Zibby Owens: Welcome, Rachel. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to talk about your book, I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are, which I feel like I should sing in The Little Mermaid-esque.

Rachel Bloom: Feel free to.

Zibby: I won’t subject you to that. Thanks for coming on.

Rachel: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Zibby: Rachel, can you tell listeners what I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are is about, what inspired you to write this memoir about your life, and why you did it? Why now?

Rachel: It’s really a collection of stories and essays and comedic pieces about my relationship with normalcy. Personal stories are the jumping-off point of each part. Then I extrapolate based on the emotions of those stories to do comedic pieces, comedic essays. For instance, there’s the story of the night I won a Golden Globe, but as described by my dog. Even winning a Golden Globe, which is such a societal marker of, you fit in, I want to have some perspective and remember that a dog doesn’t care. It goes through my relationship with normalcy through childhood up until now, basically.

Zibby: I appreciated the picture of the dog with the Golden Globe that you included. That was also a nice touch to really ground us in the normalcy, question mark, of that. I have to say, your middle school experience gave me PTSD from my own middle school experience. I’m sure everybody has had something happen in middle school where they have felt like they didn’t fit in. Everybody has had a moment in middle school where they feel like they don’t fit in or they’re not part of the group. The boyfriend that you had, or not even really a boyfriend, but the guy you followed around all the time — this is going to sound terrible. I think his name was Ethan.

Rachel: Yeah.

Zibby: Maybe just tell me the story again from the horse’s mouth, as it were, and how experiences like that where you’re wanting so much just to have a normal relationship and it backfires — tell me a little bit more about that.

Rachel: It was the first crush I ever had. I remember my feelings for Ethan being just as real and passionate as any feelings of love or infatuation I had as an adult. I was a dork. He didn’t really fit in either. The more I tried to be around him, the lower it made his social standing. He started insulting me to try to just get me to go away and also fit in with the other kids who also thought I wasn’t cool. That made me love him more. I can’t tell if it made me love him more or if I loved him regardless and I loved him despite the insulting. Either way, it set a pattern for later relationships. He was quite mean because I was clearly in love with him at an age when no one was having these intense feelings of infatuation.

Zibby: Where is Ethan now? Do we know? Have you looked him up?

Rachel: Yeah. I had a conversation with Ethan for using his real name for this Vulture Fest. Vulture has this festival of arts and entertainment. We had a conversation. He actually became one of my really good friends in high school. There just wasn’t time to write about that in the book.

Zibby: I feel like the dramatic stories are better, sometimes, to read than, and now we’re good friends. To fast-forward from your middle school antics to let’s just say a section like An Apologetic Ode to my Former Roommates and all of the unresolved issues, which, by the way, I love — it’s like a poem to yourself. You’re so funny. I really love how you use lists and different formats and scripts. You’re using the book in a whole new way. It is a book, but it’s an art project at the same time.

Rachel: I try to vary it up. I don’t really love reading. It has to be a really, really famous person or someone I really admire to read just a straightforward memoir. I like reading personal stories or especially books that are very personal where the format is varied up. I wrote the book that I would want to read. Also, I wrote in a way that I would still enjoy writing it. I didn’t want to sit down and just write a bunch of personal essays. One of the chapters is a full musical that you’ll actually be able to listen along to on my website when the books comes out if you want to listen along and read. That was my way of keeping myself entertained. Then the ode to my roommates, which is this apology, I wanted to elevate my apology. I wanted to make it feel almost mythic because I really was a terrible roommate. I feel like most people come from the vantage point of, I had this terrible roommate, but no, that was me. I feel terrible about it.

Zibby: You are one of the most, I want to say self-critical, but it’s beyond that. It’s like self-flagellating. You’re always so hard on yourself in a funny way, but there’s always a little truth to every joke.

Rachel: It’s a glass houses thing because I definitely bitch about other people in the book. I don’t want to get off scot-free. I, perhaps, at times in the book, overcompensate by being pretty self-flagellating just to make sure. I know that I’m making fun of other people, but I’m not perfect. I always want to play that other side to cover my bases.

Zibby: Is the book reflective of how you think? Is this the way you think? You’re always onto this and then another thing, and this is the creative interpretation of that? It’s not as linear, like what you were saying, I don’t want to just sit down and write a bunch of essays.

Rachel: That is how I think.

Zibby: That’s how you think.

Rachel: Yes. There is a smidgeon of ADHD in there, as my psychiatrist has told me. Although, he’s like, “Don’t get excited. I know you’ll get off on a diagnosis tangent.” Yes, that is just how my mind works. I think it also comes from writing sketch comedy for so long and coming from that sketch brain of, okay, what’s a sketch I could do based on this? is the feeling that I’m having.

Zibby: Speaking of your therapist, would you mind if we talked a little about the OCD and the ?

Rachel: Please.

Zibby: I feel like that OCD has been branded all wrong. People think it has to do only with washing your hands and turning things on and off. Actually, the intrusive thoughts are a huge element of OCD. It would be very easy to misdiagnose someone who’s having that symptom as something completely different or not to worry about or even annoying. I want parents out there who might be listening also to know that sometimes the intrusive thoughts that your child is having could be this. Tell me a little more about your experience with it.

Rachel: Especially now as a parent, I’m thinking about it a lot. What happened was basically, in fourth grade, I started getting these intrusive guilty thoughts. I started fixating on things I thought I did that were bad, that I should feel guilty about. It was this gnawing darkness that I’d never felt before. This is around nine and a half, ten. I thought that the only way I could relieve myself of this guilt was to tell my parents everything. It was this series of obsessions, obsessive thoughts, and compulsions to tell my parents everything. At the time, my parents, they just thought it was some sort of quirk of adolescence because OCD was, yeah, you wash your hands or you check the burners to make sure the stove isn’t on. It was this very specific thing that we thought OCD was. It’s only now as an adult and now consciously that we are starting to realize — when I say consciously, I think non-therapists are starting to understand, oh, no, no, obsessive thoughts and compulsions come in many, many forms. No one around me understood or could see that I was suffering because it just seemed like I was quirky. I’ll hear stories like this in other kids. My kid’s having trouble sleeping. They keep bringing this up. It’s not just a quirk of childhood or of adolescence. They’re suffering. Writing this book when I was pregnant right before I was becoming a parent was a nice reminder that my child’s feelings are valid. I can’t just brush them away with, they’re just a kid, or even, they’re just a baby. No, these feelings are real. Just because the person feeling them is little doesn’t make them less valid.

Zibby: It might not necessitate the decibel level of screaming that accompanies it as a child, I might say.

Rachel: That’s fair. It applies more to the future of when my child is — my child’s seven and a half months old.

Zibby: That’s what I mean, the loud, bloodcurdling screams.

Rachel: Look, at a certain point, I have to put a sweatshirt on her. I have to put sleeves on. The bloodcurdling screams are, yes, going to happen. I can’t not ever put clothes on her. Yes, true.

Zibby: I think anybody who has had any sort of mental health anything and struggled for a diagnosis and then felt a sense of relief once it had been like, oh, wait, this constellation of behaviors or thoughts or feelings actually falls into this rubric and there’s a treatment for it, that’s a very great feeling, not to keep harping on this. I’m on the board the Child Mind Institute. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that.

Rachel: I have.

Zibby: Which is great, if you have any interest in getting involved or whatever. It’s all about reversing the stigma on childhood mental illness and raising awareness for things like this, like OCD and selective mutism and just all these things that maybe people don’t know as much about, and also finding treatments and biomarkers and all the rest. Anyway, not to bring that into it. I just wanted you to know I’m so on the same page in terms of wanting to raise awareness and helping families get through something that can be challenging both for the child and the parents.

Rachel: That’s so cool that you’re on the board of that. I would actually love to learn more information about that. I wish that had been around or I’d been aware of that when I was a kid.

Zibby: It wasn’t around, so don’t worry. I know that having a child often brings up old stuff in your brain, in your mind, and issues and all of that. How have you adjusted to being a parent? Has it raised any unexpected reactions in you in that way?

Rachel: First of all, there’s something freeing about putting her needs and her happiness above my own. It’s actually quite freeing. It actually really helps with things like cognitive behavioral therapy when you’re trying to just focus on the present and not engaging in anxious thoughts as much. It really helps with that. Around the time I’d finished the first draft of the book, I gave birth. Around the time I was getting induced and giving birth, among everything else that was happening, I was having some intrusive thoughts again. They were kind of unspecific. The thought and the gut feeling at this point are one in the same. My anxiety was amped up, and so it latches onto these little thoughts. It was weird to be writing about that while going through that again during a big life event. Coming out the other side of this one, because I had to be present for a baby but because I was also writing about it, it helped me realize, oh, yep, this is just a part of how my mind works sometimes. I have to be there for her. That’s what matters. I’ll just ride this wave. Being a mom is more important.

Zibby: Wow. That’s amazing. In terms of writing this book, how long did it take to do? When did you do it? How did you fit it in with all of your other stuff? What other big projects do you have in the hopper? This is like fifteen questions in one question.

Rachel: No, it’s fine. I had had a book deal since, it was like 2017. I got it when I was filming Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I started brainstorming and slowly writing the book for the next year or so, but I didn’t really get started earnestly until August, September of last year right when I was pregnant because that’s when I had time. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was done. We’d performed at Radio City Music Hall. I’d toured in London. Finally, I was back and ready to write the book. Then I got pregnant. Definitely, the first part of writing the book was also a good distraction from nausea. I wrote it from about September of 2019 until March 2020 with then some significant changes done April, May.

Zibby: Would you do it again? Did you enjoy any of it?

Rachel: Yeah, I did. It was hard. It’s hard. It’s scary because it’s just you. I can’t hide behind a character. At least, I chose not to. It’s nonfiction. My only cowriter was my editor. Editors are really the unofficial cowriters of every book. Still, it’s putting so much of yourself out there. I chose to be so vulnerable. It’s putting myself out there in a way no one asked me to do or expected me to do. Plus, it’s a lot of words. There were pieces that were cut. When a song was cut from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, that was still a lot of work, but that was maybe fifty words, a hundred words. I don’t know. I can’t think of how many words were in a song. When you’re talking about cutting five hundred to a thousand words, there’s a lot of stuff that I worked on that’s not in the book. It’s hard. Writing a book is really hard. Then as far as other things, working on movies and TV. No more books coming in the near future. Honestly, doing press for a book, especially when I’m not doing a book tour, takes a lot of time. That’s what’s in the hopper, is doing press for the book. I’m working on a musical using songs from the late nineties, early two thousands to explore nostalgia of that time. I’m pitching a sketch show. Still figuring out this new normal that is both COVID and having a new baby.

Zibby: It’s actually, probably — not that there’s ever anything good about the COVID era, but I feel like anytime I had — I have four kids.

Rachel: Whoa.

Zibby: Yeah, and I’m still standing, sort of. I’m sitting now, but you know what I mean.

Rachel: You look great. Your house looks immaculate.

Zibby: Thank you. Yes, I try not to let them in here. No, I’m kidding. You’re only seeing this little sliver. Normally, they’re walking on top of the couch around there. The shelves don’t get touched that much. Why was I saying that? Something about after every kid.

Rachel: Oh, the silver lining. I completely agree.

Zibby: I was completely isolated from the world. My schedule was so different. Everyone else was zoom, zoom, zooming around. I shouldn’t have used that word. Everybody else was running around super busy. I was at home. Your being at home, obviously, everybody’s at home, so I guess there’s some synergies in everybody else’s lifestyle.

Rachel: I gave birth in late March, which is when quarantine started. As we went into having a newborn, it felt like the rest of the world also had a newborn. People were talking about how time made no sense anymore. Everything was upside down. That’s what having a newborn is. As far as timing, yes, very stressful to have a child during a pandemic, but the aftermath as far as just the schedule of having a newborn worked out very well.

Zibby: I’m sure everybody asks you about this, and so I hate to ask. Just because I don’t know a ton of people who have won Golden Globes, I’m just curious.

Rachel: Ooh, ask.

Zibby: I know you wrote about it, thanks to your dog and everything like that. I’m really curious, what happened the next day? What happens the day after you win a Golden Globe? Do you get a thousand emails? Do you feel like life is exploding? Was there any point when you were like, I kind of miss not having all this attention? I know you already had attention because of your career. Do you ever just wish you didn’t, or not?

Rachel: The day after is so cool. I’ve gone through that day after a couple times now with the Golden Globe and then the day after my Emmy win last September. I got a big brunch because I’d been up late the night before. You’re hungover. There’s always a big brunch, a ton of emails. The good thing is I don’t feel like I have to get back to every one of those emails the day of. The day after the Golden Globes specifically, I wasn’t filming, but work was still happening. Me getting the Golden Globe essentially saved the show. I needed to at least get nominated, if not win, to save Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I went to work and I let everyone hold the Golden Globe and take pictures with the Golden Globe and celebrated with everyone at work because it was, in a way, job security for 250 people as well as myself. A lot of gifts, a lot of flowers. It’s great. It’s overwhelming. I was really psyched. I had two major awards bookending the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend experience.

The Golden Globe happened the middle of season one. It was in the middle of filming. I had filmed not the day before, but two days before. I had to go back to filming two days after. Then I had to fly to New York. There was all this stuff happening. It was all so soon because the show — I talk about this in the book. The show, I thought it was a dead pilot with Showtime. Then it suddenly got ordered to series. The whole thing was just whiplash in a way for which no one could’ve been fully prepared and didn’t fully sink in. It took like a year for all of it to sink in. Then the Emmy win last September, it was the opposite. I was done with the show. I was pregnant, so I was at home just being nauseous, sleeping a lot. I really had the time to fully soak it in. That was, as opposed to getting the Golden Globe for after the Hollywood Foreign Press seeing eight episodes of the show, the Golden Globe for songwriting was after writing 157 songs. They were actually two very different experiences. The day after is awesome.

Zibby: Wow. By the way, thank you for the layman’s interpretation of how to sell a show and the timeline of that. To show people why your timeline was so different, you’re like, here’s how it was supposed to happen, and here’s how it happened for me. It was like two days.

Rachel: My pleasure. I’m still confused by the whole process, so it was good to lay it out for myself.

Zibby: Do you have any advice both for authors and also for anyone who wants to get into your field of songwriting, creating, acting, all of it? People are dying to do that.

Rachel: The only real advice I have involves other people. Find likeminded people. You want to be around people who are doing what you’re doing. Try to find people who are better at it than you so that you can watch them do what they do and then also get feedback on your work. I think that’s where a writing circle helps. You’re around other people doing what you’re doing, so you’re not writing in a vacuum. You’re getting feedback. It gives you a deadline. If you’re in some sort of writer’s group or writing circle and you say, we’re all going to read aloud what we wrote on this date or, hey, I’m going to have a table read of this screenplay I wrote, it gives you a deadline. I cannot finish anything if I don’t have something holding me accountable even if it’s a little thing like, I promised so-and-so I’d get them the script by this day. Anything you can do where you are forced to write, that is my number-one tip.

Zibby: We’ll have to think of ways to bind people to their chairs and not let them up until —

Rachel: — At least, it works for me because it’s the fear of letting people down.

Zibby: Accountability. That’s one of those Gretchen Rubin — you know The Four Tendencies? Have you heard of this book?

Rachel: No.

Zibby: There’s the obligers. You’re probably an obliger. Anyway, this is ridiculous I’m talking about this.

Rachel: No, I’m going to look this up.

Zibby: There are all these different personality types. I am the same way. I try to finish everything so I would never let anybody down. The thought of missing a deadline for me is like, are you kidding? Of course not. That’s one of the personality types. You should check it out. It’s fun. Just google it or something.

Rachel: I will.

Zibby: What about getting into being a performer and a songwriter and all the rest?

Rachel: God, there are so many ways to do it. It depends what you want to do. There are so many hubs of entertainment now. Five years ago, I would’ve said New York, LA, or Chicago. Now there’s Atlanta. There’s Vancouver. I think first finding a place where you have the freedom to experiment and fail is really important. That’s not starting out online because there’s no freedom to fail. Once you put something online, it’s there forever. I had a college sketch comedy group where we would do shows once a month. A sketch would bomb, and then no one would ever talk about it again. Finding a safe place to stumble and realizing that you’re supposed to stumble and you’re supposed to fail at first and you’re supposed to make a lot of mistakes and you’ll always make mistakes, that’s really important. Then as far as turning it into a career, everyone’s trajectory is so different. That’s why I think the community of it all is important on multiple levels. Then you start to see people get agents or sell scripts and you start to figure out how that happens depending on what avenue you want to go down.

Zibby: Just to circle back here to middle school as my last question, do you ever — I know Ethan and you hung out in high school and everything. The people that you felt sort of alienated from or who were stuffing you in a locker or whatever else crazy stories, whatever happened to your relationship with them? Do you ever want to be like, look, I’m not — you know.

Rachel: Middle school was really, really rough. That was after Ethan. I talk about, in the book, one of the girls who was my main tormentor in middle school. She came to one of my live shows about nine years ago. She took me out for coffee after. We had a really, really vulnerable conversation about how she was just as miserable in middle school. She was afraid of losing her popularity. That’s the one really vulnerable, probing conversation I’ve had with a bully other than Ethan. Ethan became my friend, so it almost doesn’t count even though it does, obviously. That’s the one other conversation I’ve had. Then short of that, I posted on my Facebook around the time of this Vulture Fest. I said, hey, did you bully me in middle school or were you popular? I’d love to talk to you. Ethan was the only one who got back to me because we were friends in high school. No actual middle school bully got back to me. I like to think it’s because they were afraid. Bullies are scared, yes, but I also think a huge percentage of people who were bullies aren’t terribly introspective people. They don’t think a lot about the past. A bad part of this country is sometimes we forget history. I think they are those types of people a lot of times, people who just, they don’t really think about stuff in context. They’re just kind of living their lives, not even in a bad way. They’ve matured since middle school. They’ve grown up, but they don’t think about their past a lot.

Zibby: That’s probably very true. They probably had their own stuff going on, which is why they were bullies in the first place.

Rachel: Yeah. They should be in therapy to talk about that and process it, but they probably haven’t.

Zibby: Not that it excuses it. I’m just saying they probably —

Rachel: — No, no. I think it’s introspective people and not. This woman had been through a lot, that I talked to. She was really introspective and had really looked within. I think that’s rarer for bullies.

Zibby: Yeah, you’re right. I’m sure you’re right. Rachel, thank you. Thanks for taking the time. I know you have so many press obligations, so thanks for stopping in here. I wish you all the best of luck in getting a sweater on your baby and all the things to come. If you do want to follow up about Child Mind, I’m happy to send you information or hook you up with the head of it there. No pressure, just if you happen to be interested.

Rachel: Awesome. That is so great to know. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: My pleasure. Take care.

Rachel: You too.

Zibby: Bye.

Rachel: Bye.