Rachel Bloom: I Want To Be Where The Normal People Are

Nov 20, 2020

Before Rachel Bloom's interview on NPR's Ask Me Another even started, the show's house musician Jonathan Coulton stopped to express his admiration of her "songwriting talent that makes me angry and jealous."

"You know that somebody's good when you kind of can't stand it," Coulton said.

Bloom made her name by creating hilarious songs, like her breakout hit "**** Me, Ray Bradbury" and "The Sexy Getting Ready Song" from her CW musical comedy series, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

In her new book, I Want To Be Where The Normal People Are, Bloom writes that, growing up, she used performance as a way to try to fit in. She recounted one story from the book to Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg: her ill-fated attempt to impress the popular kids at her school by taking part in a lip-syncing contest. While the other kids chose pop songs to lip sync to, Bloom explains, "I did 'Adelaide's Lament' from Guys & Dolls. So if you're trying to win over middle schoolers in a cool beach town, that's not the way to do it."

The lip-sync contest might not have worked out exactly like she hoped, but her musical theatre and comedy talents eventually led to co-creating Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which married a sitcom sensibility with original musical numbers in every episode.

Upon the show's finale, TV critic Emily Nussbaum wrote, "There's something jazz-hands lovely to what this deceptively small show accomplished while expanding the boundaries of television."

The late Adam Schlesinger was Bloom's writing partner on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and an in-development musical adaptation of TV's The Nanny. Schlesinger died this past April from complications related to COVID-19. In the full interview, Bloom discussed the tragedy and difficulty of that loss, and his impact on the entertainment industry.

Bloom also shared how her life changed this past year with the birth of her child, and played a game merging her love of sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury and her love of amusement parks.

Interview Highlights:

On losing her writing partner Adam Schlesinger to COVID-19:

He could not only produce any genre, but he could write any genre. He just inhaled pop culture in a way that I only see people in their early 20s doing, and he had the energy, the creative energy of anyone still 23 years old. Which is why it's infuriating that he's gone, because you hear "52" and like, that's young, but that's not like someone in their early 20s, but he had the energy, and creative arsenal of someone in their early 20s. So he was probably not even halfway through all of the things he was gonna do.

On shooting the "**** Me, Ray Bradbury" music video:

Actually, when we shot that video, we shot it in an old Catholic school in Brooklyn that since has closed for film shoots, but I paid $400 to get this entire Cathlic school for a day. But, it was still connected to the Catholic church, and so there would be a priest wandering around. And so I told everyone, "Don't let the priest know the title of the video we're filming." And I actually recorded a separate clean version of the song to play in case the priest came in, so at the very least we could keep filming if he wanted to stay and watch for a while. But it replaced all the expletives with sound effects like boi-oi-oi-oi-oing or one of them was a baby crying like "Wah!" I also told the dancers, "If the priest comes in, cover up." Just because we were very scantily-clad.

On Ray Bradbury's house:

You walk into the living room, and the mantle was covered in CableACE Awards. He had quite a lot of CableACE Awards. There was a huge stuffed Bullwinkle, from Rocky & Bullwinkle, in the room. And then once you got into his office there was, first of all, his writing space, but it was kind of set up for him to kind of hold court.

On meeting Tracy Morgan:

When I was an intern at SNL, Tracy Morgan was hosting, and he was saying to me and another intern, "It's Thursday night! Why are you here? You should be at home watching my show, 30 Rock!" And I was like, "Actually, I'm writing a spec script of your show for my TV writing class." And he was like, "You got any questions for me?" And I was like, "Ah...." and he was like, "Ask me a question!" I'm open!" And I couldn't think of a question, and they were like, "And, action!" and I could never ask him anything again.

Heard on Rachel Bloom: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Sane Current Guest.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

Thank you, Jonathan. Our guest is the creator and star of CW's musical comedy "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." And her new book, "I Want To Be Where The Normal People Are," is available now. Rachel Bloom, hello.

RACHEL BLOOM: Hello.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: I have to get something off my chest before we can start...

EISENBERG: Yeah, yeah.

COULTON: ...Which is that, Rachel, I am a huge fan. And you...

BLOOM: Oh, thank you.

COULTON: I'm a songwriter as well. And you have the kind of songwriting talent that makes me angry and jealous. I hope you take that as the compliment...

BLOOM: Oh, I know exactly the feel - thank you. I take that as a huge compliment...

COULTON: (Laughter).

BLOOM: ...Because I know that feeling. And I know that someone's good when I'm, like, angry and jealous.

COULTON: Right? It's - that's the thing. You know somebody's good when you kind of can't stand it.

BLOOM: Yes.

EISENBERG: Right.

COULTON: And that's how (laughter) I feel about your work. So it is a great pleasure to meet you.

BLOOM: Thank you.

EISENBERG: When you're like, I can't wait to listen to it. I can't wait.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Yeah, exactly. Oh, that song is so great.

BLOOM: That's why we take in art - is just to see if there's any competition out there. And the answer is yes, always.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: And the answer is - we will never be satisfied with ourselves.

BLOOM: Yes.

COULTON: That's right.

EISENBERG: Also, Rachel, it's great to have you. And it's also - you know, on top of everything else, you have a baby.

BLOOM: I do.

EISENBERG: A little girl. And - what? - I'm guessing - I don't know - 6 months?

BLOOM: She's, like, 7 1/2 months now.

EISENBERG: Seven and a half months.

BLOOM: Mmm hmm.

EISENBERG: Yeah. How's it going?

BLOOM: She's rolling around in the other room.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BLOOM: She's awesome. Her personality is great. She's a really happy baby, except for when she is hungry and sees me solely as a food source, which happened an hour ago.

COULTON: (Laughter).

BLOOM: I walked out to say hello, and she was like, (grunting), like, looking at my breasts, which is not the first time people have had that reaction towards me.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Yeah. Right.

BLOOM: It's wonderful. She's so cute.

EISENBERG: Congratulations.

BLOOM: They have to be.

EISENBERG: Yeah, they do. They do because it's so stressful and demanding.

BLOOM: Do you have any kids?

EISENBERG: I have a 5-year-old. He just turned 5.

BLOOM: Congratulations.

EISENBERG: Thanks. Yeah. And I do - I still - people are like, you forget that whole time. I'm like, I haven't.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOOM: And they're like, what is this place?

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BLOOM: What have you done to me?

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BLOOM: I was fine. I was in a warm, gooey jungle. I'm freezing. What do you - ugh. Put me back, like...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BLOOM: And you're like, I know. I'm sorry.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Yeah. And your...

COULTON: It only gets worse.

EISENBERG: Your best alternative is, like, some little hammock that goes (vocalizing). (Laughter) Like, you know?

BLOOM: Oh my gosh. I know. She started to very quickly be like, this isn't Mom. I hate this robot.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Now, you were also working with Fran Drescher on a musical version of "The Nanny."

BLOOM: Yeah. So she co-wrote the book, you know, the words...

EISENBERG: Yup.

BLOOM: ...Of the lines. The play. The play of the musical...

EISENBERG: The play of the musical.

BLOOM: ...With the co-creator of "The Nanny," her ex-husband, Peter Jacobson, who - they were high school sweethearts, and then they got divorced. Turns out he was gay. But there's a whole other show about that, as well.

COULTON: Wow.

BLOOM: We have rough drafts of the lyrics of most of the songs in Act 1. And then the unfortunate, terrible thing is that I was working on these songs to then send to my writing partner, Adam Schlesinger, to then finish the songs and do his pass on the songs. And he was my other co-songwriter on "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." And he did a pass of the opening number, which is brilliant. He completely transformed it and made it amazing. And then he got COVID. And then he died.

COULTON: Yeah.

BLOOM: We're still working on it. It's just my writing partner...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BLOOM: ...No longer exists.

EISENBERG: I'm so sorry.

BLOOM: And it's tragic. Oh, thank you. And it's - look. It's hard to - whenever I bring it up, it's always such a - it's a downer because it's terrible.

COULTON: Yeah. It's such an awful loss. It really is.

EISENBERG: I mean, just in the course of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," you guys wrote - what? - 157 songs? Probably more, right? You know, 150...

BLOOM: Yeah. Yeah. A hundred fifty-seven produced songs. But that's a good point. Probably more. Oh, God. If I tried to think of all the songs that were cut, it's probably more in the 200s, actually.

COULTON: Geez.

EISENBERG: Yeah, so which is just - I mean, I don't even know how - I don't know if at 135 if you're like, we have done every rhyme. There are no more rhymes.

BLOOM: Genres - cycling through genres was like, OK, what are we going to do next? But to Adam's credit, he could not only produce any genre, but he could write any genre. He just inhaled pop culture in a way that I only really see people in, like, their early 20s doing. And he had the energy, the creative energy of someone still 23 years old. Which is why it's infuriating that he's gone...

EISENBERG: Right.

BLOOM: ...Because, you know, you hear 52 - and, like, that's young, but that's not, like, someone in their early 20s. But no, no, no. He had the energy...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BLOOM: ...And creative arsenal of someone in their early 20s. So he was...

COULTON: Oh yeah.

BLOOM: ...Probably...

COULTON: He was going to...

BLOOM: ...Not even halfway through all of the things he was going to do.

COULTON: Right. He was going to execute like that for another 30, 40 years...

EISENBERG: Incredible.

COULTON: ...Probably (laughter). I mean - yeah.

BLOOM: Anyway...

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: You know, there was something in the end of your book, too, where you were just talking about performing at the Emmys and this whole idea of, like, you're just at the cusp of being like, I'm going to do some self-care. I'm not just going to slap on the smile and go out there and perform when I need to take care of myself. And then just - and I feel like any performer knows that feeling of like, this is a moment where I need to retreat and take care of myself, or do I just get out there? - and that weird period. And I do love that you ended up saying, like, you know, I went out there because also, maybe, sometimes, being out there is the self-care (laughter).

COULTON: Yeah.

BLOOM: Yeah, like what - yes. Yeah. It's like, well, what could I have done? It was a very confusing, weird, gray-area moment.

EISENBERG: Yeah. So I was like, oh, I totally know that feeling of being like, well this is safe out here in the known reality.

BLOOM: Yes. Yeah.

COULTON: Yeah.

EISENBERG: I know how to do that.

COULTON: And there is something very - you know, I mean it's a cliche, but the show must go on. It can be a very comforting and brave place to be, I find.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

COULTON: Because I've had moments like that too, where it was like, how can I possibly do a show right now? And then you do it anyway. And it actually does have a real - it has some real healing qualities, I think...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

COULTON: ...Performing.

EISENBERG: And I don't know if that crosses disciplines. I don't know if, like, accountants go, the taxes must go on.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Like, I don't know.

BLOOM: I think it must because I think that that's kind of almost the core of cognitive behavioral therapy in a way, where it's like, you know, be - stay present.

COULTON: Yeah.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BLOOM: Focus on the present. And I know that having a baby during this time, I can't dwell too much on what's going on inside my head because she has needs.

COULTON: Right.

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah.

BLOOM: And she has a schedule. And she has a schedule. She doesn't care.

EISENBERG: That's right.

COULTON: She's not stopping.

EISENBERG: Oh, the immediacy of that I actually found really helpful to my life. I was just like, there is no me putting off, you know, a feeding schedule, whatever, this - and the attention had to be so present.

BLOOM: Oh, well, the presentness (ph) of, like, I'm just going to be here with her and watch her gum a teether.

EISENBERG: (Laughter)

BLOOM: And I'm just going to watch her do that. That quietness...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BLOOM: ...In just watching her do these little things, it's unlike anything else...

EISENBERG: Yeah, I know.

BLOOM: ...In both, like, calming and tedious ways.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that's right.

COULTON: (Laughter) Yeah.

EISENBERG: But good.

COULTON: Calming and tedious. That's exactly...

BLOOM: Yeah, yeah.

EISENBERG: You have a new book out - here, product placement. Here it is right here.

BLOOM: Oh, thank you.

COULTON: (Laughter)

BLOOM: Look at that.

EISENBERG: This is a early copy.

BLOOM: They gave you the softcover, yeah.

EISENBERG: I got this - this says not for sale - special.

BLOOM: Oh.

EISENBERG: Special.

BLOOM: You know what, you can sell it.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Thank you.

BLOOM: I give you permission. I mean, if there's someone who really wants to buy a copy that says not...

COULTON: Go for it.

BLOOM: ...For sale, you can sell it.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: It's called...

BLOOM: Pocket the money. I don't care.

EISENBERG: ..."I Want To Be Where The Normal People Are." And it is hilarious. And you tell a story about something I related to, like, desperately trying to figure out any way to fit in. And one of your ideas in the sixth grade was to enter a lip-syncing contest to try to win the hearts and minds...

BLOOM: Yeah.

EISENBERG: ...And become popular. How did that work out?

BLOOM: I might have won. Wow. I'm surprised I don't actually remember if I won or not. I got - I definitely placed. I definitely placed.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BLOOM: But I did "Adelaide's Lament" from Guys and Dolls. So if you're trying to win over middle schoolers in a cool beach town, that's not the way to do it.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Well, so, you know, you talk in the book how you found your people as you discovered also just what you are good at which - musical theatre, comedy. And then you make this video, a comedy music video with the name - I'm going to make this name - you're familiar with having to make things FCC compliant. So I'm going to say the name in a NPR way - Smooch Me, Ray Bradbury.

BLOOM: There we go. That was very classy. Actually, when we shot that video, we shot it in an old Catholic school in Brooklyn that since has closed for film shoots. But I paid $400 to get this entire Catholic school for a day, but it was still connected to the Catholic Church. And so there was - there would be a priest wandering around. And so I told everyone, don't let the priest know the title of the video we're filming. And I actually recorded a separate, clean version of the song to play...

COULTON: Wow.

BLOOM: ...In case the priest came in. So at the very least, we could keep filming if he wanted to stay and watch for a while. But it replaced all the expletives with sound effects like (imitating boing sound effect).

(LAUGHTER)

BLOOM: Or one of them was like a baby crying like (imitating crying). Oh, and I also told the dancers, like, if the priest comes in, cover up, like, just because, you know, we're very scantily clad. I just come in and, like, backup dancer's full on, like, doing, like, a straddle stretch in her costume, talking to the priest. And the priest didn't care.

EISENBERG: No. No. He was like, art. This is art.

BLOOM: I guess so.

EISENBERG: What did Ray Bradbury think about it?

BLOOM: He thought it was really funny. And then I met him.

EISENBERG: (Laughter)

BLOOM: I went to his house in Cheviot Hills, and I met Ray Bradbury. And it was incredibly surreal.

COULTON: (Laughter)

EISENBERG: Yeah. Was his house adorned with, you know, I guess maybe framed covers of his books or anything?

BLOOM: Yeah. Well, you walk into the living room, and the mantle was covered in CableACE Awards.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

BLOOM: He had quite...

COULTON: CableACE Awards?

BLOOM: ...A lot of CableACE Awards.

COULTON: What did he have CableACE Awards for?

BLOOM: Well, a lot of his short stories had been turned into, you know...

COULTON: Episodic...

BLOOM: ...Like, movie of the week, episodic, yeah.

COULTON: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

BLOOM: So he had a lot of CableACE Awards. There was a huge stuffed Bullwinkle from "Rocky And Bullwinkle" in the living room. And then once you got into his office, it was, first of all, his writing space. But it was kind of set up for him to kind of hold court. The only experience I'd had with famous people before then was I was an intern at "Saturday Night Live." So I kind of knew how to act around famous people. But to actually sit with someone and be able to ask them questions, that was, like, crazy. The only time I'd had that was when I was an intern at "SNL." Oh, my God. I just had this memory. I haven't thought of this. Tracy Morgan was hosting "SNL."

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BLOOM: And he was saying to me and another intern, he was like, it's Thursday night. Why are you here? You should be at home watching my show, "30 Rock."

(LAUGHTER)

BLOOM: And I was like, actually, I'm writing a spec script of your show for my TV writing class. And he was like, you got any questions for me?

(LAUGHTER)

BLOOM: And I was like, oh. And he's like, ask me a question. You - I'm open. And I couldn't think of a question. And they were just like, and action. And I could never ask him anything again.

EISENBERG: OK, Rachel, we know that you love Ray Bradbury. We also know that you love amusement parks.

BLOOM: Yeah.

EISENBERG: So we have combined your two loves into a game where we imagine what it would be like if Ray Bradbury's estate bought Disneyworld and rethemed all of the existing rides.

BLOOM: I love this.

EISENBERG: So we're going to describe a ride. You can either tell us the book that it's based on or the original Disney World attraction.

BLOOM: You describe a ride and a book that's based on it - OK, great. Great.

EISENBERG: OK, here we go. Enjoy the 21-minute-long audio animatronic show. Ray Bradbury's roundabout of censorship. See a dystopian vision of how inventions like the parlor wall cause Americans to look at screens all day, step out of the heat of the Orlando Sun and into the heat of a book-burning bonfire.

BLOOM: (Laughter) Well, I know what you're doing. It's "Fahrenheit 451."

EISENBERG: Yes. That's what I'm doing.

BLOOM: And it's either the PeopleMover or Spaceship Earth.

EISENBERG: Spaceship Earth is very close.

BLOOM: Carousel of Progress.

EISENBERG: Carousel of Progress. That's right.

BLOOM: That's what it's called.

COULTON: All right. Here's another one. Three, two, one - blast off. Flee the Earth in a zippy rocket to the red planet on a roller coaster ride of cosmic colonization as you plunge into the pitch-black darkness and ask yourself, will humanity survive?

BLOOM: Well, that is "The Martian Chronicles" as interpreted by Space Mountain.

COULTON: That is correct. Doesn't sound like a very fun ride when it's explained that way.

BLOOM: I think it sounds great.

EISENBERG: It sounds like the words I say in my mindful meditation every morning.

BLOOM: (Laughter).

COULTON: Yeah, as you plunge into the pitch-black darkness. Will humanity survive?

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah. There we go.

BLOOM: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Take flight in this aerial adventure as you virtually hang glide from the African veldt and end in a voyage through space. Patrick Warburton gives you the pre-ride safety briefing using visuals tattooed onto his body by a time-traveling woman.

BLOOM: It's Soaring Over California/Soaring Over The World via - or via "The Illustrated Man."

EISENBERG: (Laughter). Yes.

COULTON: Wow.

EISENBERG: Yes. I love that you gave both versions.

COULTON: All right. How about this one?

Climb aboard a dune buggy - a doom buggy - for a grim journey through the house of the harvest moon. Ride past the skeleton and the wind. And beware of hitchhiking babies. These small assassins may follow you home.

BLOOM: I don't - it's The Haunted Mansion via maybe "Something Wicked This Way Comes."

COULTON: That is a fine guess. We were actually looking for "The October Country."

BLOOM: Oh, right. I knew it wasn't Something Wicked, but I couldn't think of...

EISENBERG: But you still got the point.

BLOOM: Yeah. There you go.

EISENBERG: Still got the point.

COULTON: Yeah.

EISENBERG: All aboard a boat called the Happiness Machine for a comedic aquatic tour of an American town. This 1928 river ride is themed with period artifacts like homemade alcoholic beverages and enchanted tennis shoes. Your guide, 12-year-old Douglas Spalding, sprinkles one-liners and puns throughout your nostalgic journey of childhood summers.

BLOOM: Oh, it's "Dandelion Wine..."

EISENBERG: Yes.

BLOOM: ...Via The Jungle Cruise.

EISENBERG: Yes, yes and yes.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: I love an alcohol-themed ride.

BLOOM: Yeah.

COULTON: I don't know why they don't turn that jungle cruise into an adult ride with cocktails.

BLOOM: Oh, my God. I often think they should pepper it with just comedians and have people do, like, rotating sets on The Jungle Cruise.

COULTON: (Laughter).

BLOOM: I think the first thing is probably to take away the racist portrayals of Natives.

COULTON: Yeah, that seems like an important...

BLOOM: Like, before you get Patton Oswalt on there, like, maybe take that away.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

COULTON: Yeah. Maybe get rid of the racism.

BLOOM: But, like, after you take that away, then you can, like, get Patton Oswalt.

COULTON: Right (laughter).

EISENBERG: Right. Like, It's A Small World is - It's A Small World should just be redone to be, like, I don't know, you wander through Whole Foods and run into an ex-boyfriend and a therapist.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Just make it really specific.

BLOOM: Yeah (laughter).

EISENBERG: I know this is amazing. I mean, thank you, too, for giving us a reason to write this quiz. You have no idea how...

BLOOM: This was so fun.

EISENBERG: ...this brings everyone together for us. So thank you so much. Rachel Bloom's new book, "I Want To Be Where The Normal People Are," is available now. Rachel, thank you so much for joining us.

BLOOM: Thank you for having me. This was thoroughly delightful.

BLOOM: That's our show. But before we go, please, please stay safe this week. And wear a damn mask. We're all in this together. ASK ME ANOTHER's house musician is Jonathan Coulton.

COULTON: Hey, my name anagrams to thou jolt a canon.

EISENBERG: Our puzzles were written by our staff, along with Ashley Brooke Roberts, Mary Tobler, Emily Winter and senior writer Karen Lurie with additional material by Cara Weinberger. ASK ME ANOTHER is produced by Travis Larchuk, Nancy Saechao, James Farber, Rommel Wood and our intern Samuel Kesler. Our senior supervising producer is Rachel Neel. And our bosses' bosses are Steve Nelson and Anya Grundmann. Thanks to our production partner WNYC.

I'm her ripe begonias.

COULTON: Ophira Eisenberg.

EISENBERG: And this was ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.