.

But that's part of the problem, is it's people becoming bosses who've never been bosses before. And there's not great training, and I did - the Writers Guild had a showrunner training program. And they have a weeks-long course, and they have a day course that - I don't even think you're required to take it. But you can take it if you have a new show. And that was the only sort of actual training I got.

That, and HR training. But the HR training, especially when I first went through it, was very focused on sexual harassment. So I think we're now slowly having these conversations of what it does mean to be a boss, and what it means to have power over people. You know, "With great power comes great responsibility." How you can be responsible.

And I think that compassionate rejection is something we all need to work on. Myself included! I am sure there were parts of "Crazy Ex" in which I was like, a b*tch. In which I was like, "No, we're not doing that." I'm sure! Because creativity is messy, and it's hard, and I went in with no training on how to be a boss. So it very much was like a learn-on-the-go type thing.

I know that the book is dedicated to Adam Schlesinger - I got to talk to the singer Mike Viola about Adam last week, and he told me the most beautiful story about him. Could you tell me your favorite moment from your collaboration and friendship?

Oh, man. I was just dreaming about him last night.

I actually went on a kick for the past couple days of listening to podcasts he'd been on that I hadn't heard. Because every new conversation with Adam now kind of feels like he's still alive. Because there wasn't a funeral, or a formal memorial or anything. And because I still haven't been able to, like. Hug most of the people.

It's just not a normal, natural way to grieve. So there's still a part of me that - I understand, mentally, now that he's dead, but I, emotionally - It still isn't computing.

Adam was a fantastic cook. He loved cooking for people. And Adam, Jack, and I were writing a movie that is since dead for Dreamworks called "Sea Dweebs," about dorky sea monsters. And, again, it's dead! Don't blame us!

But we went - the musical aesthetic of it was, like, southern. Like, kind of southern rock. It kind of took place in Sea Texas. So, I was going to South by Southwest anyway for my husband's movie, and so, a week before, Adam, Jack, and I rented this beautiful Airbnb just outside of Austin in this great barbecue town where we wrote.

But every day, Adam cooked breakfast for us. And it was like - bacon, eggs, he made the most delicious, savory, meat breakfast. And that was really wonderful and special. And then we just ate barbecue, like, nonstop. And it was such a pleasure to eat with Adam because he would just order everything, share everything, and was so excited to see people try new things.

So many of my favorite memories with him are just out after a show, drinking or eating. Especially when we did Radio City. After both of the shows, but especially the second show, we were all staying at the Nomad Hotel in New York. And that bar was open until, like, 3 a.m., and was serving some form of food until 1, and so we just were drinking and ordering all the charcuterie, all of the burger platters. Adam LOVED burgers - in fact, he turned me on to my favorite burger place now, which is this place Burgers Never Say Die in Los Angeles.

But he just was generous of heart and spirit. And the other thing was - he stuck by his views. So, we'd butt heads. There was definitely head-butting. But the great thing was he would really separate work. He was friends with people with whom he worked, but he managed to, like, completely separate the two. So even if we super butted heads, and had a mini-argument earlier that day, an hour later - or even within that same argument - he'd be like, "Hey, do you wanna go out for burgers tonight?"

All of his friends were in the creative field, but there was this interesting separation of church and state with that. We'd talk a lot about creativity when we were hanging out. He just - I don't know, he was so down for anything. He was down for anything in the way someone in their early twenties was.

He was ageless in that way. He stayed out late in the way someone in their early twenties would. And he wasn't a heavy drinker - we're not talking about someone who was, like, getting wasted. He just had energy, and it's why he really - I don't even think he was in the prime of his career yet. I think his career obviously had many primes, but, at age 52, he and I had just started working on "The Nanny" [Broadway musical] together. He was working on "Bedwetter." He and I were talking about some other projects.

He was so down for anything and everything. He was the bandleader when I hosted the Obie Awards. He was the bandleader! And this is an EGOT-nominated - he did not need to be the bandleader of the un-televised Obie Awards. But he was just like, "Sure, I'm down." He was just down for sh*t, because he loved life, and he loved new experiences.

I sent Jack and Aline - I only have one demo, because I had worked on some of "The Nanny'' songs before Adam. I had done lyrics and temp melody, and then I sent that to him. He actually sent me his demo of the opening number, like, a day before he got sick - or apparently realized he was sick in hindsight.

And I sent it to Aline and Jack, this was a couple months ago. And Jack is like, "All I can say is, that is sung by someone who's alive." And I just completely agree. I hear his voice on a podcast or whatever, or a video that I have of him, and I'm like, that's someone who still exists. Because he had such a - you hear this, and it sounds trite, but he just really liked being alive and having new experiences.

And he ran this place called Sid Gold's, which is this karaoke bar in both New York and L.A. He had this karaoke bar! He'd be like, "Come out! We'll be singing until 2 a.m." He just was super f*cking down with anything.

And it just is truly - you just can't believe it. It doesn't make any sense. And also because it happened so quickly. No one saw him sick. There's no picture of him. The only person who actually saw him in person was Alexis, his partner. But there are no pictures. It's not he had this long illness and we saw this decline.

I found out he was sick the night I gave birth. I found out he was on a ventilator that night. I had no idea he even had COVID. Because I had just been texting with him a week before about how crazy the COVID thing was. He was like, "Yeah, yeah, I'm gonna go upstate."

I'm looking at someone who had a zest for life, and had boundless energy, and then you're telling me that they were taken by a sickness. It doesn't make any f*cking sense. It's not like he parachuted into a volcano, you know? He fell ill. And was sick. I don't think I even saw Adam with a f*cking cold. I just don't even know what that looks like.

So it just continues to not compute. And there's anger. And there are all these emotions that anyone who's grieved has gone through, and I'm only now just experiencing this because this is my first real experience with sudden grief.

The world - everyone, and especially the theatre community. They're at a loss. He is truly irreplaceable.

Thank you so much for sharing that.

Yeah, my pleasure. I want people to be talking about him and remembering him constantly. Especially now, before an election of someone who I think had a major hand in his death. So I think - not to use that for political gain, but as long as we're talking about it. We need to be remembering as we're voting - this over 200,000 people who don't matter to our president.

It's awful. But - "Bedwetter" is gonna come out eventually, and I'm so excited. I haven't heard any of the songs from that.

He was the best. And I hope people just continue to listen to his stuff.

I have one more question - sorry to go from something so big to something not.

No, it's fine! Adam loved sharp segues like that.

Oh, great!


Would you give your biggest piece of advice to someone who wants to do what you do?

Find like-minded people. Find people who are doing what you want to do, or something adjacent to it, who understand what you're about. Find your own community, and just write. The only way to get good as a writer is not to think about writing or talk about writing. It's just to write. And writing is actually really f*cking hard. It's a slog. It's hard.

The main advice I give writers is to give yourself deadlines, which is why finding a community - I have some friends out in L.A. who have a weekly or monthly show called "See What Sticks," where you go up and present new stuff that you've written. And what it does is it gives them a deadline. So it gives them a community, but also, "Okay, I have to write this thing for 'See What Sticks.'" Because I would get nothing done if I didn't have deadlines.

Because writing is f*cking hard! The way Aline found me is she was procrastinating on a writing assignment. She's like, "I'm gonna check Jezebel." And that's how she found me.

Rachel Bloom is best known for creating, writing and playing the lead role of Rebecca Bunch in The CW comedy-drama series CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND, for which she won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Television Series Musical or Comedy and a Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. She also created the Hugo Award-nominated music video "F*ck Me, Ray Bradbury," , which went viral. On stage, she has trained with the renowned Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and performed starring roles such as Roxie Hart in Chicago and the Witch in Into the Woods.

Preorder "I Want To Be Where The Normal People Are" here.