Rachel Bloom just wrapped a major era of her career as the co-creator, writer, songwriter and star of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” for CW Network. The show aired for four seasons and earned two Emmys, with Bloom herself winning a Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice Award and TCA Award.
Bloom recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing editor Rob Licuria about wrapping up “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” the impact the show has had on its viewers and what’s next for her. Watch the exclusive video interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby: Rachel, for four seasons you’ve been a writer, creator, songwriter, star of the show and I’m guessing probably craft services, makeup, lighting all the other things, too. It seems like you just do everything and it sounds really exhausting. Have you been resting since the show wrapped?
Rachel Bloom: I have. We did a thing that most TV shows don’t do which is we have a live element and so we wrapped the narrative show, went into the final episode, which was a concert special, which had a whole new production team. We wrapped that, went back and did editing for both the narrative and the concert special, wrapped that, went to Radio City Music Hall, wrapped that and then I went to London with a skeleton crew. So now I’m back.
GD: You must be exhausted.
RB: I’ve been sleeping a lot. It’s very nice.
GD: What’s the secret to four successful years on a show where you have to wear lots of different hats? You have to have some serious stamina but there’s gotta be more to it than that.
RB: I think what makes it easy is that in a lovely way, what choice do I have? If I don’t go to set, the show doesn’t get made. If I don’t look at the scripts, the scripts will get written without me having feedback on them. If I don’t write the songs, the songs won’t get written. There was a lovely lack of free will that made it easy to have so many hats because you were so under a deadline.
GD: Yeah, that makes sense. Talk us through why you thought it was the right time for the show to come to an end.
RB: We pitched the show as four seasons. We really pitched it like a 52-hour movie and it always felt right. The story was always in four phases. It was always about denial, admitting you’re in love, rebelling against that love somehow and finding this dark night of the soul and coming out of it and starting from scratch. That was just what it was.
GD: Yeah, the coming out of it and starting from scratch part of the cycle I think was actually really profoundly done. I wanna drill down into some of the elements of the last season because for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, this show is incredibly funny but there are moments that were actually quite heartbreaking because it touched on a few nerves that I think a lot of people can relate to. Let’s talk about, for example, this show focuses on outsiders and people who don’t fit a certain mold and I love that quirkiness and individuality was so celebrated by the show. What are your thoughts on that aspect?
RB: It’s interesting you say that ‘cause I think everyone on our show not only proved that over time they didn’t fit the mold, but also even the people who fit in don’t think they fit in. That’s just a universal lesson that you just learn and it extends beyond the show. Everyone feels like they’re on the outside or if they’re on the inside, it’s human nature to fear being on the outside. There’s a certain tribalism to it. I think the more specific you get with characters, the more relatable it gets, because people aren’t these vague ideas of an ambitious woman who’s great at everything or the perfect guy who has no fears of anxieties. People aren’t badly written. People are made of specificities so what I found in creating a character that was specific to some amalgamation of me and Aline Brosh McKenna, we found so many people who relate to her and it makes you realize in a wonderful way, “Oh, I’m not unique.” For me personally, “I’m not alone in being a short-waisted, big-breasted girl of a secular Jewish upbringing who loves Harry Potter and musicals and has some sort of combination of anxiety and depression.” I’ve met thousands of people like that. It’s great because you realize your problems, sure, it takes away a certain hubris of “I am me and I’m special” but in a good way it makes your problems, “Oh, the insecurities that I have right now, a lot of other people have.” Part of what is hard about any insecurity or any time you’re sad or taking it up to mental illness is feeling alone and feeling like you’re weird and the only person. Chances are, that’s just not true.
GD: That’s so comforting. Speaking of that and how you’re trying to get to this place of authenticity, the show also does not shy away at all from mental illness. As fun and over the top as the show can be, which is a lot of what we love about it, it’s also really grounded by that to some extent. How difficult was it to get that right authentically and honestly and also balance that with the humor?
RB: The show was always about deconstructing stereotypes and it was always about watching a character from her point of view. It was always starting with her point of view which is why the show wasn’t called “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” The way she sees herself and the story she tells herself and seeing what she’s like inside and seeing what she tries to be on the outside and at the end of the day, when you talk about mental health you’re talking about happiness and wellness and that’s one of the central things the show was always about, is who are you? What do you want? What’s going to make you happy? As opposed to the things that you think should make you happy and the story you tell yourself about what box you fit into. As far as always playing Rebecca, because we had empathy for her and empathy for the characters always, there was never anything I did that I felt like I was labeling her. I was always finding the reason for everything she did and the more fucked up her actions got, the more it had to come from a place of fear or sadness.
GD: That makes a lot of sense. The other main takeaway apart from some of the funny stuff that we’ll talk about in a sec is how the show shines a light so beautifully on friendship. I’ve interviewed a few people from the cast and I’ve always said everybody needs a Paula in their life. Some of the bonds between these characters, I see them as being aspirational. Do you agree with that?
RB: Yeah. The show really came about from me meeting Aline. It started as a conversation between two women exactly 20 years apart and Rebecca and Paula’s gestation as friends in a vague way mimicked me and Aline. It started out being much more of a mother-daughter dynamic and now we are much more same-size spoons. I think that the other thing of friendship is looking at who you are inside doesn’t mean to isolate yourself. It’s to find other people who can help you be the best version of yourself. Find people who understand you and make you happy. In addition to it being a television show and it would be boring for the character to have no friends.
GD: Yeah, that would be a really terrible show to watch but that’s a whole other story. Speaking about some of the fun stuff about the show, the musical numbers, everybody always wants to talk about them. Obviously, they are one of the highlights and if people don’t quite realize, most of them are a tribute or a satire on something. For example, “After Everything I’ve Done for You” was kind of like “Gypsy.” One of my favorites, “Don’t Be a Lawyer,” is kind of like a ‘90s R&B video. It was just so well done. What was the most difficult musical number for you to get right and put together?
RB: Well, we did 157 songs. I’m trying to go through them. We made a documentary of the making of the series finale and our general process that you can find on CW called “Oh My God, I Think It’s Over” which is a parody of one of our own songs called “Oh My God, I Think I Like You.” The last musical number we ever did on the show is what in musical theater you call an 11 o’clock number which is this character, taking all the things they learned and tearing down the curtains and saying, “Who am I? What am I?” It’s called “Eleven O’Clock,” literally, and it’s set on a giant turntable that becomes a clock. Usually, we had eight days for a finale. For the series finale we filmed it in seven. I became quite sick during filming that finale and we just didn’t have time to plan out that musical number the way we wanted. The way we shot it, it was kind of like jazz. It was very on our feet. We had these plans but then actually seeing how the turntable worked, how we changed up the plans and it was so the culmination of us working together for four years. We could not have worked that way off the cuff in Season 1 or even Season 2. It took us four seasons of Aline directing, me imagining how it would go in the edit, ‘cause I kind of supervise the edit of all the musical numbers, Jack Dolgen, who is my songwriting partner who had also directed, understanding all those elements and then Kathryn Burns, our choreographer, having a feel for that. You see in the documentary everyone is weighing in and it really was the culmination of four years of becoming experts in something that we might never have to use again, in skills we might never have to use again.
GD: Yeah, that’s probably the case. I remember when I spoke to you a few years ago I tried to squeeze out of you what your favorite song from the show of all time is. I’m not gonna make you do that again ‘cause it’s a Sophie’s choice. You said they were all your babies. That’s probably how you feel now. But there are some real highlights like “Sexy Getting Ready Song” is really old now. You did that a while ago and I still think it works. It’s very funny. The one about the antidepressants not being a big deal, such a great tribute to “La La Land” and was just so well put together. There are just so many songs. Can you say without saying one of your favorites but maybe of this final season, apart from “Eleven O’Clock,” was there any in particular that you think perhaps maybe wasn’t going to work or something and then it came out and you were super proud of it?
RB: Yeah, a lot. “Hello, Nice to Meet You,” which is when we reintroduce this character of Greg, I originally pictured it as a waltz-y ballad and then Aline was like, “Oh, I always pictured it as an up tempo thing.” That was, for me, a reimagining of that song and then we wrote the script. By the time we got to filming it I was like, “I hope this works.” That’s the problem is when you think about a song a lot and then you rearrange the way you think of it, you generally rearrange the script a lot, there’s a certain point where you lose perspective and you just have to trust that it’s all there, that the impulse was always there, that the technique was there. You also have people around you who are like, “This is good.” Then we got into editing, I was like, “Oh, thank god it works.” You don’t know until you get into editing. “A Diagnosis” was scary because I thought the set was gonna be much bigger so that I could really Maria from “Sound of Music” down the hall and it was tiny. We didn’t have a lot of money as a show so I got to set that day and I kind of had to take some extra time myself being on the set to see how I would do this number, to really, really block it out and also internally take in, “Okay, how do we lean in?” There is a musical theater cheesiness to it because the character thinks she’s in this moment of chirpy, peppy musical theater revelatory space. It was always that fine line of we’re commenting on the fact that it’s cheesy, the character is in a little moment of delusion but also she’s in a moment of clarity. It was scary ‘cause it’s also an emotionally vulnerable song and I think for me, the songs in the writing and the acting where I felt incredibly vulnerable where the joke was there but not the only thing on the table were scariest for me.
GD: That makes a lot of sense. The flip side is a song like “Don’t Be a Lawyer,” which just kills me because I am a lawyer. When that came out I emailed it to every colleague I ever worked with and was like, “You need to watch this ‘cause it’s the truth.” That’s a whole other story. The other thing I was gonna ask you about was diversity. A lot of people talk about it. It’s a talking point and it’s sometimes a bit tokenistic but if people explored what you guys did on the show, I think this is an example of really trying to show a bit of diversity in the cast. You contributed to that conversation. Are you proud of that part of the show?
RB: Yeah, for us it was always just reflective of what southern California is and what we haven’t seen on TV before. I’ve seen a white surfer bro on TV. That character didn’t interest me. What interested me was Asian American bros, the kind of guys that I grew up with, ‘cause I grew up in southern California, that I hadn’t seen on TV. That was just an interesting character I hadn’t seen before because our culture and our race and our background does define us. Case in point, that Thanksgiving episode when she’s sucking up to his family, it’s made so much more interesting by the fact that his culture is so different from hers. This is a character who tells herself stories so Jewish upbringing, single mom, not a close family, comes into this large, warm Filipino family. She learns the foods. She tries to be Filipino. It’s just more interesting. I think the diversity for us meant being reflective and interesting. I still think we could’ve gone further. I don’t think that we were perfect but we’re very proud and I think that it’s telling that a show with a white protagonist and two of the love interests being white is still heralded for being diverse, which we should be, but that just shows how far we have to go. The bar does seem low.
GD: Yeah, it is. That’s 100% right. I was also wondering, this is a general question. I hope that you can humor me. What’s the most rewarding thing that you’ll take away from your time on the show? 10 years time, you look back, is there something that you’ll hold onto and just say, “That was special”?
RB: Everything really, really changed in the middle of Season 3 when we diagnosed the character. The mental health component, the de-stigmatizing, getting into therapy, showing Josh Chan getting into therapy and the way that it’s affected people, it’s a new generation. The live shows have really impacted me because you have the TV show and then I have these live shows where I meet the fans. The songs take on a new meaning. “A Diagnosis” becomes more sincere when I’m singing it in front of people who I know a lot of them have BPD, some of them have tried to commit suicide. That song by its nature gets more earnest. It takes on a new life. I’m really proud of what we did and hearing that we had a direct impact on people’s lives, hearing that people went into therapy because of us, that they’re making their lives better because of us, that they’re happier… personality disorders weren’t even talked about. Borderline I don’t think was even in the DSM until I wanna say the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. This really is a new conversation and running into the amount of people I run into say, “I have depression. I have borderline and I’m currently in DBT therapy and I’m reading these books. Thank you,” there is a level of self-betterment and self-awareness that previous generations have not had and the fact that we have in a small way contributed to that giant shift in the perception of making yourself happier, that is profound.
GD: It absolutely is. Finally, given everything that you’ve accomplished and where you began on YouTube, do you often take stock of where you are now and also what’s next for you?
RB: Yeah, it’s unbelievable. I did Radio City and then the Palladium in London. It’s when I saw my name on the Radio City Music Hall marquee actually and I thought, “This is a parody of the career I dreamed of having.” If you told me I’d be going up on Radio City for a musical TV show that I co-created and starred in, that used musical sketch comedy to explore stereotypes and all of the nuances of mental health, that’s like something you write in your journal. That’s like fan fiction about your own life. I’m immensely grateful and constantly overwhelmed. What’s next is interesting because I’m about to launch a new mini live tour that I’m gonna call the What Do I Do With My Life Now tour because there is something to the fact that I, for the past four years, have been working on this bucket list project and now it’s like (shrugs). There are a lot of things on the table, a lot of irons in the fire, probably some press releases in the next couple months you’ll hear about. For years when you asked me, “What’s your dream,” I would’ve said a musical television show that I created and starred in about x, y, and z and that happened. It’s nuts. It’s nuts that that happened. It’s crazy.
GD: It sure is. and on that note, thank you so much for your time, Rachel, and congrats on a great final season of a really great show.
RB: Thank you so much. It was great talking to you.