Rachel Bloom has always been a fan of musical theater and comedy. But she didn't start to combine the two until she was in college. As a musical theater major and comedy writer-director, she searched for audition songs for female vocals that were also funny, but found few.
As she told The Frame: "The Golden Age for musical theater was in the '50s [and] '60s, and comedy has evolved since then." She "felt a real gap" — and particularly in songs written for women.
So Bloom started to fill the gap. With the 2010 release of her music video "F--k Me, Ray Bradbury" — in which she sings lustily about her admiration for the science fiction writer, then 90 years old — she earned a Hugo Award nomination and a cult following.
In 2013, she released her first full-length album of musical comedy. And in 2015, CW picked up her pilot for a musical comedy TV show, complete with elaborate ensemble choreography, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend."
You're working within a comedy. But do you step back and say, What is it we're trying to say in the bigger idea? About women, about relationships? Do you find yourself making sure that — even in this genre — what you're saying is constructive in some way?
Yes. For "Heavy Boobs," for example, I was really worried it would still be sexy. And so we got a solo shot of me bouncing around in the most uncomfortable, bad-looking ways, like with a grimace on my face. I really always try to make sure that we're keeping in line with the genres we're doing, but we're also deconstructing them. Because that's what the show's about. It's about deconstructing stereotypes and looking at gray areas and nuance.
Musical theater, historically, is light comedy. Was there an epiphany in your mind, when you grew up loving musical theater, that it didn't have to be superficial and clever, but that there could actually be meaningful comedy through song?
Yes. That's such a great question. When I was in school, I was a musical theater major and a comedic performer, and I was looking for audition songs. I noticed there were so few good comedic audition songs for women because the Golden Age for musical theater was in the '50s [and] '60s, and comedy has evolved since then. I felt a real gap in music comedy. I could count on one hand: It was like, "Avenue Q," "Urinetown," the "South Park" movie — because this was before "Book of Mormon" — and that, combined with the fact that I'd just started writing sketch comedy and saw what comedy could be — that inspired me to combine the two.
When you're working on a show like this, are there certain composers musically, not lyrically, that you think about in terms of the way in which you'll craft your songs?
It depends. Any time we do a song, it's mimicking the genre we're going for. For instance, in "Settle For Me" in episode four, that's a Cole Porter-type song. So you want to mimic his musical style, but also his lyrics. He has these like, sugar-pie, shmoopie-poo — you want to take the tropes of that genre and then flip them, and find some way to make them comedic.
Of course, you look at the hard comedy of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, or what Mel Brooks has done, and I want to emulate that edginess. Which is also what [Stephen] Sondheim does. That was actually the first composer where I realized that musical theater could be truly on a deeper level, when I heard "Assassins," which is a show that takes all these different genres and every song is a dark pastiche of those genres.
I want to talk about the title of the show. A lot of people who haven't seen the show hear the title and say, Well, why isn't it crazy ex-boyfriend? What's your defense of the title?
That's actually the point. The title is supposed to be a stereotype that's somewhat inflammatory, that we will then go on to deconstruct. [Co-creator] Aline [Brosh McKenna] and I . . . never pictured that people would take it at face value. If we were on a darker cable [channel], it would be more obvious. Because we're on the CW, people aren't really sure of what it is.
One of the love interests in the show, Josh Chan, is a Filipino. To have any Asian-American on a television show is rare. To have an Asian-American as a love interest is non-existent. How important was it in putting together the cast that it looked and felt like the rest of the nation and not just Los Angeles?
It was really important. When we were thinking about this love interest we knew we wanted him to be a bro. Because that's the opposite of what Rebecca is. And Aline said, "I just keep picturing him as Asian." And I [thought] that was so smart because I grew up in Southern California with a lot of Asian bros. And I'd never really seen that on television.
I think that the whole show is trying to find interesting characters with specificities that are true, but that we hadn't really seen. It was only later that I was like, Oh, it's interesting, the emasculation of Asian men and the fact that they aren't sexualized. That stuff came later than the initial impulse of, I haven't seen this before, and I don't quite know why.
Why West Covina?
We knew we wanted the show to be in suburbia. And it was much more interesting for the show to be set in Southern California suburbia because . . . it's diverse. It's something like 50 percent Hispanic, 25 percent Asian, one percent Native American. And so, you get this diversity which stands for what America is, which is a bunch of immigrants. The Judaism in the show leaning into that [is] included. A big part of identity is cultural background. And so when you get specific with characters you need to get specific about their cultural background.
The show has just been renewed for a second season. Does that give you license to try things? Do you have a bit more leeway now?
The show always was what it was. Because we experimented so much the first season, there's now so much more we want to do, and so many more expectations we're excited to subvert. And now there's a real trust with the network. There always was — CW has been so supportive of what this show was from the beginning, but now even more so. And now that we have this fan base that we know will stay with us, there's a lot that we're planning where you have to have known the characters in the first season to get what we're doing now.
So you have to go back and watch them all.
Yes. And buy them on iTunes!
The season finale of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" airs April 18 on CW.