Rachel Bloom Is Redefining The 'Crazy-Ex' On The CW

Photo: Courtesy of The CW.
Update: We hope you enjoyed Crazy Ex-Girlfriend as much as we did. Here's our interview with the show's star/creator, Rachel Bloom.

This story was originally published on August 27, 2015.

Rachel Bloom is not immune to the lure of internet-stalking an ex. She was shooting a scene for her new show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, in which the 16-year-old version of her character, Rebecca, is dumped by her camp boyfriend.

“I was getting in the mood, listening to all these playlists, and I went on one of my ex-boyfriend’s Instagram or his girlfriend’s Instagram, and I saw a picture of him kissing his girlfriend,” Bloom says. “I haven’t been with him for years, but I haven’t ever actually seen a picture of him kissing someone else, and it fucked with me. I’m years out of it, and it really hit me.”

Bloom (who's happily married to TV writer Dan Gregor) has been mining heartbreak, social awkwardness, mental health, and sex for comedy, for years now. She first made a name for herself as a viral-video star, releasing such audacious tracks as 2010’s “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury” (an ode to the sci-fi writer that concludes with the line, “Something wicked this way will come”), and “Pictures Of Your Dick,” in which she laments her inability to stop posting images of her ex-boyfriend’s penis online. Currently, she has a shot at catapulting her career into network-TV heights as the star and creator of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, that Bloom describes as a “fucked-up romantic comedy.” Premiering on The CW October 12, the series comes with a premise — a talented young lawyer ditches her job to follow her ex to California — and a title so provocative, that they are practically begging for a feminist debate.

Bloom is the first to admit her show has a subversive bent, and it's probably not what you think it is. She will correct you if you call the show “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” which suggests a male point of view, as if some callous bro was making a comment about the heroine. “The way that she acts is crazy, but you will understand where she’s coming from,” Bloom, 28, explains. “It goes against that kind of male gaze of, oh, all bitches are crazy. It’s using that phrase that can be seen as offensive, and looking at it under a magnifying glass, and it’s like, why is this even a phrase at all?“

A California native, Bloom moved to New York to study musical theater at NYU’s Tisch. But she soon fell out of love with Broadway and in love with comedy, taking up with the sketch-comedy troupe Hammerkatz, which counts Donald Glover as an alum. “I feel like I didn’t quite fit in [with the musical theater students],” she says. “So when I got into the comedy group and I learned more about writing, I suddenly realized how crappy the writing of a lot of musical theater, especially musical comedy, was. In a babyish way, I began to resent the comedy songs that I had to study in class because I’d be like, these aren’t funny, these are like Borscht Belt jokes. Why am I even analyzing this song? This is a horribly written song.”

It goes against that kind of male gaze of just, 'oh, all bitches are crazy.'

Rachel Bloom
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After college, Bloom hit it big with “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury” — a song she had written while reading The Martian Chronicles after a breakup —and started to get work as a TV writer (her credits include Robot Chicken). Soon, her YouTube videos had amassed nearly 10 million views. Aline Brosh McKenna was one of those viewers.

A screenwriter whose credits include The Devil Wears Prada and 27 Dresses, McKenna was looking to wade into the television pool, and was hoping to write something with the title Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. When she got a load of Bloom’s singular humor that deftly straddles silly and sad, she knew she had found a potential partner in crime. “Rachel’s videos are so funny, but inside of all of them is this little sob of pain,” she says. “I think that the sob of pain is where we really connected.”

Bloom says she walked into her first meeting with McKenna "blind, just knowing [McKenna] was a big deal." But by the time they left the meeting, they knew they were going to work together on a show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And they knew it would be a musical.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is earnest about the fact that its characters break into song. There’s one production number that features a marching band and a grand finale where Bloom is lifted up on a giant pretzel, and another that pairs lavish sexy music video glamour with the horrors women inflict on their own bodies. (Butt waxing!) “The music is our in to Rebecca’s emotional state,” Bloom says. “The reason Rebecca has had such a nervous breakdown is, she’s someone who has cut herself off emotionally for the past 10 or so years. The last time she was truly, ever free emotionally, was when she was at camp. And so, this music is pouring out of her, because for the first time, she is indulging her impulses and getting into contact with what she really wants, and what really makes her happy.”
Photo: Courtesy of The CW.
And because Rebecca struggles to be happy, her rash decisions aren’t made out to be cutesy-whimsical, nor is she ever an object of ridicule. “Rebecca isn’t just crazy in a quirky, Manic Pixie Dream Girl-way,” Bloom says. “She has issues she is not addressing.” Rebecca, we learn, has attempted suicide in the past, and throws away a host of medications when she gets to West Covina (a nowhere SoCal town that’s two hours from the beach, four in traffic). “Rebecca has mental problems, and we talk about it a lot in the room: What is her actual diagnosis?” Bloom says. “And it’s kind of a conglomeration of stuff that I’ve gone through myself. I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression. If you want to earn this premise of somebody moving across the U.S., you can't just earn it based off of 'love makes you crazy.' This person has to be off balance.”

All of this is personal for Bloom. “I have felt crazy,” she says. “I feel like I spent a very significant amount of high school, and college, truly, unhealthily obsessed with someone. And it would switch who the person was, but, like, being up until 4 a.m. instead of going to sleep, because I was reading over old instant message conversations. I very much have been on the worst end of the spectrum with obsession. When you’re that obsessed with someone, it’s not about them. It’s about stuff within yourself that you haven’t fully explored.” There's also an element of messed up "wish-fulfillment" to Rebecca's story. "If I only had slightly less hyper self-awareness, I could have seen myself stalking this person, but because I’m so self-aware, I would know to hold myself back," Bloom continues. "But inside, all I would want to do is cut off their hair and smell it, and put it in my bra, you know?"

Bloom’s connection to the character she plays helps elevate Rebecca beyond caricature. Sure, her actions may be unusual — crazy, even — but, she’s only acting on desires that are familiar to anyone who has googled an ex to see what he or she has been up to. "We want women to identify with this," Bloom says. "We want it to start a conversation with what the word crazy even means."
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