Rachel Bloom looks back at "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," forward to her Pabst show
If you want to feel lazy, talk to Rachel Bloom about the past four years.
The actress not only starred in four seasons of the CW cult musical comedy "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" over as many years; she also co-created the show, produced it, wrote a large portion of the episodes and helping develop a significant number of the songs – all originals, all requiring choreography to learn, all popping up a minimum of two per episode. Bloom was rewarded for all that hard work with four seasons of critical raves and a Golden Globe win for Best Actress in a Comedy in 2016 – and now that the show's completed its story, she's received perhaps the best reward of all: a break.
Or ... maybe not, as the show goes on for Bloom, now on the road with a new tour, called the "What Am I Going To Do With My Life Now?" tour combining her viral origins, standup comedy, award-winning TV show and more into a night of fun. One of the stops will come to The Pabst Theater Sunday night, but before she takes the stage, OnMilwaukee got to chat with Bloom over the phone about life after "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," the unconventional show's unconventional success and, in honor of the tour's name, what she's going to do with her life now.
OnMilwaukee: What can people expect from the show coming to Milwaukee? Mostly songs? Mostly standup?
Rachel Bloom: Yeah, it's a mix of songs and standup, and it'll be a mix of songs from "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," songs from pre-"Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" and then a few new songs. So it's kind of whatever I want to do for an hour. And then opening for me is the comic Danny Jolles, who played George on "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." He's an incredibly accomplished touring standup.
Do you mix up the show, depending on your mood or what you're feeling?
I do! Especially because, when I'm using tracks like I will be for this show, I can just kind of do whatever I want, which is really fun.
What's the reaction been like from fans? Because "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" was a kind of personal show in ways with personally-hewed songs, and people had a really strong connection with that.
I've been doing live performance for a while and then slowly incorporating "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" into my live performance. But then, of course, as the fans got to be more and more "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" people, it's been really interesting – especially when we did "Crazy Ex Live" where I took the format that I did for my shows and then did it in more of a group musical. The response from fans was really overwhelming.
The fans are amazing. It's very, very personal, and they really roll with me. The show takes a lot of tonal turns; I try to keep it very comedic, but also at times, I try to be vulnerable, and they really roll with me on things.
The tour is called "What Am I Going to Do with My Life?" So I have to ask the obvious question: What are you going to do with your life now that "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" has called it a wrap?
Well, this tour! (Laughs) It gives me a nice answer! Here's the thing: Everything is speculative at this point or can't be announced yet. So the answer's quite boring. I could take anyone who asks me that question through how general meetings work and how my general writing process works – but nobody wants to hear about that. They want to hear flashy announcements like I'll be doing "Merrily We Roll Along" over the course of 20 years or something like that. So until I have flashy announcements, that's why the tour was a convenient answer to that question.
Obviously, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" required what I can only imagine was a ridiculous amount of effort considering with the amount of writing and music and acting and all the things you had to put into the show. Is there something you're able to do now that it's over that you now have the time to do – whether it's something big or small?
I mean, the answer is anything else. Really. That ranges from watching TV shows to sitting around to going for a walk to working on other things. It really was from May until February of any given year, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" was what I was doing. For the past four years, I turned down everything because I couldn't do "Crazy Ex" with other things.
I'm also kind of in this state of coming out of that – and I'm technically unemployed right now. I mean, the one thing I have to do is that I have a book deal, so that's what I've been working on during my days, trying to jam that out. But I went from working constantly to having a completely free schedule, so that's been a little bit of a mindf*ck.
What's it like looking back on the show now that you've had some distance from the finale?
I really feel like I only left it in June, which is when we performed in London with Pete (Gardner) and Scott (Michael Foster), as well as (choreographer) Kat Burns and (regular composer) Adam Schlesinger. That was kind of the last iteration of these live "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" shows.
So I guess with the hindsight of two months, really, I continue to not believe that this happened. That's what flabbergasts me. The thing that I've been doing – again, boring answer – is I've been a non-writing producer on a couple of TV pitches where I've kind of used my name to spearhead these projects that I'm passionate about. So I've sat in, for the last year or two, on TV pitches that aren't my own but that I think are fantastic. And it is incredibly hard to sell a TV show. It's really, really difficult. So the idea that we sold this television show at all – which was a musical, an unknown – made a pilot, made a series and then got to finish the series that was an original musical. It's stunning. It's stunning that it happened. I thought that it helped me understand the industry more. It didn't. (Laughs) I'm just grateful for it happening.
But it was immensely hard. I don't necessarily yet miss … I mean, we would've been filming season five – had we ever wanted it to go to five seasons, which we never did – right now, and I am pretty glad to not get to work at 6 a.m. and working 16 hours a day. I was one of the songwriters in addition to co-creating the show, so when I was on set, I would often have to be thinking about songs – whether writing the songs or scripting the songs or going to editing.
I would put reminders like "Today, work on episode two songs," and I think I messed up last year and put the wrong year on one of them, because yesterday I just got a reminder saying "Work on episode six songs," and it was awful! (Laughs) I was like, "No! No! I'm done! No! I don't have to do that!" Because that's the hard part. Every episode, even though no one asked us to, had to have at least two songs. So not only were we making this TV show, but from a writing perspective, we had to then go through the scripts and the treatments and decide on songs.
Look, it was an amazing problem to have – and it was a problem that I wanted to have. But I did that for four years, and it was very exhausting.
It's like that nightmare when you have a high school paper due, and you wake up thinking, "I'm not even in high school anymore, but I have this fear that I actually have this paper due."
Yeah, Aline (Brosh McKenna, show co-creator) and I are both having those dreams a lot, where we have to suddenly make a new season and we don't know what it's going to be about and why we're making a new season.
But it was the exact amount of time that college took – actually longer than college because we started pitching it in 2013, so it really was the length of time where you'd start thinking about colleges, then apply to college and then go to college. Which is a really formative experience. It's how I spent my late 20s, going into my very early 30s.
And an apt metaphor. What's the big lesson you learned from these years of going to the college of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"?
So much. I learned how to be a leader. I learned – and I'm still learning – how to forgive myself, that there are always going to be mistakes made when you set out to accomplish a near-impossible task. There are always going to be things that slip through the cracks or mistakes, and you just have to be OK with that.
It made me, for the first time, not crave anything more because I didn't have time. All I could do was focus on the show, so I was never half-thinking about the show but focusing on the next thing – not that I'd ever want to, but I also couldn't do that. It gave me a healthy feeling of being content where I am, while also still understanding that it wasn't going to last forever because it had this self-imposed deadline. So it wasn't as much something that I learned but a state that I put myself into.
And it made me appreciate even more things that had nothing to do with work: my husband, my dog, my friends. I'd been such an ambitious creative-aholic for the past few years – and I still am. But you hear all these stories about people who get into show business and leave all their old friends behind and really change. I kind of had the opposite urge. The more glamorous stuff happened, the more I wanted the people I'd always known and always loved to share it with me. I didn't really have an urge to ditch my old friends. I'd be at parties, and I'd meet new people who are lovely, and they'd say, "Let's hang out!" And I'd be like, "Yeah," but in the back of my head, I'd be like, "I already have friends that I don't see; I'm tired." (Laughs) I surprised myself with that, in a good way.
Some of the things you're told about success and fame, I think they bring out what was always there in someone. Like somebody who ditches their friends for more famous friends was always going to be a social-climbing weirdo. Somebody who gets really aggro to the press was always someone who didn't like attention in that way.
I find that I meet a lot of lovely people who are immensely famous and immensely successful and don't have that air about them like they're on another planet. Just to name one person: I've now had the pleasure of hanging out with Allison Janney at various events, and she's great! You know how some people have that thing where they know they're famous and they're not on this planet? She's not that all! She's just a person! And it's cool to see that; it's cool to see the normalcy that this is a career that doesn't have to turn you into someone you're not.
You talked about how hard the pitching process is. Do you think a show like "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" – a quirky, tone-jumping original musical – could only have existed now in this time with niche audiences and lots of channels and streaming services? Where small but dedicated audience was enough?
Our show was so specific because we were pitching it at the beginning of Peak TV, where there were fewer options of things to watch. That's what's stunning during the four years we were doing this show: We watched the TV landscape explode. I remember when we were pitching, there was Amazon, Netflix, I don't even think we pitched to Hulu, it didn't even occur to us.
But when we pitched it, there was much more pressure to be mainstream – which is why I'm surprised we got on a TV network, because our show is SO not mainstream. But The CW luckily loved our tone and saw it getting big, and because we got the critical acclaim – not the ratings – they stood by us. In a time when so many streamers won't even release their ratings, because we were technically on a broadcast network, we had a very old-school experience of checking the Nielsen ratings every Saturday – which other people do not do now. And our ratings were horrible; it didn't take into account Netflix. Netflix obviously never releases their numbers, but every time we were released onto Netflix, I'd watch my own social media numbers go higher. You'd see that bump.
So I guess the answer is … I don't know! I'm so confused about what gets made a TV show now and what doesn't. From things that I've seen get pitched and don't get made, I don't know. You're trusting your future to executives who don't want to get fired. That's really what it is. You're in these rooms, and you're not pitching to television gods who have their fingers on the pulse of what humanity fundamentally wants. You're pitching to people who are often non-writers, who've never written anything in their lives, who just have experience putting things on air – and sometimes they're right and sometimes they're wrong.
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