Rachel Bloom discusses mental health and musical comedy in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Article contains minor spoilers for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s fourth season.

Comedian Rachel Bloom has every right to be tired. After her musical comedy television series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend aired its finale in April 2019, Bloom went on tour across the US,  performing some of the show’s most popular songs alongside her former cast members. As if that doesn’t sound tiring enough, Bloom’s latest tour, What Am I Going to Do With My Life?, will also feature songs from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend alongside the comedian’s own original stand-up. One of her upcoming stops is in Montreal for the Just For Laughs festival.

One might expect that writing, starring in, and producing four seasons of a musical comedy would leave a person absolutely exhausted. Yet, in a phone interview with The McGill Tribune, Rachel Bloom feels refreshed. She speaks with energy and care; she pauses before answering each question. She takes frequent breaks to laugh. She looks forward to seeing her fans in Montreal.

“Our fans are some of the smartest and kindest people I’ve ever met,” gushed Bloom. “At live shows […], no one’s ever clamouring over other people […] Everyone’s incredibly kind and polite to each other.”

In Crazy Ex Girlfriend, Bloom plays Rebecca Bunch, an ambitious East Coast–lawyer who relocates to California to chase after her childhood boyfriend. Initially, Rebecca channels all her energy into winning her crush back, but as the series progresses, she comes to learn valuable lessons about love, responsibility, and self-care.

In the show’s third season, Rebecca Bunch is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Showrunners worked alongside mental health professionals to ensure a sensitive and accurate portrayal of the mental illness, 

“At this point, a quarter of the people who I meet after live shows have borderline,” shared Bloom. “It’s a lot [more than…] just taking a selfie and being done. [Fan interactions] almost require me to be as present as when I am on stage. I want to listen and be there for them […] it’s wonderful […] but it’s an intense experience.”

Bloom graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in 2009, and she later performed sketch comedy at the Upright Citizens’ Brigade Theatre. Her YouTube music videos and work on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fuse her musical theatre talents and her dry, comedic wit. 

“I was a musical theatre major who started to do comedy, and for a couple of years, I found it hard to marry the worlds [….] Doing musical comedy was my way to finally bring the humanity and vulnerability to the sketch comedy that I wanted to do. It’s very personal for me.”

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend deals in difficult themes with tact and humour, and Bloom understands the enormous power of comedy in addressing mental illness. 

 “Comedy exposes the dark underbelly about how we all feel,” Bloom said. “I once read a book about comedy [….] [It said that] laughter is basically suppressed aggression. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do think there’s something about the communal release of comedy.”

In addition to addressing mental health, Bloom’s work often candidly discusses female sexuality. She initially became YouTube famous for a Britney Spears parody about being turned on by science fiction novels. In the pilot of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Bloom sings a raunchy and riotous number about gendered beauty standards. Although the songs in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend can be vulgar, the lyrics aim to humour and educate.

“I was a bullied kid, and I’m really, really cognizant of being a bully. I never want to be a bully. It scares me […] When you’re an outsider, the last thing you want to do is put down other outsiders.”

The title of Bloom’s upcoming tour (What Am I Going to Do With My Life?) pokes fun at her career’s uncharted trajectory as she transitions from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to other creative work. The actress shared what aspects of her character, Rebecca Bunch, she wants to carry over into future endeavours. 

“I got a tattoo of the last lines of the show: ‘This is a song that I wrote.’ I think the point [of the line] is that you make your own destiny. Your life is a song that you write, you are in control of your life, and you don’t have to live the life other people want you to live. I got that on my body to remember that, and that is what I will be taking with me for the rest of my life.”

Rachel Bloom will be performing at Just for Laughs from July 23-27. Visit hahaha.com for more details about showtimes.

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