We love Rachel Bloom here at Alma. We even have a whole tag on our website dedicated to the show she co-created, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. She’s a bonafide Jewish star, and we are just beyond grateful that she exists, creating art about nuanced Jewish women.
So when news of her memoir, I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are, was announced, we were obviously over the moon. Newly released, the memoir is a touching and heartfelt collection that the LA Times describes as “not unlike a sketch comedy show.” There are essays, yes, but there’s also a fairytale spoof, an epic poem, Harry Potter fanfiction, an interview between 23-year-old Rachel and 13-year-old Rachel, a fake-real Playbill bio, a musical about her relationship with musicals (that she even recorded for you to listen along to), a realistic LinkedIn profile circa 2010, a breakdown of how she got dirty lyrics past the FCC, and so much more.
Dedicated to Adam Schlesinger, her CXG songwriting collaborator who died of COVID-19 complications, she writes at the start, “In memory of Adam Schlesinger, who never cared what ‘normal protocol’ was, hence organizing his own photo shoot for a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episode in which he posed as a fictional composer named Elliott Ellison, the photo of which would only be shown for less than five seconds.”
There’s so much to love about I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are, but being a Jewish culture site, we thought we would pull out our favorite Rachel Bloom Jewish jokes, in the order they appear in the memoir, because they are truly hilarious:
1. Rabbi soup?
In a story about being bullied by the popular girls, when they pranked Rachel by having a popular boy ask her out, she recalls a girl named Nicola saying, “Rachel, the popular kids really wanna talk to you” for multiple days in a row. “It was like some sort of old rabbinic parable about a man and his goats and the moral of the story ends up being ‘Be grateful for the soup you have.'” Eventually, as the story goes, they ended up apologizing because “what the popular kids had done was too mean.”
2. First toilet poop
“I remember the first time I shit in the toilet because I was four years old when it happened and the entire thing is on videotape. But even if I weren’t four years old when that happened and it wasn’t filmed as comprehensively as the Eichmann trial, I think I’d still remember the moment of shitting in the toilet because it’s one of the turning points of my life.”
Yes, this is a Jewish joke because of the reference to the Eichmann trial, when the “architect of the Holocaust” was put on trial for war crimes in 1961. Fun fact: Rachel Bloom’s Drunk History episode was all about Adolf Eichmann.
3. An antisemitic crush
Rachel details a crush she has on a boy named Ethan, in a chapter titled “The Future Mrs. Nazi.” This whole passage is pitch-perfect:
“School was not a happy place, which meant I craved the high of being around Ethan even more. Of course, any association with me would bring Ethan even lower socially than he already was. And that’s when he resorted to getting straight up anti-Semitic. When I say ‘anti-Semitic,’ I don’t think Ethan really had anything against Jews. He knew and liked other members of my tribe—Manhattan Beach was pretty gentile, but it wasn’t like one of those Jesus-ey Southern towns where people think Jews have horns or shit like that. So Ethan didn’t have a reason to hate Jews, he just wanted to say anything to get me to go the fuck away. His innocent, childlike version of anti-Semitism meant that he’d say vaguely hateful things to me, like, ‘Look Rachel, there’s Hitler over there!’ and ‘Let’s have a jump-the-Jew party!’ Which really makes no sense, but, again, he was older than I was so he had all the power in the situation. One time, when I protested, he got really dark and said, ‘Don’t be so sensitive, it’s not my fault that if you lived in the forties you’d be in a gas chamber.’ (Ooooh, someone’s been reading The Berenstain Bears and Mein Kampf!)”
While the story itself isn’t funny and pretty horrifying, her ability to joke about antisemitic bullying is just so Jewish.
4. Type of Jewish family
Right after that passage, we get this: “These remarks really tested my love for Ethan. I grew up in the type of Jewish household in which I didn’t know a word of Hebrew, but I knew EVERY celebrity that had ever said anything anti-Semitic.
Our Shabbat prayer was basically, ‘Baruch Atah Adonoi, Jesse Jackson, Vanessa Redgrave, Marlon Brando said “kike” once.'”
Amen, Rachel, amen.
5. Jesus Christ Superstar > Jesus
As we wrote in the intro, bits of this book are not essays, like this section which is an honest Playbill bio:
RACHEL BLOOM (Me) still loves the world of theater very much despite the fact she has issues with it. Namely: every BFA musical theater program’s emphasis on being a “triple threat” with little regard to the human being underneath, the Niles Crane-esque snobbery of the theater community, the general deification of “brilliant assholes,” and the huge cover-up of a New York Times article that was going to be Broadway’s own #MeToo reckoning. But Rachel acknowledges that her love of theater is a part of her that will never go away, nor does she want it to. In fact, the time she took away from doing theater gave her some perspective on it and put her back in touch with the child inside her that just wanted to sit and listen to the cast album of Evening Primrose. Recent credits of her still loving theater include: Sobbing the First Time She Saw Hamilton, Watching Every Episode of Smash, Sobbing the Second Time She Saw Hamilton, Full-On Making a Musical Television Show, and Always Sobbing at That One Part in Hamilton Where They All Sing “the Orphanage.” Love to her husband and Jesus…Christ Superstar.
That ending tho!
6. Kosher food diarrhea
In a chapter that is an epic poem of apologies, Rachel writes to her freshman year roommates. Here’s the stanza that caught our eye:
“Then there was that time I took over the toilet.
My ass loudly exploded.
Your appetite, I did spoil it.
To be fair, I got food poisoning
From the Kosher dining hall
But my diarrhea was loud
And the room was too small.”
(Also, apologizing to everyone seems very Yom Kippur-ish, so the whole thing is very Jewish, no?)
7. Walt Disney is an antisemite
In a chapter about her “rules for whimsy,” Rachel lists 13 rules, half of which are Disney-related.
Rule #2: “When entering a Disney park, you may debate Walt Disney’s rumored anti-Semitism. However, you may ONLY do it when walking down Main Street.”
Fun fact: Disney may have not been antisemitic himself, but he did not make any effort to distance himself from antisemites. So, antisemitic by association? Also, was Mickey Mouse supposed to be an antisemitic caricature of Jews?
8. An antisemitic boss & colleagues
Rachel writes about a list of jobs she had before 2010, including being a “Reservationist” at a NYC restaurant. Included in the description: “When Hasidic Jews would come in for dates on the terrace, I was instructed to charge them (and only them) a $20 cover since ‘those people only ever order sodas.’ I graciously smiled when Italian tourists would yell at me and when the owner would remark how small my nose was for a Jewish girl.”
While writing about her experience as a camp counselor for a “prestigious arts summer camp,” she says, “In addition to my duties of overseeing camp activities, I would take it in stride when my colleagues would talk nonstop about Jesus and when one said the Bible would call me a ‘false Jew.'”
Once again, joking about causal antisemitism, you gotta love Jewish humor.
From when she took her parents to the Critics’ Choice Awards in January 2019:
“The magic started to wear off as we struggled through rush-hour-level foot traffic on the red carpet, couldn’t find our table until after the awards started, and had to walk fifteen minutes to find any bathroom. After I inevitably got Maiseled and lost in my category to Rachel Brosnahan, we decided to leave.”
10. Temperature in the room
In a chapter that is a review of awards shows she has attended, Rachel comes up with a “reviews system based on the things that TRULY count: Food, Parking, Temperature in the Room, and How Much Shapewear Is Expected.”
The “Temperature in the Room” category is our favorite, because now we will forever think of the Emmys as “Freezing. Bring a jacket. Not a ‘shawl.’ I mean a full-on Patagonia” i.e. basically every Jewish mother’s motto.
11. A shtetl dinner
In her dream for an amusement park, this is one of the food options:
“Mama Gruna’s Shtetl Dinner and Show: Step back into a poor home in a Jewish shtetl in the 1800s for delicious home-cooked potatoes, onion soup, potatoes, ground fish, stale bread, and potatoes! Served buffet-style (in that each dish must be reluctantly taken from the hands of one of Mama Gruna’s many children). And bewaaaaaare of the Cossacks hiding under each table! (Vegan options available.)”
Honestly, would eat.
12. How we will now think of our haters:
“Anyone who insulted me on YouTube, I assumed, was most likely a misogynist, anti-Semitic, super-religious professional anti-abortion speaker / monster truck rally hot dog vendor / baby elephant poacher who was going through a hard time with his failed penis enlargement surgery and also was a bot.”
13. Acknowledgments are basically just a candle lighting ceremony for debut authors, right?
In a creative spin on the back-of-the-book author acknowledgments section, Rachel goes full bat mitzvah:
“To organize my thoughts, I will be acknowledging everyone in the style of a Jewish girl inviting her friends and family to come up and light the candles at her Bat Mitzvah. I never had a Bat Mitzvah (I found that Hebrew school conflicted too much with theater), so, through this acknowledgment, I will finally be a woman under Jewish law.”
After each thank you, she invites them up to light a candle, so it reads like this:
To Aline Brosh McKenna for reading the entire book in less than a single day and then sending me detailed notes. I can’t say I was surprised but I am no less grateful to her. Aline, your kindness makes me go “whee!” Come up and light candle number three.
Here’s the candle for her husband:
Thank you to Dan Gregor for so many things, but, most important, informing me that girls at Bat Mitzvahs light twelve candles, not thirteen, because the Torah says that women are responsible for their actions at twelve as opposed to men who are responsible for them at thirteen. Thank you for agreeing with me that this is fucked-up. And between your thorough notes on this book, your pandemic cooking, your unwavering support, and the fact you recently combined your genes with mine to make another person, you are, as always, the greatest partner anyone could ever ask for. If I’m Anxious Barbie you’re my Calming Ken; come up and light candle number ten.
A perfect ending!!