Rachel Bloom looks back on 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,' and moves ahead on 'Reboot'
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Our guest, Rachel Bloom, is best known for co-creating and starring in the Emmy Award-winning TV series "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." She's now co-starring in a new Hulu series called "Reboot." She spoke with FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado about the show and her career.
ANN MARIE BALDONADO, BYLINE: Rachel Bloom knows a lot about dark TV comedies. She co-created and starred in the musical comedy series "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." She also co-wrote all the songs for the show. Her first real comedy job was writing for a sitcom when she was in her early 20s. She'll talk about her experience in that writer's room and how tough it was for her as the youngest writer and the only woman a little later.
Now she's playing a TV writer in the new Hulu comedy series called "Reboot." Rachel Bloom's character, Hannah, is a writer who has a love-hate relationship with a popular family sitcom from the 2000s called "Step Right Up." It's about a stepdad who moves in with his new wife, her son and her ex-husband. Hannah wants to reboot the series with the original cast but make the show darker and more current. Gordon, the creator of the original show, also happens to be Hannah's estranged father who, like the plot of "Step Right Up," left her and her mom when she was a kid. It turns out that her dad has creative rights to the series and wants to work on the reboot, which makes Hannah want to quit.
Here's a scene from the show. The original cast members want her to stay, so they all meet in her father's office. The father's played by Paul Reiser. The cast members include Judy Greer, Johnny Knoxville and Keegan-Michael Key.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "REBOOT")
KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY: (As Reed Sterling) Obviously, we were all thrown yesterday to find out that Hannah was your daughter. But, you know, family dynamics, they're so - I don't know. What's the word I'm looking for?
PAUL REISER: (As Gordon) I don't know. Could you find it while I'm still young, please?
KEY: (As Reed Sterling) Gordon, we want her to stay for the good of the show.
REISER: (As Gordon) Hey. Just yesterday, I asked her to stay, and she said, quote, "I'd rather work at SeaWorld."
RACHEL BLOOM: (As Hannah) And then I had to explain to him why that's an insult.
REISER: (As Gordon) Who doesn't love the dolphin spectacular?
BLOOM: (As Hannah) The dolphins.
REISER: (As Gordon) So what is it? Now you want to stay? What...
BLOOM: (As Hannah) I want to do the script that I wrote.
REISER: (As Gordon) Really? 'Cause it felt like you wanted to shove it up [expletive].
BLOOM: (As Hannah) No. I want to tell the truth, OK? Because you based Lawrence on yourself...
REISER: (As Gordon) Yes.
BLOOM: (As Hannah) ...And your new family, and you left out the old family that you abandoned.
REISER: (As Gordon) Didn't abandon. I sent checks.
BLOOM: (As Hannah) [Expletive] your money.
REISER: (As Gordon) Nice. Nice to know you got your mom's mouth.
KEY: (As Reed Sterling) This is the magic. This is how we take this show to the next level. Gordon, come on. Lawrence is complicated now, flawed. The confrontation in the last scene alone is (chef's kiss). I mean, it's revelatory. It's profound. It rips your soul out.
REISER: (As Gordon) None of that sounds funny.
BLOOM: (As Hannah) It's my life, and it wasn't funny.
REISER: (As Gordon) OK. What about you guys? You seem very quiet.
JOHNNY KNOXVILLE: (As Clay Barber) I do like there's no kid in it.
JUDY GREER: (As Bree Marie Jensen) I like that I'm not a grandma. That's pretty much the last stop in Hollywood - grandmas, playing a judge on "Law & Order," dead.
REISER: (As Gordon) All right, so basically, that's my choice. I do your script, or I can go jump in a lake.
BLOOM: (As Hannah) I mean, I don't care where you jump.
BALDONADO: Rachel Bloom, welcome back to FRESH AIR. What was interesting to you about the character you play, Hannah, someone who has - kind of begrudgingly has a soft spot or a love for old, kind of nostalgic sitcoms but also wants to make it more current and darker?
BLOOM: Well, I have that relationship to nostalgia. And so I think that Hannah wanting to take something from her childhood that she's nostalgic for but make it dark is so akin to something I would do as a writer, but also, that she's nostalgic for this show because it was basically representing the father she wished would be around, and this was her only way as a kid to connect with her father. Oh, it just like - it's really heartbreaking. And I have a theory that she originally wrote this reboot script as an exercise in therapy and then realized, wait, is this good? Do I want to pitch this?
BALDONADO: Well, you know, one thing that your character is dealing with is a sitcom being loosely based on life. You know, viewers find out that her father, who's played by Paul Reiser, left her and her mother and moved into a house with a new wife and a stepkid, and that was the basis for the sitcom "Step Right Up." And Hannah, your character, wants to make it darker, you know, reflecting that it wasn't all light. You know, it was a darker story. What do you think about how these characters are dealing with turning real life into comedy? You know, how do you deal when you're bringing in your real life into comedy, even - you know, whether it's light or dark?
BLOOM: Yeah. Well, I think for Hannah, it's interesting because - especially in the first episode, the sense I got from her is that she was partially doing it to tarnish her father's legacy. And I think at one point - I was talking to Steve, and he's like, it would be as if someone took Phil Dunphy from "Modern Family" and was like, you know what? Phil Dunphy is actually a terrible person, and there's this whole side of him you didn't know, and let's ruin that character. It would be heartbreaking.
BALDONADO: And we would say, Steve Levitan, he, among other things, created the show "Modern Family."
BLOOM: Oh, yeah. But she does also want to make it a good show. And I know for me, it's kind of an instinct, smell-test thing. I think it depends on the moment. It depends on the joke. At the end of the day, it's what feels true. With "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," we dealt with a lot of things like romantic obsession leading into mental illness and abandonment, some things that are theoretically very dark, and then we made songs about them. And I know that all I can speak to is that the times that we made things funny or lightened them were just coming from a personal place.
I mean, I think of the song in Season 3 of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" called "Maybe She's Not Such A Heinous Bitch After All," and it's a really up-tempo Ronettes-style 1960s girl group song that's basically a love song of Rebecca hoping that maybe her mother isn't as abusive and terrible as she once thought. And some of the things she says in it are absolutely awful because her relationship with her mother is awful, but when you have that hope that maybe, maybe your parent this time won't disappoint you, it feels light, like falling in love.
BALDONADO: And so it sort of matches the kind of song it is, too.
BLOOM: Yeah, exactly. So I think that Hannah is - that kind of struggle that she's going through with the light and the dark of, OK, I'm taking this thing from my childhood that I love but also represented my abandoned dad, and I'm doing it to kind of ruin my father's legacy but also to heal myself - I get that. I get those conflicting thoughts.
BALDONADO: Well, we're talking about "Reboot" here, but you did just mention that song from Crazy "Ex-Girlfriend." And we actually have it, so let's hear a little bit of it right now. It's the song from Season 3 of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." Here's Rachel Bloom.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND")
BLOOM: (As Rebecca Bunch, singing) I used to think my mother was the worst, that if she didn't kill me, I'd kill her first. But now birds are singing. The flowers are pink. Yes, spring is here 'cause I'm starting to think that maybe she's not such a heinous bitch after all.
UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (As characters, singing) Maybe, maybe. Maybe, maybe, baby, baby.
BLOOM: (As Rebecca Bunch, singing) Maybe she's not such a heinous bitch after all.
UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (As characters, singing) Maybe, maybe she's nicer to her baby.
BLOOM: (As Rebecca Bunch, singing) I don't want to bash her head in with this cup. It may sound harsh, but that's a huge step up. Maybe she's not such a heinous bitch after all.
BALDONADO: Talk about light and dark.
BLOOM: Yeah. Yeah. I love that song. It was really fun to write, cathartic to write. And I just have to say, like, my songwriting partner on that, as well as co-composer, Adam Schlesinger, who passed away of COVID in 2020, and him and his producing partner, Steven Gold - God, they just killed the production of that because that Phil Spector Wall of Sound is not easy to recreate and to find someone who can both write and produce that, and then the next day do, like, a Kesha-style pop song - it's just unheard of. So I - God, I just love that song.
BALDONADO: A little later, I'll ask you even more about songwriting, but getting back to "Reboot," your character, Hannah, is co-executive producer, co-showrunner of this new show, this new reboot of the old sitcom, and your character kind of represents the new kind of comedy - more current, for lack of a better term, edgier. And Paul Reiser's character, Gordon - you know, the guy who created the original sitcom in the early aughts - he represents, you know, that older, classic sitcom, like you were saying, with a studio audience. And there are lots of scenes in the writers room, you know, that your character has to run. Your character has hired young writers - two women of color TV writers, a gay male playwright - and Paul Reiser's character, he's brought in these writers he's comfortable with, like, these old writers who've, like, been around for decades. And they're all in this writers room together, often clashing. I'm going to play a scene from one of the episodes. Here's a scene where they're all together in that room trying to solve a problem in the script.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "REBOOT")
BLOOM: (As Hannah) Can you not do that, please?
FRED MELAMED: (As Alan) You want me to throw them on the floor?
ROSE ABDOO: (As Selma) That's where your nuts usually are.
KIMIA BEHPOORNIA: (As Azmina) I don't love how much you talk about Alan's genitals.
ABDOO: (As Selma) I'm sorry - low-hanging fruit.
MELAMED: (As Alan) How does she do it?
BLOOM: (As Hannah) OK. Can we please get back to the story? OK? Anybody? Josie and Whitney...
REISER: (As Gordon) All right. Josie and Whitney - were we too quick to dismiss the hot, clumsy delivery guy?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) No.
BLOOM: (As Hannah) You've got to stop pitching that.
REISER: (As Gordon) I'm telling you, it'd work.
BLOOM: (As Hannah) It's too sitcom-y (ph).
REISER: (As Gordon) It's funny.
BLOOM: (As Hannah) None of us laughed.
REISER: (As Gordon) You know, between us, we have 150 years in this business, and you guys haven't laughed at anything coming from this side of the table.
DAN LEAHY: (As Benny) I don't know, I laughed at some of the sounds coming out of Alan.
MELAMED: (As Alan) Story of my life. I love onions. They don't love me.
RYAN DIETZ: (As Dennis) I'm telling you, it could be symptoms of something serious.
BEHPOORNIA: (As Azmina) I'm sorry. I just think some of the jokes you guys tell are a little corny.
KORAMA DANQUAH: (As Janae) Yeah, and a lot of them are wildly offensive.
LEAHY: (As Benny) They're like the ones my memaw tells at Thanksgiving.
DIETZ: (As Dennis) She sounds funny. Does she have a blow for the BC?
BLOOM: (As Hannah) OK, yeah. I'm going to just state the obvious. So we're coming from two entirely different planets here.
REISER: (As Gordon) Listen, sometimes it takes a while for a room to come together.
BLOOM: (As Hannah) We're never going to come together. Selma, don't even.
BALDONADO: Now, in your memoir called "I Want To Be Where The Normal People Are," you talk about your first writing job, and it was back when you were in your early 20s. It was on a sitcom. How did that writer's room, the job - your real job - compare to the way the writers room is portrayed on this show?
BLOOM: Well, so it's really interesting. So it was my first writing job. I was the only girl on staff - only woman. I was 23. I had done a single music video, and I'd written a single what we call spec script, which is a script of an existing TV show. And I'd - so I'd written this spec of "30 Rock," and I got hired. And I was terrified. And I got in this room, and what was interesting was there was a, I'd say, pocket of guys who weren't even the upper-level writers, and I'd actually known a couple of them from doing comedy. And their way of pitching in a room was actually very old school in the way that you'd see in "Reboot." It was mean. It was, like, mean - and they were very, very good. They were just whip-smart joke writers, but they couldn't do it without bringing you down.
So this idea of comedy that some people have of in order to be funny, you also have to be mean to anyone who isn't as funny as you are, I think is a very old-school idea. And actually, Rose Abdoo, who plays Selma - her character has a speech later in the season about being the only woman in a writers room for years and, like, it's - they're mean, they're hard places, and you just have to learn to get tough and be, like, the funniest person, then, to show them you need to be there. I think that the culture of comedy in writers rooms has, in general, gotten nicer as we've become more socially aware. And it's not cool to be a mean jerk in the writers room.
BALDONADO: A few years ago, one of those writers from that first job reached out to you. He was one of the people you kind of thought of as a bully, so you kind of got to do something that people who get bullied kind of dream of, you know, kind of have the opportunity, that talk back to the bully or, I don't know, you get to tell them off in a way that you would have liked to as a younger person. What did that writer bully say to you? What was that conversation like?
BLOOM: So he had heard me on another podcast talking about the show, and I frankly think was maybe worried about, you know, maybe me saying names, which I have no interest in doing. I have no - you know, these are mean writers. I have no interest in cancelling people for, you know, being mean jerks in writers rooms. But he reached out, and he said, hey, I heard this podcast, and I just want to make sure I wasn't one of the guys you were talking about. And without flinching, I went, oh, no, no, you were. You were exactly who I'm talking about. In fact, I'm scared of you. And I'm actually, like, kind of shaking talking to you right now. I'm terrified of you.
And he was shocked. He was very surprised. He was like, I was - 'cause on that job, he was also a kind of lower-level writer. And he's like, honestly, I didn't even track that I was being mean to you. I was just worried about myself. And then I did call him out, and I said, listen, man, I'm not supposed to know this, but I do know for a fact you do have something against me. And then he's like, OK, man, yeah, maybe our styles of comedy aren't the same.
And then I brought up, I said, well, you know, you and I actually have similar backgrounds in comedy, and I brought up some of our similarities, and I said, and I - maybe part of the reason you don't find me funny or don't think I'm funny is because I - not because I'm a woman, but because you've been - the whole world has catered to your lens. And you haven't learned, perhaps, how to empathize or sympathize with the point of view of someone who isn't exactly you and doesn't have your exact experience. I went, maybe.
BALDONADO: My guest is actor, writer and performer Rachel Bloom. She's best known for starring in and co-creating the Emmy Award-winning show "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," which ran for four seasons. She has a memoir called "I Want To Be Where The Normal People Are." And now she stars in the new Hulu series "Reboot." More after a break, this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF GOLDENBOY SONG, "KITTENS OF LUST")
BALDONADO: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Ann Marie Baldonado, back with actor, writer and performer Rachel Bloom. She's best known for her work on the TV series "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." In 2020, she published a memoir called "I Want To Be Where The Normal People Are." She now stars in the Hulu comedy series "Reboot."
Now, you're, of course, well known for the show "Crazy Ex-girlfriend" that you co-created. And you have said that songwriting, particularly joke songwriting, is sort of a pattern or a math problem that you can relate to. Can you talk about the process of songwriting for "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"?
BLOOM: Yes. Well, with "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," it was such a hard needle to thread because we always needed songs that would both serve the moment at hand and really be, like, the emotional high of an episode. So it had to serve a certain emotional high plus make some sort of - potentially make some sort of thematic point that we were overall trying to make with the episode. And how do you make that funny?
BALDONADO: Can you give an example of a favorite song?
BLOOM: Yeah, yeah. So Season 2, my character, Rebecca, is deciding between a bunch of guys. It's - she was in emotional turmoil. And it was like, well, she's in emotional turmoil; this is a place where we would do a musical number. The emotion is heightened where it's heightened enough for her to burst into song. Or with Rebecca Bunch, she needs to almost imagine herself in a music video to make sense of her life 'cause that was often our logic of why we were bursting into song, is people seeing themselves in genre pieces to make sense of what was going on.
And then, we landed, OK, well, what is she feeling in this episode? She's feeling torn between two men. All right. What's a genre where someone is both torn between men, feeling maybe a little naughty, but is kind of liking it? And I thought of Marilyn Monroe. I thought of that general persona and especially, you know, "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend." And that's when we came up with "The Math Of Love Triangles." And that solves all of these problems because that was both what - kind of overall what the episode was about. Rebecca's in a love triangle, so we're going to do a song called "The Math Of Love Triangles."
It was also a song that was funny on its own merits because it was a person - a Marilyn Monroe-type character - misunderstanding what math was and then also was Rebecca telling herself a story that she's this femme fatale. She's this sexy Marilyn Monroe character when she's actually being quite vain and quite selfish. So it worked on all of these levels.
BALDONADO: Well, let's hear a little bit of that. So this is the song "The Math Of Love Triangles" from the show "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND")
BLOOM: (As Rebecca, singing) The math of love triangles, is it hard to learn?
UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (As characters, singing) You're not taking in what we're saying. We're a little bit concerned.
BLOOM: (As Rebecca, singing) Yes, the math of love triangles is as simple as can be. Whichever Tom or Dick I might pick, the center of the triangle's little, old me.
UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (As characters, singing) Actually, a triangle has multiple centers. This triangle's scalene.
BLOOM: (As Rebecca, singing) That's astute, so I need to decide which man's more acute.
UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (As characters, singing) Here's Pythagoras' theorem.
BLOOM: (As Rebecca, singing) Will this help me choose? If not, I'll be swinging from a hypotenuse.
UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (As characters, singing) Let's take a look at what this line bisects.
BLOOM: (As Rebecca, singing) Is that spelled B-I-S-E-X?
UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (As characters, singing) Those are good puns, but, please, pay attention.
BLOOM: (As Rebecca, singing) Oh, no, professors, am I facing suspension? Whee. A swing. It's literal suspension. The math of love triangles isn't hard to learn.
UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (As characters, singing) We're starting to suspect you don't sincerely want to know about triangles.
BLOOM: (As Rebecca, singing) Yes, the math of love triangles is as simple as can be. I need to choose between men, but until then, the center of the triangle's little, old me. Is this a triangle?
UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (As characters, singing) No, that's a shoe.
BLOOM: (As Rebecca, singing) Is this a triangle?
UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (As characters, singing) No, that's you.
BLOOM: (As Rebecca, singing) So I'm a triangle?
UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (As characters, singing) What? No.
BLOOM: (As Rebecca, singing) One, two, three, six, eight, three, go.
BALDONADO: That's the song "Math Of Love Triangles," co-written by my guest, Rachel Bloom, for her TV show "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." Rachel Bloom is currently starring in the new Hulu series "Reboot." We'll talk more after a break. I'm Ann Marie Baldonado, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MATH OF LOVE TRIANGLES")
BLOOM: (Singing) The math of love triangles is super, duper fun.
UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (Singing) We're tired of all of your tangents. That's also a triangle pun.
BLOOM: (Singing) Oh, thanks for teaching...
BALDONADO: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Ann Marie Baldonado back with writer, actor and performer Rachel Bloom. She stars as a comedy writer in the new Hulu series "Reboot." It's about writers and cast members rebooting a family sitcom from the early 2000s. Rachel Bloom is probably best known for co-creating and starring in the Emmy Award-winning show "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend."
Now, you wrote - I think it's 157 songs for the show.
BALDONADO: And you wrote the songs with your writing partner, Jack Dolgen, who you worked with since you were doing viral videos in your early 20s, and Adam Schlesinger, who was a member of the Fountains of Wayne. He wrote the song "That Thing You Do" for the Tom Hanks movie. He wrote for the Tonys. He wrote, you know, across the board, so many different places. And he tragically died of COVID-related illnesses at the beginning of the pandemic. He was such an early case back in the spring of 2020. I want to play another song - or a song that you all wrote together. It's called "The End Of The Movie." Can you talk about writing that song, the kind of song you were inspired by it and where it kind of falls on the show?
BLOOM: Yeah. It's actually such a good example of the songwriting process. So we were at a dark night of the soul moment. And in this specific episode, which is in Season 3, it was actually the episode that Aline and I had always wanted to write for the show from the moment we pitched the show, which is an episode in which Rebecca is telling herself, now I'm the villain. Now I'm the sexy, vengeful villain I am in - I am Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction." This is who I am now. I am out to get revenge. And it's this song where she has really messed everything up. She's not a sexy villain. She's just messed things up. And she's emotionally broken. And we needed a song for that.
And I wrote a song called - I remember "If Only You Could See This Montage Too," which was sung by the group or almost, like, a narrator voiceover saying, Rebecca, don't be sad. If only you could see this montage. And it was a very good song. But Aline said, is there something else that can be even more global about how she's seeing her life as this clean narrative? But that's not right. She's been seeing things the wrong way. We were banging our heads. And I remember I was at a table with Aline, Adam and Jack. And I said, OK. So really what you want to do is have a song that's like, life's not a movie. Life is a series of gradual revelations that occur over a period of time. And Adam goes, wait, wait. Say that again. And I was like, it's just - and he's like, that's the chorus.
And it was so funny because Adam otherwise had always lobbied for very succinct choruses. So the fact that he's like, no, no, no, no, this song is actually great - and I remember he went into my office and got on my piano and just started playing, (singing) life is a gradual series of revelations that occur over a period of time. And we just together (laughter) wrote this song that was so the opposite of how we'd usually written songs. There was almost no rhyme scheme because it was about how life doesn't have a clean narrative and a clean pattern. And Adam just got it. And it's this beautiful ballad. And he just heard it instantly. And it was sung by Josh Groban. And it was just, like, that moment of brilliance from Adam being like, no, no, no, that's the chorus. You might not think that's the chorus, but that's the chorus. And he was so right.
BALDONADO: Well, in the - like you just said, in the show, the song is sung by a cameo from Josh Groban. But on the original soundtrack for Season 3 is the demo, which was sung by Adam Schlesinger. So let's hear a little bit of it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE END OF THE MOVIE")
ADAM SCHLESINGER: (Singing) So this is the end of the movie. Whoa, whoa, whoa. But real life isn't a movie, no, no, no. You want things to be wrapped up neatly, the way that stories do. You're looking for answers, but answers aren't looking for you, because life is a gradual series of revelations that occur over a period of time. It's not some carefully crafted story. It's a mess, and we're all going to die. If you saw a movie that was like real life, you'd be like, what the hell was that movie about? It was really all over the place. Life doesn't make narrative sense, no. We tell ourselves that we're in a movie. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Each one of us thinks we've got the starring role - role, role, role. But the truth is, sometimes you're the lead. And sometimes you're an extra just walking by in the background, like me, Josh Groban, because life is a gradual series of revelations that occur over a period of time...
BALDONADO: That's the song "The End Of The Movie," written by our guest Rachel Bloom, Jack Dolgen and Adam Schlesinger, who's singing here on this version.
BLOOM: Man, I hadn't listened to that Adam demo in a while. And just hearing him saying, it's a mess, and we're all going to die is - ugh.
BALDONADO: Now, he died tragically of COVID at the beginning of the pandemic. He was such an early case back in March of 2020. And, in fact, he was sick at the same time you were giving birth to your daughter. You guys were in the hospital at the same time. And, you know, not that we need to remind listeners, but it was such a sad, tough time, you know, March 2020. You were - you know, because you were having your daughter, she was also in the NICU early on. So you know, there were all those issues with hospital visits then. Plus, you know, your close friend and collaborator was in the hospital. You write about this time in your book. It must have been so difficult and strange.
BLOOM: Yeah. And it's only now - and actually - in this new show that I'm doing that I'm making more sense of it. But it was - yeah, it was just the most awful time. It was the most awful time of my life. And, I mean, you know, life not making narrative sense - like, the weird thing with my personal experience of what happened in March 2020, was it both didn't make any sense - like, I gave birth. And then the night I gave birth, I found out Adam was on a ventilator. I didn't know he had COVID. So it was the first I found out he was sick. And I had just seen my daughter in the NICU. And the weird thing was my daughter was in the NICU for something called TTN. I forget what it stands for. It's basically when a baby has fluid in their lungs that hasn't been expelled from the womb. It's actually a very common thing that happens, and 10- to 15% of babies born go to the NICU, which no one had told me.
But anyway, so I had just seen my baby, and she was on a ventilator. And then, I'm told Adam's on a ventilator. And it felt like it made narrative sense, but in a horrible way. It felt just, like, cosmic and very interconnected, and I didn't like it. I didn't like how much that made sense. And I didn't like how much the narrative that I dreaded in the week - 'cause he died after a week my daughter was born, like, basically, almost to the day. That entire week, I was like, please don't make this the story of, in my life, one life is entering, and another life is exiting. I don't want that narrative. I don't want this to be the narrative. I don't want this to be true, and I was rejecting that narrative. And that is, of course, what happened.
BALDONADO: You wrote over 150 songs for "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" with Adam Schlesinger. Is it hard to write songs now?
BLOOM: Yeah. I mean, I'd been writing before I met Adam. But I think that Adam was such a pro. And so the thing that I got used to - and Jack got used to over the course of four years was that we always had Adam. Yeah, OK, we're going to do a pass on this song. But you know what? Adam's going to tell us what he thinks of this song. And Adam is, like, the kind of final stopgap, right? And then, that went away.
And so as a songwriter, what I'm doing now is - like, I'm working on this new live show. And I have very purposefully kind of written every song with a different person because I'm in search of - OK, post-writing-157-songs-with-this-dynamic, like, who am I as a writer now? I don't have that - I don't have the person who's going to tell me everything's going to be OK and this song is going to be OK 'cause that's what it felt like for me and Jack for four years. We always had the person who we knew at the end of the day was going to make the song OK.
And so very - you know, very selfishly, that went away. And for the first couple months after Adam died, I was grieving him as a person. And then, as I got back into writing, I really started grieving him as a partner. And the times that Jack and I have written together, we - you know, we'll say things like, oh, God, if Adam were here, he'd have the - he'd know. He'd have the answer for this. What are we - what's that next line? What are we going for? And we - you can always - you can almost, like, hear his advice. But at the end of the day, he's not there with the answers.
It's very hard and - I don't know. I - this is my first - it is really my - the first time I've been through grief - went through grief like that. I lost my grandparents, but there is something about when you lose grandparents, there's a preparation you - I mean, I lost two of my grandparents before I really had memories. And my grandparents, when they passed away, I was in college, and they were quite old. And it was sad, but there was this kind of - you know, there was this decline. There was this slow decline. I'd never lost someone suddenly like this. And it's shocking. And it doesn't make sense.
BALDONADO: Our guest is actor, writer and songwriter Rachel Bloom. She's best known for her TV series "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." She and her songwriting partners received a lot of Emmy nominations for their songs, finally winning an Emmy for outstanding music and lyrics in 2019. Rachel Bloom now stars in the Hulu comedy series called "Reboot." More after a break, this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE MOUNTAIN GOATS SONG, "PEACOCKS")
BALDONADO: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Anne Marie Baldonado, back with writer and actor Rachel Bloom. She stars as a comedy writer in the new Hulu series "Reboot." It's about the writers and cast members rebooting a family sitcom from the early 2000s. Rachel Bloom is known for co-creating and starring in the Emmy Award-winning show "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." Before we get back to our interview, here's a song from the third season of the show. It's called "Let's Generalize About Men."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S GENERALIZE ABOUT MEN")
BLOOM: (As Rebecca Bunch) Oh, my God.
GABRIELLE RUIZ: (As Valencia Perez) How much do you want?
BLOOM: (As Rebecca Bunch) Drink a lot more.
DONNA LYNNE CHAMPLIN: (As Paula Proctor) Yeah.
RUIZ: (As Valencia Perez, singing) Right now, we're angry and sad.
VELLA LOVELL: (As Heather Davis, singing) It's our right to get righteously mad.
CHAMPLIN: (As Paula Proctor, singing) At every member of the opposite sex.
BLOOM: (As Rebecca Bunch, singing) Oh, God, we hate them.
RUIZ: (As Valencia Perez) That's what I'm saying.
LOVELL: (As Heather Davis) That's all I'm saying.
CHAMPLIN: (As Paula Proctor, singing) Let's not distinguish between them at all.
BLOOM: (As Rebecca Bunch, singing) Let's just drink a lot more alcohol.
RACHEL BLOOM, GABRIELLE RUIZ, VELLA LOVELL AND DONNA LYNNE CHAMPLIN: (As characters, singing) And then high-five each other as we make a bunch of blanket statements. Let's generalize about men. Let's generalize about men. Let's take one bad thing about one man and apply it to all of them. Let's conflate all the guys. Let's generalize about men.
RACHEL BLOOM, GABRIELLE RUIZ AND VELLA LOVELL: (As characters) Chug, chug, chug, chug, chug.
CHAMPLIN: (As Paula Proctor, singing) All men are completely repressed.
RUIZ: (As Valencia Perez, singing) All men only want to have sex.
BLOOM: (As Rebecca Bunch, singing) There are no exceptions. All 3 billion men are like this.
RACHEL BLOOM, GABRIELLE RUIZ AND DONNA LYNNE CHAMPLIN: (As characters, singing) All 3.6 billion men.
LOVELL: (As Heather Davis, singing) All men are emotionally stunted.
CHAMPLIN: (As Paula Proctor, singing) When asked how they feel, every man's always grunted.
BLOOM: (As Rebecca Bunch) And why do men never listen and only think about themselves (singing) as opposed to women who always listen and never think about themselves?
GABRIELLE RUIZ, VELLA LOVELL AND DONNA LYNNE CHAMPLIN: (As characters) Ooh, I hear you, girl.
BLOOM, RUIZ, LOVELL AND CHAMPLIN: (As characters, singing) Let's generalize about men.
BALDONADO: You were, or still are, a self-proclaimed theater kid. And then, you came to New York, to NYU, to pursue - was that musical theater that you came to New York to pursue?
BALDONADO: But it wasn't - you know, you write about this in the book. It wasn't what you thought it would be like. It wasn't kind of like this paradise of musical theater for you.
BLOOM: No. Well, there were a couple of things working against me. The first was, I had terrible self-discipline, learned in high school. I mean, I think I had - I recently, in the past year, got diagnosed with ADHD. And under that umbrella - a lot of things that I already knew about, like depression and anxiety, kind of all fall under that umbrella. And when I think about - back to when I was 17, 18, 19, I just - I had no - I had terrible self-discipline. So I would go to bed late, which, when you're majoring in musical theater, classes start at 9 a.m. And you're there 9 to 4. You have to be really on your game. You have to go home. You have to rehearse. And I had really, really bad self-discipline. My eyes were bigger than my stomach, so to speak, in kind of my life. So that set me up badly.
And then separately, the program I was in, it was a lot of people. I mean, there were - I think there were 80 kids in my freshman class alone, which is a lot for a musical theater program. So I very much felt like just a number. I very much felt like my whole self wasn't being taken in and appreciated because there were just too many kids in the class. And then I also came into school with - this is technical - but, like, swollen vocal folds. I've always had problems with being hoarse. My voice just kind of runs sensitive and hoarse. And coupled with the fact I was suddenly then - I had no sleep discipline. So I was running on little sleep. And I always felt hoarse. And I would hear other kids, and they sounded so crisp and so clear. And I felt very insecure. And so it was all this storm of - I was not my best self. And I knew in the back of my head I wanted to write. And so on a whim, I auditioned for this sketch comedy group at NYU. And I just - I fell in love with sketch comedy.
Specifically, I fell in love with writing sketch comedy because sketch comedy - first, the way that I learned it, there was almost this math and this set of organizing principles that felt so freeing. It gave me a structure to organize my often-chaotic thoughts. And I fell in love with the math of writing sketch comedy. And also, I hadn't told myself my whole life, I want to be a sketch comedy star. I'd said I want to be on Broadway. I want to be an actress. But I'd never said I want to write sketch comedy. So it was the first time that I pursued something without all this emotional baggage tied to it. And because of that, I was comfortable writing sketches to the best of my abilities and failing, writing to the best of my abilities and failing, which is the only way you get good. And it felt so freeing, in contrast to everything I was doing in the musical theater program.
BALDONADO: You and your husband are both in comedy. And you gave birth to your daughter in 2020. And so she's, you know, over 2 right now.
BALDONADO: Have you thought about what you'll do if she's interested in performing in comedy?
BLOOM: Yeah. I think our goal for her - well, currently, we're raising her in Los Angeles. So he and I have no template for what it's like to grow up in Los Angeles with two parents who are writer-performers. I - our parents couldn't have been further from that. So we just don't want her to be, you know, a jerk. We want her to know the value of seeking out your own happiness for yourself, the value of hard work. So I think that, like, regardless of what she goes into, we want her to have that value. I mean, it would be - sure, was there a part that would be so cool if she went into performing? Of course. But it's not something I'm putting onto her or even hoping for. I just kind of - I just want her to be happy and to feel fulfilled, as fulfilled as anyone can in the terror that is existence.
BALDONADO: Well, Rachel Bloom, thank you so much for joining us.
BLOOM: Thank you so much for having me.
DAVIES: Rachel Bloom spoke to FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado. Rachel Bloom stars in the new Hulu comedy series "Reboot." A new episode of the show drops today. Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews Celeste Ng's new novel. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF ANTHONY BRAXTON'S "MAPLE LEAF RAG (WITH MUHAL RICHARD ABRAMS)")
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