February 25, 2020

Actress Rachel Bloom’s ‘Ex-Girlfriend’ is the love of her life

While growing up in Manhattan Beach, Rachel Bloom sang along with show tunes and dreamed of being on Broadway. “I felt like a neurotic little New Yorker living in Southern California. I never fit in,” Bloom said. 

Not surprisingly, she headed east to New York Univeristy’s Tisch School of the Arts for college, where she majored in musical theater and did sketch and improv comedy. But these days, she’s back in California and starring in her first series, the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” as a lovelorn New York lawyer who chases her teenage crush all the way to West Covina.

Bloom plays Rebecca Bunch, a single Jewish Harvard grad on the partner track at her law firm who, after a chance encounter with her old summer-camp boyfriend, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), drops everything and follows him to his hometown. The show, originally developed for Showtime, is essentially about a stalker. But Bloom makes the neurotic, obsessed character lovable, especially when she bursts into song, which happens at least twice per episode. 

What sets “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” apart from other romantic comedies is that it’s a musical, with production numbers such as “West Covina” (shot on location in that city) and “Sexy Getting Ready Song” featured in the premiere. Along with Adam Schlesinger and Steven M. Gold, Bloom co-writes all the songs, which range from pop and R&B to rock and Bollywood.

While performing live sketch comedy here in Los Angeles, Bloom earned some notoriety — and millions of page views — for the often risqué music videos she made and posted online, such as “F— Me, Ray Bradbury” and “Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song.” Producer Aline Brosh McKenna took notice and invited her to collaborate, which led to the two co-creating the series.

Although Bloom, 28, admits to having had a romantic obsession of her own, she says she didn’t fixate as much as her fictional counterpart does. “Unlike Rebecca, I’ve gotten to pursue my passions throughout my life. She’s way more emotionally disconnected than I am. She’s intelligent but very unhappy. She really did need a change, but even she knows moving across the country for a guy sounds crazy,” Bloom said.

Her TV alter ego reflects the duality of her personality, she said. “My sense of humor has always tended toward either really, really dark [or] really, really happy,” she said. Bloom believes this is because she and her family “were a bunch of neurotic Jews living a five-minute walk away from the beach. I think a lot of my neuroses, in kind of a Woody Allen-y way — thinking about death and these existential anxieties that I have — are very much East Coast Jew, and they contrast with the Southern California lifestyle.”

This Jewish sensibility also infuses her comedy, she said. “It’s just in your bones to be self-deprecating. Even when you’re a little kid, you laugh at the Jewish stuff. I remember seeing ‘Robin Hood: Men in Tights’ when I was a little kid, and there’s a circumcision joke, and I was a child but I got it,” she recalled. “There’s something intangible that oppressed people have, a glorification mixed with self-loathing. It’s an Ashkenazi thing, the idea of using your words as knives.”

Bloom said that as an only child, she “was always hamming it up for the attention. My grandfather was an amateur stand-up comic. He got Catskills jokes from a book and delivered them well, and would perform at convalescent homes. I’d go with him and sing. My mother played piano. We were, in a very loose sense, a performing family,” she said.

Although her family was not religious, Bloom said she was “raised with a very strong Jewish identity. I think that people who aren’t Jews don’t understand that you don’t have to go to temple every week to be Jewish. My mother doesn’t know a word of Hebrew but can tell you the name of every celebrity who has said anything remotely anti-Semitic. My grandfather was an outspoken atheist but if you ask him what [religion] he is, he’d say ‘I’m Jewish.’ ”

Her husband, writer Dan Gregor, is a Long Island, N.Y., native who was raised in a Conservative Jewish home. “We were friends before we started dating, and I would go to his family’s house for Passover every year. That’s how I got to know him,” Bloom said. 

After being together for six years, they were married earlier this year by her cousin, a rabbi at Texas A&M University. They’re currently “practicing on the dog” in preparation for having children. “I like the idea of exposing my kids to the culture and traditions. It’s separate from spirituality for me,” she said.

A Hebrew school dropout who did not have a bat mitzvah, Bloom does have fond memories of family Chanukah celebrations. In 2013, she and her husband recorded “Suck It, Christmas!!!” an album of Chanukah songs including “Chanukah Honey,” which became an online video hit.

But, for Bloom, whose credits include “How I Met Your Mother” and “Robot Chicken,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is her highest-profile project to date. “This show was my game plan,” she said. “Right now, everything that I have is going into it.”