There’s no question you can ask Rachel Bloom that runs the risk of scrutinizing her too closely. “I love that,” she said. “Please, overanalyze.”
Television viewers already know Bloom as the star and co-creator of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” the musical comedy-drama that delved deep into the messy life of her lovestruck protagonist, Rebecca Bunch. That CW series, which ran from 2015 to 2019, broke ground by embracing the character’s flaws and having her receive a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder after she recovered from a suicide attempt in its third season.
In a new memoir, “I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are,” Bloom, 33, applies an unsparing and wryly comedic lens to herself. In the book, which Grand Central Publishing will release on Tuesday, she writes about her own childhood experiences of being bullied and living with her obsessive-compulsive disorder; of finding creative refuges in musical theater and sketch comedy; of being bullied further as an adult in the TV industry; and of her experiences during the pandemic, during which her daughter was born and her friend and musical collaborator, Adam Schlesinger, died from complications of the coronavirus.
Speaking earlier this month from the Los Angeles office of Aline Brosh McKenna, her co-creator on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” Bloom explained that this kind of relentless candor — with the occasional musical fantasy and Harry Potter parody mixed in, of course — comes naturally.
“I’ve never been able to be anyone but myself,” Bloom said in a video chat. “And when I’ve very vociferously attempted to not be myself — when I would come to school and be like, ‘I’ve had a makeover!’ — I’ve never been able to hide well. The conclusion I’ve come to in the past 10 years is, well, I might as well just lean hard into who I am.”
Though her memoir looks closely at her time in school, Bloom said that the book is probably better suited for readers who are already beyond it.
“It’s theoretically not for 12- and 13-year-olds, because there are some parts that are very dirty,” she said. “But one of my favorite movies when I was 13 was ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse,’ which is incredibly inappropriate. But I hadn’t seen anything that captured the true darkness of middle school. Any other movie that was made for kids — all that wish-fulfillment, Nickelodeon ‘I’m a kid detective!’ stuff — that was escapism.”
Bloom spoke further about “I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are,” reconciling her childhood and adult selves and why she thinks she could be an American Girl doll for the year 2020. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
When did you start working on this book? Did it coincide with your pregnancy?
When you’re an actor on a show, you just get a book deal because things are inherently unfair. So I’ve been brainstorming for the past couple years. But I didn’t really start it in earnest until August of last year, just as my morning sickness was getting really bad. If a piece I was working on took me out of the nausea, I was like, OK, this is good.
There’s a version of you that I know from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” your music videos and Twitter presence, that is hilarious, outgoing and self-confident. Even though the show let you dig into many of your fears and infirmities, the book makes me realize how much anxiety and self-loathing you’ve been dealing with in your real life. How did I get you so wrong?
On a TV show or on the red carpet, you’re coming at it from an inherently high-status situation. Rebecca Bunch isn’t me — it’s a character. At the Tonys, that’s my people. I’m mishpucha there. So there’s a certain ease in wearing a T-shirt with Sondheim smoking a blunt. The confusing thing is, I’ve always been confident in spite of being insecure. When Aline and I were originally pitching “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and the pitch wasn’t going well, I would get more sparkling. And I would talk more. Suddenly it was like, I need to get you to like me. That’s one of the things that makes me confident but also made me a target. I never did the crumbling, insecure thing. I would fight back. I would explode with cheeriness. And that’s part of who I am.
Given how you struggled with O.C.D. and with being bullied in adolescence, was musical theater the best and the worst possible outlet you could have found at that age?
Everything in musical theater is the most high-stakes, and you’re not emotionally mature enough to separate yourself from your talent. There is a sick way it portrays love that I think only fed into my natural tendencies to be infatuated. There is also a general deification of the mercurial director, who’s going to break you down and build you up, because that’s the theater. No, that’s harassment. I found footage of a musical-theater audition workshop that I did when I was 14, and they videotaped us getting our notes. The camera is close up on my face, and there are three professionals being like, “How old are you? Your résumé is a little hard to read. Let’s talk about your interpretation of the song.” I just got my period, and I’m still in braces. Why am I subjecting myself to this?
You write in the book about later being bullied at the first TV writers’ room you worked in. Was it harder for you to acknowledge that was happening to you as an adult because you’d already experienced it in your youth?
I fully blamed myself. Compared to some of the horror stories I’ve heard of writers’ rooms, it wasn’t that. It was more: Wait, do these guys hate me? Or am I imagining this because I have thin skin? Or are both true? My husband was writing at “How I Met Your Mother,” which was an incredibly nice writers’ room. A couple times, he saw me around those guys, and was like, oh, those guys hate you. I was able to be like, right? It’s not in my head. I think that a lot of people are in work environments like that. You’re not being explicitly bullied like in middle school. No one’s shoving a note that says “loser” in your locker. The line between being playfully ribbed and straight-up bullied, and all of the passive aggression and aggression-aggression in between those things, it’s really hard to codify. But I don’t want to get people canceled. I don’t want to share names. It’s not about getting people in trouble. You could look up on IMDb what my credits are and see who I work with, but that’s not my goal. It’s just about being honest and vulnerable.
Now that you have a daughter of your own, do you worry about her going through struggles similar to yours as she grows up? What kind of a parent do you want to be for her in those situations?
I think about it a lot. Our upbringings are already so different, because she’s growing up a child of comedians in L.A. I’m trying to avoid her becoming a douchey, entitled kid who’s going to snort coke when she’s 14. If she were to be an oddball in school and bullied, all I can do is not negate her emotions and check in with her and show her compassion and treat her the way that I would have wanted to be treated. We have a dog that plays around us, so I protect her from getting stepped on by the dog. The dog’s mouth is disgusting. But I want to expose her to the outside world, so I let the dog lick her face sometimes. [Laughs] That’s my parenting philosophy, currently.
You write about how you learned that Adam Schlesinger had died right after you brought your newborn daughter home from the hospital. Did you feel uneasy about including this in the book?
I felt it would be gross and irresponsible to put this book out in the world without acknowledging all the things that have happened. I heard a story about a girl who posted her new headshots the night Osama bin Laden was killed. I don’t want to be that girl. My experience in the pandemic has felt these American Girl dolls that are emblematic of their times. “This is Sadie — she met Paul Revere in the Revolutionary War.” I feel like I’m an American Girl doll of 2020, because giving birth during 2020, having a child in this hospital, as the maternity ward was transforming into a Covid ward, having my friend die just as my daughter was getting out of the NICU — it’s all very 2020.
What can you tell us about the movie musical you’re writing about fans of the 1990s-era boy band ’N Sync that Lance Bass is helping to produce?
I want to make a jukebox musical about nostalgia for the late ’90s. There is a huge part of myself that is very nostalgic for the year 1999, even though it’s like, wait, I was miserable in 1999. Why is this a part of myself and part of my nostalgia? Why do we look back? We’re going to need stuff that makes us laugh, we’re going to need stuff that’s escapist. But it can still have things to say. A more global, more pointed, filthier “Mamma Mia.” That’s what I’m really excited to do.
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