Comedy's Not Cute: Rachel Bloom Talks About Being Honest with Pop Music and Why She Likes Ray Bradbury
Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury, the comedy music video that gave comedian and writer Rachel Bloom a career, smashed an untapped nerve with a sledgehammer.
The NSFW ode used a teen pop sound to celebrate one of the greatest sci-fi writers (he always called himself a "fantasy" writer) of all time. Thanks to some unique timing to Bradbury's birthday and Bloom's powerful singing and comedic voice, it racked up over 600,000 hits in a little under a week.
"I guess what I expected was it would get some attention and really establish me as a comedy writer and a performer," she said from her home in Los Angeles. "The way it went viral was a surprise to me because I didn't think Bradbury was a topical issue. It's not like he just released a new book."
Perhaps part of the reason it and all of her other music videos have such a massive fan base is that they resonate beyond just being funny or finding colorful ways to describe having sex with Bradbury's most famous works. They hijack the tired pop sound that's been used to express cliches of love, loss and being a sex symbol. Her songs carry the thoughts and feelings her listeners might actually have, whether it's about being the unpopular kid in school with I Steal Pets (from the Popular People), honest feelings about rejection in We Don't Need a Man and Pictures of Your Dick or dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder in The OCDance. This Saturday at 8 p.m., you can see Bloom performing stand-up and some of her classic songs at the Dallas Comedy House.
Bloom said she started on her path to comedy through musical theater.
"I did a little comedy in high school but I was still hardcore, like I wanted to be on Broadway," she said. "Then when I got into college, I majored in musical theater but I also really fell in love with sketch comedy and got into a sketch comedy group. So that's when I started doing comedy hardcore."
The sketch group was as a comedy writing boot camp that had her crafting completely new shows every month and at least two sketches a week. Mixed with the playwriting, acting and music classes, it was the comedy equivalent of a prolonged weightlifting session. She said that's also when she first got the idea for Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury.
"I didn't know what it was yet because it wasn't a sketch idea and I wasn't performing funny songs live yet so I kept it in my back pocket," she said. "I kept telling people, 'Oh, I wrote this funny song and I don't know what to do with it.'"
After her high school graduation, the Internet exploded with new comedy video content thanks in part to the rise of sites like Funny or Die and College Humor where content providers started to raise the level of quality. Bloom said this inspired her to make her own music videos and revisit her Ray Bradbury idea.
"I was re-reading The Martian Chronicles that summer, which is one of my favorite books, and I had just gone through kind of a breakup and to digress for a second, I wasn't always a fan of science fiction and fantasy because I found that it was alienating and that the ideas were so high concept that there was no humanity there," Bloom said. "At least that's how I felt when I read it and what I loved about Bradbury was that he uses these high concepts as a springboard to talk about humanity, emotions and relationships. The guy I had broken up with was very clinical and scientific and I remember reading Martian Chronicles and thinking that this is the kind of guy I need, a guy who's smart and scientific but also has emotions and understands relationship. So the song sprung from that."
She wrote, recorded and filmed the video for Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury in April 2010, but the release date for her RachelDoesStuff YouTube channel kept getting put off until she finally released it the following August on Bradbury's 89th birthday.
The video became an overnight phenomenon. It got her more than just links on comedy websites and social media forums. Bloom said it also got her an agent, a manager and a writing job on the Fox animated sitcom Allen Gregory. She later scored writing gigs on two seasons of the Adult Swim behemoth Robot Chicken and she's currently starring in a musical sitcom pilot called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that's being considered for a full season by Showtime.
"So within the same year at the beginning of the year, I was broke and didn't know what I was going to do," she said. "By the end of it, I had a viral video and I was writing for a network television show. It was a crazy year."
Of course, the challenge of any viral video is finding a way to do it again. Rather than just be the girl who loves sci-fi, Bloom moved away from being the geek girl and explored something much darker with I Steal Pets (From the Popular People), a hit song that gave a much needed uppercut to Rebecca Black's pre-teen sugar fest Friday. Bloom said it's one of her most personal works, "which is where the juicy stuff comes from."
"The funny thing about that to me is that was song was derivative of this pre-teen pop and happy pre-teens, and when I was a pre-teen, I was miserable," she said. "I was made fun of so much. Age 11 to 13 was the worst time of my life so I wanted to do a pop song in that happy pre-teen song that showed how horrible it was for me.
Thankfully, her experience didn't involve actually stealing pets.
"Originally, I wanted to do something much more on the nose and called it I Play Rollercoaster Tycoon, which is what I did when I was 13," she said. "I would pitch it to my friends and they would say, 'Oh that's so cute' and I fucking hate the word 'cute' when it comes to comedy, especially in musical theater because cute usually means predictable and not laugh out loud funny or soft. I never want to do anything that's cute."
Rachel Bloom will perform live at 8 p.m. at the Dallas Comedy House on Saturday, November 8. Tickets are available at DallasComedyHouse.com.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Dallas and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.