Her musical comedy videos are bigger head turners than Ryan Lochte’s grill. F*** Me Ray Bradbury alone has garnered her close to 2 million YouTube views. For peet’s sake, this viral commodity was nominated for a Hugo Science Fiction award! Her music videos have been featured on Funny or Die, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Wired and more. She has inspired many to learn the art of music by seeking out tutors from institutions such as takelessons. But this show tune lovin’ bookworm isn’t resting on her video success laurels just yet. She has also managed to impress us with her live musical sketch shows. And she landed one of the few female writer gigs on the insanely popular Adult Swim’s “Robot Chicken”. Score! Who is this voluptuous braniac? She is no other than the delightful, the twisted, the alluring Rachel Bloom! Find out how she has transformed from grandparent-grandchild lookalike contest winner to today’s triple threat.
Serial Optimist: Rachel, It’s time to focus on what’s really important in life. Food! What is your favorite “talk me off this ledge” junk food?
Rachel Bloom: You have opened up Pandora’s refrigerator on this one, because I’m a sucker for junk food. If I had to choose one thing, I’d say Ben and Jerry’s Cinnamon Buns ice cream. I can easily polish off a pint of that in an hour. Also, Pringles sour cream and onion potato chips. I make the two chips into a duckbill and then eat them (the way they used to do in the commercials).
SO: Someone is my new BFF! Where did you grow up and how did your upbringing help mold you as a performer? What drew you to musical comedy? Who are your comedic heroes?
Rachel: I grew up in Manhattan Beach, California- kind of like the Long Island of L.A. My mother played piano and my grandfather was an amateur director/stand-up comic, so I was exposed to musical theater at a very young age. The first song I learned was “All I Do Is Dream of You” from “Singin’ in the Rain,” and soon after that I started to get up and sing at family functions. And, since I was an only child, all the attention would go to me. Even now when I’m onstage I still feel that special brand of starry-eyed selfishness that comes from having no siblings, and, thus, no competition. “LookatmelookatmelookatmeI’mspecial!!!!”
I was always a nervous, excited, manic kid, and Manhattan Beach was a very “whatevs, dude” type of place, so it exacerbated my feelings of being an outcast. I guess you could call me “strange”- I only listened to show tunes until age 18, my typical outfit between ages 9-13 was sweatpants and oversized funny t-shirts, and I won a grandparent-grandchild lookalike contest at a mall. Since I was so socially awkward, the only thing I had going for me was the fact I was a performer, and, thus, the only time I felt respected by my peers was when I was cast in the lead in a play or got a solo in the choir concert. When I was in 5th grade, I wrote and starred in a talent show act called “The Me Station,” which was a one-person sketch about a television show with only one person. It was the first time I made a whole room laugh, and I realized the power of being funny.
Since I spent so much time playing alone, lip-synching to show tunes was the perfect escapist activity. Musical comedy still feels like such a fantastical escape to me- it’s the same part of my brain that my love for amusement parks and science fiction live in.
My comedic heroes have evolved over time. I was obsessed with anything Nathan Lane did as a kid because his delivery of any song was really crisp- I’m still a huge fan of his. I also loved Mel Brooks (my mind was blown when I first saw “Springtime For Hitler” in the movie “The Producers), and if I had to follow any career path I’d follow his. I also love George Carlin, anything done by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the “South Park” movie is my favorite musical), Tina Fey, and every sketch from the short-lived “The Dana Carvey Show.”
SO: Tell us about your experience as director of NYU’s Hammerkatz sketch comedy group?
Rachel: Someday somebody should write a movie about being on a college sketch comedy group, because it is simultaneously one of the most ridiculous and intense things one can ever do. It’s 15 minutes before the show and you’re rehearsing a sketch called “Pig Threesome,” and everyone is yelling at each other about whether or not to cut the joke about dental hams as an audience of 30 people is waiting outside.
Hammerkatz was the single most important thing I did in college. It turned me into a writer, it changed my sense of humor, and it gave me a much higher standard for any piece of art. The rules of sketch writing that we used on Hammerkatz (as taught by the Upright Citizens Brigade) are not only very mathematical but also apply to any other form of writing (what is the central idea, how do you heighten that central idea, what is the cleanest way to get your idea across). Learning technique in any art form is seeing the man behind the curtain- shit starts to make a lot more sense. Hammerkatz was also one of the first places that I tried my hardest and failed. I once heard a quote that “Laziness is a form of fear,” and that rang so true to college me- I would slack off just so I could say to myself, “It’s ok that I failed, because I didn’t try my hardest anyway.” ‘Cause that’s the ultimate fear: what if my best isn’t good enough? What if I’m not even talented? However, I fell in love with sketch writing so hard that I had no choice but to work my hardest on that group, and there’s no feeling worse than working your ass off on a piece of writing only to have it fail abysmally. However, trying my best and failing was the only way I got better as a writer.
SO: What do you enjoy most about performing at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, both in LA and NY?
Rachel: Every time I take a class or see a show at UCB, I learn something new about comedy. There are no auditions required to take improv or sketch classes there and people often get runs of shows there without being on the house improv or sketch teams (unlike other theaters where most of the shows are performed by a small auditioned “company”). If you spend a night seeing shows at UCB, you will see long form improvisation at 8:00, a solo show about an old lady living on the upper east side at 9:00, a comedy rap group at 10:30 and then a sketch show at midnight. And all those shows will be phenomenal in very different ways. It’s magical.
SO: The Disneyland of improv for sure. Do you think you have an advantage over other comedians with a background in theatre? You really command the stage and project your will on the audience.
Rachel: Thank you! I think a theater background is really key for what I do, which is live musical sketch comedy. My theater background also is embedded in everything I write (my recent solo show at UCB was about a desperate actor doing a “musical theater industry showcase”), so it’s hard to distance myself from it. A theater background also helps with any kind of live scripted comedy performance, especially in theaters with bad acoustics where good projection is key. However, there are some amazing improvisers I’ve seen who didn’t have a background in theater, and because of that they have a real natural way of acting/reacting that’s conducive to staying grounded and true in the moment.
F*** Me, Ray Bradbury
SO: You have a great online following thanks to the smart & sexy videos you’ve posted on YouTube. Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury has almost 2 million views and was nominated for the Hugo Science Fiction Award. What do you think makes your videos so appealing? Did you ever get a chance to meet Mr. Bradbury? I understand he approved of your tribute.
Rachel: I’m so amazed at the reception of all the videos. I am so overwhelmingly grateful for my various career turns over the past two years, and it all started with “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury.” So, thank you fans and Internet.
The inspiration for all of the videos has been, “What’s a common trope or point of view in pop music, and what’s a way to turn it on its head?” and I think people respond to that. “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury” is using the sexualized trappings of a modern pop song but replacing the standard object of affection (usually a hunky dancer who doesn’t look particularly smart or interesting) with an alternative object of affection: Ray Bradbury. Same goes for “You Can Touch My Boobies”- it’s taking the trappings of a pop song but exploring an alternative sexuality. “Pictures of Your Dick” sprung from me listening to “Someone Like You” by Adele and thinking, “Wow, I’m way more vengeful after a breakup.” And luckily, my producer/collaborator on the music videos, Jack Dolgen, is almost always on the same page of each vision.
I’m also not a fucking moron and I know that my videos get views because I have big boobs and I show those big boobs. I dress scantily because many pop genres call for it, but I know that some people watch the videos solely for this reason.
I had the great fortune to meet Ray Bradbury before he died, and I’m pleased to say he really liked the video. He had a great sense of humor.
SO: What an honor! Recently there was a piece in the LA Times in which your video was listed along with 9 others musical works inspired by the writings of Mr. Bradbury. How cool is it to have your work referenced next to gems like Elton John’s Rocketman and Deadmau5′s The Veldt?
Rachel: Scale of 1-10, 10 being “whoa mama!” and 1 being “eh,” it was an 11.
SO: What was it like performing Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury at this year’s Comic-Con? Was that the largest audience you’ve played to? What was the craziest thing you saw at Comic-Con?
Rachel: That was definitely one of the largest audiences I’ve ever played to; although I was a big let down that the hall was only half full. However, they were an incredibly supportive audience even if they were a bit weirded out seeing a girl in a schoolgirl outfit singing about fucking and blowing.
The craziest thing I saw at Comic-Con were the group of Christians standing around with giant posters that said stuff like, “Repent Now!” and “Christ will save you!” Really? You think you’re gonna get converts at a convention centered around the “popular arts?”
SO: It takes all sorts. Who are some of your favorite current comedians?
Rachel: If I had to name just a few, I’d say Louis C.K., Pete Holmes, The Apple Sisters, Rebecca Drysdale (a writer for “Key and Peele” and a fantastic improviser), Jon Lajoie, MC Mr. Napkins, and James Adomian- I just saw him live for the first time at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal and he was absolutely astounding. Also, and my boyfriend (“How I Met Your Mother” writer Dan Gregor) is fucking hilarious.
SO: Boyfriends are important too. Smile. You and Jessica Gao are the first ladies hired to write for Adult Swim’s “Robot Chicken”. How on earth did they go 5 seasons without a female writer? How did that opportunity come about?
Rachel: I have no idea how “Robot Chicken” went for 5 seasons without hiring a female writer. Seriously. If you asked me right now, I could name at least 15 women off the top of my head that would be amazing on “Robot Chicken.” I will say that “Robot Chicken” is a very “male” show- it’s high concept sketches that center around mostly male-centric TV shows/toys with a lot of sex and violence. Not trying to generalize, but I have noticed a small trend of women being more likely to write sketches that are grounded and character-based, while men being more likely to write more high concept ideas about time travel, dicks, time traveling dicks, etc. As my father put it, I’ve never been a particularly “feminine” girl, so my writing definitely tends more toward the high-concept. Again, though, I know so many women who also write high-concept sketches, so who knows.
The interview for “Robot Chicken” came out of the blue. I had finished writing at my first TV writing job, “Allen Gregory,” a couple months before, so I was looking for work. My bosses and I have the same agency, so I know there’s a connection there. When I was called in to be interviewed, they’d seen my music videos (I only had 3 out at the time) and read my “30 Rock” spec, and I think the fast paced and joke-heavy nature of all those things worked in my favor. During the interview they asked, “If you were on the writing staff what’s one thing you would change about the show?” and I answered honestly, but then one of them said, “Yeah, people usually don’t answer that question,” and I thought, “Well, I blew that job.” But, looking back, I think they respected that honesty.
SO: Describe a typical day in the “Robot Chicken” writer’s room. (Don’t tell anyone but long ago I saw Seth Green pushing a shopping cart filled with a Mt Everest size DVD stockpile. I’m fairly certain that if you stacked up each DVD vertically it would have been twice his size.)
Rachel: (That doesn’t surprise me at all).
On a typical day in the “Robot Chicken” writer’s room, you get in at 9:00 AM and then write on your own until 3:00pm. There are no real guidelines- you just comb the Internet and some reference guides for inspiration, and then submit full- length sketch outlines bullet pointed- out. You submit your ideas around 3:00, 3:30, and then all of the ideas are put into an anonymous packet. At 4:00 Seth and Matt (Senreich) come in, and, along with headwriters Doug Goldstein and Tom Root they go through each idea and decide whether or not it’s approved to go to script. For an idea to be approved you need a 3-1 vote.
SO: Nothing like good ole democracy! What’s your take on the lady geeks having to defend their dorkdom trend?
Rachel: Ugh it’s such bullshit. First, compare any Internet comments on videos featuring women to videos featuring men, and the comments on women’s videos are infinitely worse. There is just a higher standard for women to be sexy, smart, authentic, proportional, etc. I also think that some people can’t believe that there are cute women out there who are also into cool, intellectual shit. I also think it angers some dudes- like, “Hey! This dorky world is my way of forgetting that I’m a social outcast! You’re not allowed to be hot AND like this world too!” Sure, there are some hot ladies out there jumping on the dorkdom bandwagon who aren’t really into Star Wars, video games, etc., but for the most part the girls I’ve seen are genuinely into the things they are singing/writing about. For the record, I would never say that my music videos are centered around the world of dorkdom- I only have a couple songs relating to sci-fi/fantasy, and one of them is about a mermaid becoming a pop star (you don’t need to be immersed in geekery to write that). I am a legitimate fan of Ray Bradbury and many other science fiction authors, but if I wrote a music video about Star Trek, video games, or even comic books (of which I am a huge fan but a comparative novice), it might get me a ton of views but it would be a lie.
SO: Well put. What is your favorite Olympic event to watch?
SO: When was the last time you laughed really hard and why?
Rachel: At the Montreal comedy festival last week, I saw Andy Kindler’s alternative show on two different nights and I laughed my ass off. Man was that a good show.
SO: Awesome. What projects do you have coming up?
Rachel: I am close to finishing my first full- length album, so I think I’m going to release that in mid-October. In general, I’m trying to do more live performances around the Los Angeles area. I’m also involved with some exciting TV development deals right now, so I’ll know more in the next week or two as development season comes and goes. I’m also working on a full-length musical comedy that takes place in 1925- I put up a 10- minute excerpt at UCB next month and it went over really well.
SO: We can’t wait to catch up with all your future endeavors. Thanks so much Rachel!