Rachel Bloom’s Crazy Chal­lenge

The cocre­ator, writer, and star of the CW mu­si­cal com­edy Crazy Ex-girl­friend talks about jug­gling mul­ti­ple roles, pay equal­ity in Hol­ly­wood, and lift­ing the stigma around men­tal health.

Fast Company - - Contents - By Laynie Rose Pho­to­graph by Dan Mon­ick

The cocre­ator, writer, song­writer, and star of the CW’S Crazy Ex­girl­friend ex­plains how she ad­dresses men­tal health on Tv—and man­ages her team as a mil­len­nial.

Eight years af­ter she be­came a Youtube sen­sa­tion

with the mu­sic video “Fuck Me, Ray Brad­bury,” a satire about lust­ing af­ter the nona­ge­nar­ian sci-fi writer, Rachel Bloom, 31, has been pulling au­di­ences deeper into her mu­si­cal fan­tasies through her Emmy-win­ning show, Crazy Ex-girl­friend, which be­gins its fourth and fi­nal sea­son this month. With Aline Brosh Mckenna (The Devil Wears Prada) as pro­ducer and cocre­ator, Bloom writes, scores, and stars in the genre-bend­ing show, which blends drama, ro­man­tic com­edy, and ear­worm orig­i­nal songs.

Crazy Ex-girl­friend is un­like any­thing else on TV right now. You play the lead, Re­becca, who is smart and ac­com­plished, suf­fers from se­vere men­tal ill­ness, and ex­presses her­self in mu­si­cal num­bers. When you and Brosh Mckenna first started work­ing to­gether, did you have a sense of what you aimed to achieve with the show? I wanted to ques­tion ex­pec­ta­tions that women place on them­selves based on what they see in the arts and in the me­dia. The show was al­ways meant to be a de­con­struc­tion of ro­man­tic come­dies, princess nar­ra­tives, hero nar­ra­tives.

How do you make a com­edy about men­tal ill­ness with­out pok­ing fun at your char­ac­ter? The na­ture of the show was al­ways that [Re­becca] was lit­er­ally de­pressed. That was def­i­nitely au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal be­cause I’ve had anx­i­ety and

de­pres­sion. The show’s about find­ing what makes you truly happy, about in­ner hap­pi­ness. We’re al­ways com­ing at [Re­becca] with com­pas­sion and [try­ing] to un­der­stand why she’s do­ing what she’s do­ing. Every episode is an ex­per­i­ment. The tone is al­ways the hard­est thing to nail, and each episode there are def­i­nitely mo­ments where we make a change when some­thing feels to­tally off.

Last sea­son, your char­ac­ter tried to com­mit sui­cide, which un­for­tu­nately is some­thing that has been in the news lately. Do you see the con­ver­sa­tion around men­tal health start­ing to change? I hope so. In the re­search we did about peo­ple who want to com­mit sui­cide, [they] kept say­ing that they don’t want to die, they just want the pain to stop. When you’re in the mid­dle of a de­pres­sion, the words men­tal health are clin­i­cal words that just feel so sep­a­rate from the way you feel. Along with talking about men­tal health, we should be talking about how it feels—about hope­less­ness, sad­ness, the feel­ing of be­ing trapped in your life. We need to ad­dress that in the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion.

What do you think you achieved with that episode? I had a few peo­ple tell me it in­spired them to go to ther­apy, which is prob­a­bly the best com­pli­ment I could ever get.

You have a back­ground in writ­ing and per­form­ing, but this is your first time cre­at­ing a show and lead­ing a cast. How did you ap­proach th­ese re­spon­si­bil­i­ties? I think a big chal­lenge of this job is learn­ing how to be a boss and to for­give my­self when I dis­agree with [some­one else’s] choice. That’s been some­thing I [had to] learn as a young woman. I’m the sec­ondy­oungest member of the cast and [one of the youngest] mem­bers of the writ­ing staff. When you’re in pro­duc­tion meet­ings and peo­ple are of­ten 20 years your senior, you have to find that bal­ance of be­ing re­spect­ful, but also hold­ing firm on what you want.

I try to treat everyone like col­lab­o­ra­tors. When I’m frus­trated, I try to go some­where where I can be frus­trated alone. Every per­son who’s been in a su­per­vis­ing po­si­tion has that mo­ment where they feel like, “Ugh, why aren’t peo­ple getting it?” Or “Ugh, peo­ple are try­ing to sab­o­tage my show!” You need to un­der­stand that everyone is just try­ing to make a good show.

You’ve talked in the past about be­ing in writ­ers’ rooms where peo­ple are afraid to pitch their ideas. How do you and Brosh Mckenna stop that from hap­pen­ing on Crazy Ex-girl­friend? In every writ­ers’ room, ideas are shut down, but I think it’s im­por­tant not to look at peo­ple dis­mis­sively or de­ri­sively when one of their ideas isn’t go­ing to work in the script. The role of a boss is to shut the idea down in a very calm and hu­mane way. I re­ject ideas overly kindly. I’m like, “I un­der­stand where you’re com­ing from. I ap­pre­ci­ate it.” [Re­jec­tion] is some­thing you have to learn as a writer.

What is it like to write and act on a show that also in­volves at least two mu­si­cal num­bers per episode? The hard­est part is that we are a net­work show, so we’re do­ing it all at once. Other shows, like In­se­cure, Girls, and Broad City, are 30 min­utes long and 8 to 10 episodes [a sea­son]. I be­lieve that all of them write, then film, and then edit. We do it all at once. So in the morn­ing, I’m look­ing at out­lines [for up­com­ing episodes], then act­ing, and then edit­ing. It’s very fast and very hard, and I don’t think I could ever do this process again.

You’re among a gen­er­a­tion of co­me­di­ans, in­clud­ing In­se­cure cre­ator Issa Rae and Eighth Grade di­rec­tor Bo Burn­ham, who got their start on Youtube. Do you think the plat­form is still a great tal­ent in­cu­ba­tor? It was a lot eas­ier to get your web se­ries no­ticed when I was com­ing up. The lines be­tween web se­ries and TV shows have shifted. There is a real over­sat­u­ra­tion of sketch com­edy on­line, and that’s why you see sites like Funny or Die or Col­lege Hu­mor down­size. The in­ter­net con­tin­ues to be a great place for peo­ple to make art, but when it comes to getting no­ticed—how you break through with some­thing that isn’t su­per topi­cal—i don’t know. On [Crazy Ex-girl­friend] we can’t be topi­cal be­cause we’re mak­ing the show in ad­vance. We have maybe three or four videos that go vi­ral-es­que [each sea­son]. But hav­ing qual­ity con­tent is not nec­es­sar­ily all that you need any­more, be­cause there is so much out there.

The cast is di­verse in a lot of ways, from eth­nic­ity to age to body type. Was that some­thing you planned from the be­gin­ning? When Aline and I were re­search­ing the show, one of the things we did was walk around West Cov­ina [the Los An­ge­les sub­urb where Crazy Ex-girl­friend is set]. It’s di­verse, but no one is talking about how di­verse it is. I grew up in Man­hat­tan Beach: Our homecoming queen was Ja­panese and our king was Chi­nese, and I don’t re­mem­ber any­one pat­ting them­selves on the back be­ing like, “Oh, we’re so di­verse.” I think you get a lot of writ­ers in Hol­ly­wood who are trans­plants from the East Coast, specif­i­cally places like Long is­land where it’s much more seg­re­gated—though not of­fi­cially—by class and race. But if you grow up in Socal, you have a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence.

You’ve been a vo­cal ad­vo­cate for pay equal­ity in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. How have you ap­proached the is­sue on your own set? All of the heads of the show are women and we’re very aware of pay dis­par­ity. We’re al­ways mon­i­tor­ing that, es­pe­cially dur­ing ac­tor ne­go­ti­a­tions. I’ve learned to look at my own bi­ases. Look­ing at a white per­son and a per­son of color, [I’ve learned to] ask why [is one of them] getting paid more? Is it be­cause of their ex­per­tise or be­cause they have a bet­ter lawyer? We need to give everyone the same chance and op­por­tu­nity to suc­ceed, and then the ball is in their court.

“WHEN YOU’RE IN PRO­DUC­TION MEET­INGS AND PEO­PLE ARE OF­TEN 20 YEARS YOUR SENIOR, YOU HAVE TO FIND THAT BAL­ANCE OF BE­ING RE­SPECT­FUL, BUT ALSO HOLD­ING FIRM ON WHAT YOU WANT.”

Bloom took her show and her cast­mates on a cross-coun­try mu­si­cal tour ear­lier this year, of­fer­ing su­per­fans live per­for­mances.

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