Curtain Call

Rachel Bloom Wants To Change The Way We Talk About Death

Ahead of her new Off-Broadway show, the comedian takes Bustle backstage.

by Jessica Derschowitz

Rachel Bloom had planned to spend her first free day during the production of her new Off-Broadway show with her family, but the universe — or, more specifically, the airlines — had other plans. Her husband, Dan Gregor, and their 3-year-old daughter were due to join her in New York, but their flight from Los Angeles was rerouted. And then delayed. And then delayed again. Instead of settling the pair into her Airbnb, Bloom spent the day waiting for them just to enter the same time zone as her. It was a lesson in changing plans, which is also an overarching theme of Death, Let Me Do My Show, although on a wildly more existential plane.

After her acclaimed series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend wrapped in 2019, Bloom began working on new material. But then, well, you know. “The pandemic hits, I give birth [in March 2020], the world goes to sh*t,” Bloom, 36, tells Bustle. “And I’m with my daughter in my office, which is now also her playroom, looking at the lineup of bits for the show and I’m like, ‘This is all moot, this is all stupid.’” She reworked the premise.

The resulting show, written and performed by Bloom and directed by Seth Barrish, is about the temptation of wanting to repress traumatic events while also knowing you need to fold them into your life in order to move forward — and, yes, it still carries Bloom’s signature blend of raunch and pathos. (There’s a song about “trees that smell like c*m.”)

“There are two big questions that the show answers, which are, what is the role of silliness in life, especially when bad things have happened?” says Bloom, whose close friend and collaborator Adam Schlesinger passed away from complications of COVID shortly after her daughter was born. “And then also, how can you acknowledge death, but continue to live?”

It’s an apt conversation for 2023, one that’s actively being picked apart both over family dinners and big-screen Barbie dance numbers — “Do you guys ever think about dying?” — and Bloom addresses it by playing a version of herself who bounds on stage in a sparkly suit, intent to ignore the pain until something forces her to confront it.

During a phone call two days before opening night, she talks about her favorite sandwiches, backstage superstitions, and the new role she’s “cosplaying.”

On claiming your story:

I wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of this show in 2020. It would have been too painful. So it helped me to get some distance on it, and then all I could do was be honest. In therapy, I’d thought about grief so much that I felt like, “OK, I can start talking about this.” It’s also part of my personal narrative: not just Adam passing away, but also being a mother. It’s a change to my identity — it feels like I’m kind of cosplaying. Every time I say “my daughter,” it feels like I’m doing an impression of someone who has a kid.

On her dressing room staples:

I keep makeup, water, and one of those foam balls to roll out my hips and shoulders. And I always have the means to make either a turkey sandwich or a peanut butter and banana sandwich, because those are the best things before a show. You want some kind of simple carbs to give you energy.

On backstage superstitions:

I’m a “break a leg” person. I think I ascribe to [theater superstitions] because people will give you sh*t if you say certain things. It’s like, you say “good luck” and [mimics people clutching their pearls]. I try to be respectful.

On the minutes before and after a show:

Before, I try to stretch, and then I have a full 30-minute warmup from my voice teacher, which I do every day before a show. That’s been a game-changer. I used to go hoarse during TV shows because my schedule was so insane. And then I like a good come-down [after a show]. I’ll get dressed, and maybe I’ll f*ck around on my phone for a couple minutes. Occasionally I’ll meditate. And then if anyone’s visiting me, I like seeing people and talking about the show. And then I’ll go up and see the fans.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.