Rachel Bloom turns pandemic trauma into art and even laughs in her new off-Broadway show

NEW YORK (AP) — Rachel Bloom was fiddling around with songs and sketches for a new musical stand-up special she was hoping to take on the road when the pandemic hit in 2020 and, as she describes it, “the world exploded.”

The actor and writer, best known for creating and starring in “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” had recently brought her newborn home after time in the neonatal intensive care unit and was feeling grateful that her daughter was OK. At home during quarantine with her new family, she got the devastating news that her close friend and musical collaborator, Adam Schlesinger, had died after being hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms.

The singer-songwriter known for founding the band Fountains of Wayne and writing and composing many songs for TV and film was only 52. As she grieved, Bloom says she stared at her whiteboard filled with show ideas and realized it all felt silly and stupid. But she’s now channeled all of that into a new thought-provoking and funny off-Broadway show called “Death, Let Me Do My Show.”

She recently talked to The Associated Press about turning trauma into art, physically preparing for the show, and when she knew she was funny. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

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AP: There is some risk to bringing the pandemic into art — did you worry that people didn’t want to hear about it?

BLOOM: The show is all about the tension of ‘I know you guys don’t want to talk about this,’ and me actually voicing what the audience might be saying, which is ‘don’t talk about the pandemic… no one wants to hear about that.’ We all went through a collective trauma in 2020. If you lost someone, if you didn’t lose someone in lock down, that was a trauma that we need to be talking about. We need to be decompressing. People didn’t talk about the Spanish flu, and now a century later, we are unprepared. So we need to talk about these things. And that’s one of the central questions of the show that I had in my own life is how do you acknowledge death, prepare for death, but continue to live your life?

Writer-actor Rachel Bloom poses for a portrait in New York on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023, to promote her off-Broadway show called “Death, Let Me Do My Show.” (Photo by Matt Licari/Invision/AP)

Writer-actor Rachel Bloom poses for a portrait in New York on Tuesday to promote her off-Broadway show called “Death, Let Me Do My Show.” (Photo by Matt Licari/Invision/AP)

AP: Has the writing and performing been healing for you? How has it been reliving this live every night?

BLOOM: Reliving it live I think scabs it over because it turns it into, I don’t know, it turns it into a story. I think it seals the wound a little bit. It’s also become part of my personal narrative. I think when stuff is really traumatic and in a place I wouldn’t be ready to share, as if something hadn’t sunk in. But it’s basically sunk in at this point that this happened, and this show forced me to actually work through the idea: How do live with the fact that when we die, there might be nothing and not let it send me into an existential panic every time I think about that?

AP: Do you have plans for the show after this run ends?

BLOOM: I want to do more with the show. It depends what the appetite is. The theater world is very small, so it depends. Where else do people want to put it up? And then I eventually want to film it, be it selling it to someone, or paying for it myself to be filmed.

AP: You’re onstage basically alone for the whole show. How do you physically prepare for this?

BLOOM: I should say that I have help right now, so I am getting a full night’s sleep every night. I’m very, very lucky to have that full night’s sleep. So I’m always trying to get as much sleep as possible. I do a 30-minute vocal warm up and I try to stretch for at least 5 minutes.

AP: When did you know you were funny?

BLOOM: My parents and grandparents always laughed at the things I did. But in fifth grade I wrote a solo sketch. I would have called it a skit, but the proper term is sketch (smiles) for my school talent show called ‘The Me Station’ about a TV station with only one person. It was basically a rip off on the old ‘SNL’ sketch, ‘The Judy Miller Show.’ It was something I wrote and starred in, and I made the whole school laugh. And I was really unpopular in school. But after I did that sketch, I was like popular for a couple of weeks. So that’s when I realized. I still remember every line. I could do it for you right here!

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