The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hey, this is John. Today’s episode includes a frank discussion of sex, including some words that may not be appropriate for some ears, so head’s up.
Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: Yeah, my name is Sexy Craig.
John: And this is Episode 406 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the podcast we’re joined by our longtime friend, Rachel Bloom. In addition to being the co-creator and star of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend she has written and spoken and sung extensively about how sex and sexuality are portrayed on screen. I’m so excited to have her on the show so we can identify and fix all of these issues in less than one hour.
Welcome back, Rachel Bloom.
Rachel Bloom: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here.
John: I’m excited to see you. Our first conversation about this was while you were still shooting the show, but you had an article that was in Marie Claire that you tweeted out about. And it was like, yes, I just so fully agree with the things that you’re saying here. And so hopefully we can talk through some of those issues here and we’ve got a lot of people listening to this show who write for film and for television. Maybe we can make some changes.
Rachel: Yeah. Yeah! God, I don’t even know where to begin. I guess I’ll tell you how I come in great detail. Just like graphic detail because you had that warning at the top so like people know.
No, I mean, what it started was, and Scriptnotes unofficial Co-co host, Aline Brosh McKenna, and I talk about this frequently, but it started in season three of Crazy Ex where it’s generally a character-based show but occasionally we would use the episodic format to tackle issues. And sometimes those kind of issue-based storylines would be with side characters. And really where it was coming from was where the show idea came from which are what are stories that we’ve seen that may or may not just be female centric that we just haven’t seen especially done on network television, because we had this cool way for it to reach not a large audience but a broader audience because we were technically TV-14 as opposed to a really, really dirty show where we could talk about sex and I heard about mothers and their teenage daughters watching our show together which is one of the biggest compliments, or parents and their kids watching the show together.
And so when we were talking about, OK, what’s something that we haven’t seen tackled on television or network television that maybe we could tackle episodically this season. And we were like, oh, the ways women orgasm. It had been inspired by just the barrage of sex scenes throughout the history of film, and to a lesser extent theater, of the kind of male-gaze-y heteronormative sex idea which is sex is man on top of woman, man thrusts, both come simultaneously.
And we wanted to tackle this and we did it in the form of this side character, this recurring character Tim played by Michael McMillian who realizes that he’s been having sex with his wife and that he hears a buzzing coming from the bathroom and assumes it’s her electric toothbrush. And someone goes, no, she’s masturbating with a vibrator.
John: Let’s pause for one second and listen to a short clip of this.
Rachel: Oh yeah.
Tim: Such profound humiliation. Such all-consuming shame. The buzzing from the bathroom has finally been explained. That was no electric toothbrush. No facial scrub device. And now I finally know the meaning of the words, “Tim, that was nice.” We use two different positions, every other Sunday night. All her writhing, moaning, sighing, I thought I was doing it right. But as I drifted off to slumber thinking I had brought her joy, she would slink off to that bathroom with that blasted plastic toy. Oh the buzzing cursed buzzing. That damn incessant hum. I used to think I was a hero. Can’t believe she didn’t come to tell me that she needed so much more than I could give. Now the buzzing from the bathroom tells a lie that we both live.
John: So, there’s an example of this is a character who is having a realization which is a classic thing people do in musicals that his wife has actually not been brushing her teeth with an electric toothbrush but has been using a vibrator.
Rachel: Yes. And this song was co-written with two men who, this is kind of their worst nightmare in a way. So that kind of horror that Tim feels is very much from the perspective of Jack Dolgen and Adam Schlesinger. And then some of the specifics about her masturbating came from me.
And what was really important in this episode is we wanted just at some point to clearly state on network television the way most women come is from direct stimulation of the clitoris. That is scientifically correct. That is not a graphic sexual detail. That is literally how a woman’s body works.
Craig: And can I thank you for it? I mean, not to cut you, but it’s so great. Because here’s the thing. You know, there are generations of men that had no clue, right. And essentially were relying on or reliant on a very kind woman explaining to them how it worked. Because everything that we were told through porn or movies or television or sex scenes was that women have orgasms through some kind of expertise penetration. You know, in other words you have to penetrate the woman correctly and you have to do it for a long time and your dick has to be a certain size. And then she will come.
But if you don’t have those things then you’re a piece of shit and she won’t. And none of that is correct. And I’m so happy that you were able to just put this out there and let everyone off the hook, including young people who need to know.
Rachel: Thank you. And I think that one of the most interesting things was, well, first of all my own father said he learned – my dad went to all boys school until high school and he said no one ever told him about this or talked about it. And he was born in 1945. And so he was just amazed that we could say this on network television and that we did say this. And the irony is we barely got to say the word clitoris. I mean, we really had to–
Craig: Ugh, well.
Rachel: Well, because the FCC prohibits graphic descriptions of sex. Right? And saying like a woman needs stimulation of the clitoris that produces a – that is frank. That is not network TV cutesy innuendo. That’s not Friends’ episode where they’re going OK here are the erogenous zones, 1, 3, 6, 7. We’re just saying, no, you have to touch the clitoris and in order to do that we made the scene scientific. Maya is showing him a book and she’s saying this science book, science says, science, science, science, clitoris. Because we tried to say the word clitoris in later episodes and they wouldn’t let us. And they said that was a special exception.
John: All right. So before we get to the exceptions, let’s talk about the general situation. Sort of how we find ourselves right now in 2019 dealing with sex in film and television. And sort of what the overall problem is. So before we can solve it let’s define what we’re facing. So, I would say as kids and as adults we learn about sex from film and from television. We just always have. Like I learned about it from film and TV. It’s just the natural way to see it. Or from online porn increasingly.
We internalize, we normalize the things we see. We have a baseline expectation like well that’s how it should be. That’s the normal situation. So what I’m seeing there is what’s normal. There’s a lot of stuff we don’t see. We don’t hear the word clitoris. We don’t talk about a lot of other things. The misinformation, the lack of information has an impact on our relationships and our experiences ourselves. And even our health.
And so a song I want to point out from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is I gave you a UTI. So let me play a little snippet.
Male Voice: What’s the burning feeling every time you pee? Well that’s how it goes after you have so much awesome sex with me. I gave you a UTI. Yeah, I gave you, a UTI. My sweet love injection caused a urinary tract infection. I’m just that good I didn’t even try, try, try. I gave you a UTI.
Female Voice: OK, so it’s not really a comment on the quality of the sex as much as a lot of sex has been happening and there’s just a very natural transfer of bacteria—
Male Voice: Don’t ruin this for me. That bladder inflammation is my little gift to you. Yeah sometimes chicks need medication after what I’ve put them through. Come on, sing with me.
Female Voice: No, I’m not going to do that.
Male Voice: I gave you, I gave you, a UTI, a UTI. Yeah, I gave you, I gave you, a UTI. A UTI. I’m so good at sex—
John: So I was a man in my 40s, I did not know specifically that a UTI – I knew they came from sex but I didn’t know sort of the actual transfer. I didn’t know what the actual issue was. And so you taught me something Rachel Bloom with your song “I Gave You a UTI,” because I’ve never given a woman a UTI.
Rachel: Of course. And a lot of times it’s not given by someone. Miss Brosh McKenna was more of the expertise in this particular area. But, yeah, it can come from – I mean, to get graphic, if you don’t wash your sex toys correctly. Because that’s what it is. It’s transfer of bacteria to your urethra. A big thing is that if you have any contact with your butthole and then it goes in your vagina hole it can transfer bacteria. So, if you’re having sex with someone and they put their penis or something in your butt and then they put that directly back into your vagina that can give you a UTI.
Craig: I’m guilty. I’m a UTI giver. I’ve done it, it’s pretty rare, but I’ve done it. [laughs] I’ve done it. I don’t know, what would you call that crime, UTI giving?
Rachel: I mean, I don’t know. I think it depends what the crime is. But, I mean, chances are you’ve also probably given people HPV, because I think it’s something like an overwhelming amount of people who are sexually active have had HPV at some point in their lives.
I had HPV in college, so someone gave that to me.
Craig: Yes. Definitely. You know, I’ve been with my wife now since college. So the two of us have been kind of off the grid sexually for so long, disconnected from the rest of the sexual world, that we’re kind of weirdly a fairly pristine ecosystem. But, you know, over time it just – sex is messy. It’s inevitable, you know, a UTI is going to show up sooner or later. It’s inevitable.
Rachel: Genitals are disgusting. And that’s what sexual urge does is it gets us to get over how disgusting genitals are because really it’s a horror show for all genders and all sexes.
John: Well, I want to push back a little bit on like genitals being disgusting–
Craig: Yeah, me too.
Craig: This may be a gender thing.
John: Here’s what I’ll say is that I don’t necessarily need to see genitals portrayed onscreen to understand that they’re there, but a thing I liked about your show is I felt like the characters had genitals. And so often they don’t seem to have genitals.
John: You know, I could play a clip from “First Penis I Saw,” but our friend John Gatins is the actor who plays the crush in this situation.
Rachel: The first penis.
John: And it’s talking about he actually has a penis. And that is a thing which characters are just acknowledged to have in most – certainly most broadcast shows. And that was a groundbreaking thing. So, thank you for that.
Rachel: Thank you. And when I say disgusting I mean just on a – we talk about things that we normally see in society and we’re talking about things that are under the clothes and sometimes a little bit stinky and like they’re weird and fleshy and moist.
Rachel: It’s like things, you know, aren’t necessarily considered conventionally aesthetically or odor-ifically beautiful.
Craig: Yeah. I would say that I’m a huge fan of the female genitalia post-shower. I mean, I’m in. I’m in 100%. I love it. That’s a beautiful thing. And we do, well, the attraction there to, right, to whatever your orientation is, your attraction to that set of part is – it’s not even like attraction or appreciation from the point of view of like look at that beautiful statue. It’s way more primal. You don’t even understand why you like it, but you do.
I mean, sex is a chance for otherwise civilized people to roll around the mud a little bit like animals. And I don’t apologize for that. I don’t care. That’s how I feel.
Rachel: That’s great.
John: On a character level, you can look at it as a way to talk about a character’s kind of lizard brain. Their basic hard-wiring and sort of why they’re driven to do these things, which may not be their overall goals as intelligent, rational people, too. And so that crossover between the two things is a fascinating thing. And I don’t think we’re seeing it enough in our film and television because we’re not willing to talk about that first part.
Rachel: You’re right. It’s a primal drive. And I think that you see love as a primal drive and when sex is wrapped up in that conventionally, and I’m also thinking about even musicals which the show drew a lot from, it’s carnal or not true or shallow and the fact is, no, no, no, this is one in the same. And when you get to the lizard brain it is one of our main drives that also when you’re in love or in lust, often which the two are one in the same, it is a drive. It’s not a want. It takes over everything. And it is often counter to what is going to make you happy in the long run. It does not have to do with career ambition. I mean, sometimes they can coincide.
But when you are consumed by this, yes, it’s primal. And you cannot control that. It’s chemicals taking over your body. It’s neurons firing. I mean, they’ve done brain scans on people who are in the throes of love and it’s–
Craig: It’s a drug.
Rachel: It’s similar to cocaine or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Craig: Yeah. Without question. And then there’s this other aspect of sexuality that’s very casual and pointless. If we were to be accurate about sexuality in every single movie and in every single episode of every single television show at the very least the men would have to jerk off once. Because time would have gone by where they would have just stopped and been like, hold on, got to jerk off. I’ll be right back. Then they would come back.
It doesn’t matter what’s going on. It doesn’t matter what’s going on. It’s off-story in a weird way. Like I get it. Sometimes sex is just off-story. But where we get into trouble is when it’s on-story and we show it and we just lie. There’s like this crazy conspiracy about how sex works.
I mean, first of all, men just stick it in. They just stick it in. Sometimes they’re with a woman and they’re talking and then suddenly it’s like are we doing this, yes, and they stick it in. And I’m like it’s dry. What are you doing?
John: There’s no preparation.
Rachel: And that gets into like a little bit of standards. I mean, on network television as far as sex you can show pre-sex. You can show a man on top. You can show a woman on top. But you can’t imply that penetration is currently happening. So there is only so much you can do with the general discussions of how sex works for either. It’s not like on network TV you can show thrusting but you can’t show a woman touching her own clit. You can’t really show any of it.
But what that does is it does limit talking about the nuances of sexuality, which is so many storylines on television. Every romantic storyline, it centers essentially around sex.
Craig: Which you can’t show.
Rachel: The fundamentals of which you can’t show. Exactly.
John: But I don’t want to give us all a pass just because of standards. I mean, obviously HBO and streamers, they don’t have the same standards. So they could do a lot more.
John: And so we do see some things on Game of Thrones which we couldn’t see on broadcast television. But I don’t see a lot of examples of really interesting portrayals of reality that’s going beyond what we could see on normal television. Or even just discussion of it. Like the discussion we’re having right now, I’m not even seeing that happening at a lot of the places that could have those discussions.
Rachel: I went on a Twitter rant, partially prompted I think the article you’re talking about was – I’m slowly catching up on the television that I’ve missed over the past four years of doing Crazy Ex. And I’ve been watching a show, and I don’t want to throw it under the bus, so I won’t say what show it is. But I was watching a show that actually is created and written by women, so I don’t – look, there are some women who can come vaginally and it’s easy and that’s great for them. That’s just not – statistics show that’s not the majority of us.
Anyway, it was a show where a woman was having bad sex, bad weird sex, and came. Just from the sex. And it’s a show where you could show graphic sex but at no point was she reaching down to touch herself. At no point was he touching her. And you could have actually shown that. And she just came. And it’s just disappointing because I was so frustrated from having a network show for many years that I couldn’t show that. And we couldn’t show sex in a realistic way. And not just realistic sex, but also all of the awkward moments that come with sex.
I mean, god, the sex scene in Booksmart that just came out is so good. That bad teenage sex scene where it’s her first encounter with a woman. What a great representation of, yeah, this is a side of sex. It starts out and it’s awkward and weird and bad. And it is hot, but you have – communication is really key and really essential. So I was frustrated I couldn’t do that.
And so seeing shows that can do that and don’t really bum me out.
Craig: Yeah. I’m with you. I think even if you can’t show it, the idea of substituting in something that’s false is not helpful to anybody. It’s as unhelpful as people waking up in the morning and starting to French each other. Which as I always say would lead to vomiting. Would just lead to instant vomiting. You wake up with your morning breath and you immediately start Frenching each other – I want to gag. It’s disgusting.
So, you know, there are things like, OK, when I’m watching sex onscreen, whether it’s limited by the network or it’s even kind of the Full Monty as it were on cable, I’m taught that my job as a man is to make a woman come with my dick only. And then when I’m done whatever I’ve shot up inside her apparently has disintegrated because it doesn’t come back out. No one is saying go get a towel, which every sex scene should end with go get a towel. Every sex scene. I don’t care what combination it is, at some point someone is going to ask for a towel.
Rachel: Or she should go pee because that also cleans out your urethra and prevents UTIs.
Craig: And you got to pee. Exactly.
Rachel: She should go, “Excuse me, this is great.”
Craig: “I’ve got to pee.”
Rachel: “I’m going to pee.” Or even just like, “Excuse me, I have to go to the powder room.” I’m trying to think of a way you could do it on network television that would be – “I’m going to go relieve myself, sir.” I don’t know.
Craig: “So that I can stay fresh.”
Rachel: I think any good writer is – it’s almost like an entrepreneur on Shark Tank. Where is there a need? Where is there a gap? What’s something I know to be true that has not been shown yet?
Because at the end of the day that’s what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to show the truth of humanity. We’re trying to show things that are reflective of maybe not real life but what could be, or our wants, or our needs. That’s what good writing should do. And so the fact that there are so many gaps in the truth about how everyone’s sexuality is shown.
And you make a good point. It’s as much a problem for men. And I’ve talked to my husband about this. I told him what I wanted and in some ways I was maybe the first woman to say and do that, because it’s scary and it’s vulnerable. It’s much easier to fake an orgasm from penetrative sex. And it’s much sexier. It’s way – you have to trust someone and you kind of have to stop sex, or stop the idea of what you think sex is to be like, “Hey, no, no, slow down. Or this is how you do it. Or this is how my body works.”
And from what I’ve heard from men who are with women, or anyone who is with a woman, every woman’s body is really different. And so what works with one woman might not even work with the next woman. And so the things that not only women in not being communicative are doing to themselves, but also doing to their partners. Especially a man who is with a woman – men don’t know. They don’t have our plumbing.
Most of them I find are willing and eager to understand and be taught. But it’s not their fault if they can’t – just like in our show we say in the end Tim couldn’t make his wife come and finally Paula says, “If she didn’t tell you that after 15 or so years of marriage you two have major communication issues.” And that’s a really good point. Some of that is on her.
John: Yeah. So, let’s talk about how we start to fix this. And so obviously some bravery and some creativity of people going and saying like these are things I actually want to tackle. It’s a person writing a thing by themselves, a screenwriter writing a movie, you have the freedom to do all of this. But how do you bring up these issues in a writers’ room and make it comfortable for everybody in that writers’ room to talk about these things because we’re also in a time when writers’ rooms can become perilous places for conversations about sex and sexuality.
Rachel: That is true. I mean, I think the Friends ruling was quite interesting because it did allow for creative freedom in the writers’ room. And, you know, I think that this is where we get into social EQ. I think that a lot of the problems we’ve had with harassment are from people who either don’t care to develop proper social EQ or haven’t been properly taught it. Because I think if you’re talking about sexuality in a writers’ room there’s a way to talk about it.
I mean, for instance you can say there’s a statistic I read, or even if you talk about yourself, to tell those personal stories is not harassment to someone else. It’s much different to say, well, you know, I’m one of those women who needs direct stimulation of my clitoris to come, rather than say, hey, Bob, how do you fuck your wife. You know, it’s just different.
Rachel: And then Bob will probably talk about how he fucks his wife.
Craig: Oh, no, Bob has no problem with it. We know Bob. But I think if I were running a room and this was part of the creative process I would probably say this is the water we’re about to head into. If you’re not comfortable with a frank discussion of sexuality that’s going to be handled as respectively as we can then I’m happy to excuse you. But, you know, hopefully you are. But fair warning. This is where we’re going and here’s why. And if at any point you get kind of weird or uncomfortable say so and we’ll kind of just handle it. Let’s just be nice to each other I guess would be the kind of philosophy.
Rachel: Yeah. That’s a great thing to say. And I think as a showrunner also saying if something makes you uncomfortable you can leave or, you know, please talk to me after if you’re not comfortable. Because it’s scary to be in a room and feel uncomfortable and to stand up and say I don’t feel comfortable with this. You really have to be close.
But if it’s a new writers’ room or maybe a room you don’t feel comfortable in, it’s important for the showrunner to say you can come to me.
Rachel: And talk about it. And for the showrunner to be aware of not only social EQ but what is a discussion for creative purposes and what is putting people on the spot in a way that they don’t feel comfortable with. And it’s so contextual. But it’s a fact of life. A sperm fertilizing an egg is how you create the people. I mean, this is also why I’m very upset that maternity and paternity leave aren’t paid in this country. How do you expect us to make the people who are going to watch the TV shows? So, you know, when there’s unpaid maternity or paternity leave on a show, OK, cool, without the new people there won’t be the people to watch the thing that you’re doing.
Craig: Yeah. It strikes me that the very same people who are freaking out because the birthrate is lowering and they’re like oh my god what are we going to do are also the same people that refuse to make having a child and raising a child easier, especially in that first couple of months which I know from experience is really hard. The hardest thing I’ve ever done easily. I mean, it’s not even close. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I wasn’t the one who was nursing. I wasn’t the one who had just gone through physical trauma to deliver the baby. And it was still so hard.
Rachel: I think that’s the other thing about our room that was interesting is we were majority moms. And so we got into a lot of frank discussions, not only of sexuality but of child birth. And all of the things that come with pushing a baby out of your vagina. And when you get into that it truly is a discussion of it really is a non-sexual discussion of sexuality because you’re talking about your parts used for something other than sex. And so there really is this dovetailing of subject matter that happens.
But I think that, yeah, it’s about being respectful. And I think that people sharing their own experiences, if that’s something you’re comfortable with, how your body works. And I think giving it the talk of, OK, we’re going to wade into this now. If you would like to talk about your experiences, things you’ve read, things you’ve seen. And if you’re respectful I don’t see – it’s tricky – but I don’t think it’s inherently a problem.
John: Yeah. Well, let’s put some things on the whiteboard for some of these rooms that are staffing up now. Things we would love to see them try to tackle in their shows.
Craig: Good idea.
John: So things I would love to see is that moment where you’re not quite sure whether sex is going to happen or not happen. And you’re not quite sure yourself whether you want sex to happen or not happen. You’re still just kind of feeling it out. And we talk about consent but there’s also that sense of like I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with this next thing. And I don’t see honestly that happening a lot in shows.
Just the embarrassment of sort of the nudity in front of a new person. Even if you can’t show the nudity, that sense of like are clothes coming off and what that’s like.
Rachel: Well that’s where you get into also body image. Because network shows, any show you can show people taking off their clothes and getting down to their underwear. What you don’t see is people with less than perfect bodies doing that.
Craig: There we go.
Rachel: And it was really important for our show as much as possible, and the last season poor Rebecca Munch wasn’t having sex as much as I personally think she should have, but it was part of the necessary part of the plot.
John: Her healing, yeah.
Rachel: But I think showing people with imperfect bodies rolling around together, there is nothing against standards for that. And I don’t know why, and I have to say when I first say Lena Dunham on Girls getting naked, asking a guy to make her come, not having a perfect body, that was awesome. That was so, so cool. And I hadn’t seen anything approaching that. And so on our show it was important for me to – I have just an average curvy body. It was important for me to show that. But I still think we can go further in all shows of showing people with the bodies people have being sexual with each other in the ways people are sexual with each other.
I mean, that’s really what it is is just what’s authentic. And I think that there’s that classic kind of sitcom post-sex scene where the woman has a bra on and they’re both staring at the top of the ceiling. And I think that even little things of like it’s post-sex and she’s coming out of the bathroom, or they’re kissing and she goes, “I have to go pee.” Or they’re kissing and she goes, “Oh, you know what, I haven’t,” and he goes, “Oh, allow me,” and you see him maybe start to dip down and then we cut away. Things like that that are just true because it makes it good television. It makes it interesting.
Craig: It makes it interesting.
Rachel: Sorry, those weren’t action items. You want action items.
Craig: Those were good action items.
John: I never see contraception brought up in any of these things. And so that question of like are you on the pill, are we doing this, are we using a condom. What is actually going on here? Because that seems to always happen offstage. We never see that actually addressed. The awkwardness of lube, which was brought up before. How are we doing this thing and exactly what are we doing.
Craig: Yeah. What are the ground rules? Are you coming inside me? No, we’ll have sex but you can’t come inside me. There’s 100 different rules and things to negotiate. But I also think that you’ve touched on the last great taboo which is physical appearance. We’re now fine with people of different races having sex onscreen. We’re fine with people of the same gender having sex onscreen. But what we can’t seem to wrap our minds around is that in a country where I think 30% of people are defined as medically obese and in a country that is increasingly aging, what we can’t handle are fat people and we can’t handle old people having sex. Well, I got news for you. I think probably most of the sex that happens in this country are between overweight old people. Old meaning old for like a college kid.
But all we ever show are 20-somethings and 30-somethings and maybe 40, maybe, and they’re all in-shape and they all have perfect facial symmetry and it’s all bullshit. And all it does is kind of – it gets into your brain and it starts to teach you that hot sex is the – that is the purview of hot people. But that’s bullshit. It’s literally bullshit. It’s not.
And I would love to see us starting to acknowledge that people that aren’t “hot” that don’t conform to those standards not only can they have sex, but they do. And they’re good at it. And they enjoy it. They may even enjoy it more than some of the hot people.
Rachel: Yes. And I was thinking about it as we’ve been talking, what is that? What is this emphasis on pretty people? If I see a promo for a show with really gorgeous people I truly don’t care.
Rachel: I am done with shows about young hot people. I truly, for the most part, couldn’t care less. I really don’t care. But why are we drawn to it? Is it the male gaze? But then I think about porn. And you go on Pornhub and it’s busty MILFs. You don’t see busty MILF even nude scenes on HBO or Showtime or Netflix for the most part. But you see it a lot in porn. You see imperfect bodies, especially in amateur porn. And they’re some of the most popular porn videos. So, I don’t have the answer to this, but I think that we can all agree that there is a gap between what is real and what is sex really like and the way it’s still being portrayed and the way that writers still fall into trite, easy, and tired ways to show sexuality.
Craig: It’s so old-fashioned to me. I mean, you know, I was the voice of Louis B. Mayer for the You Must Remember This podcast.
Rachel: Oh, I heard. It was really good.
Craig: Thank you. And one of his quotes, he was yelling at someone, I can’t remember who, about how you can’t show ugly things onscreen. That you have to show beautiful things onscreen. And I think we’ve carried this very old-fashioned thing forward to now, but you’re right. If you do look at online porn, which is a free marketplace of arousal. It’s an Ayn Rand wet-dream of libertarian whatever gets you hard, whatever gets you wet, you’ve got it, here it is. And they have everything. Everything. Meaning people are aroused by every kind of thing. Not every person is aroused by everything, but all things find somebody that they arouse. And so much of it is about imperfection. So much of it is about the different or the other in terms of Hollywood normative standards.
I do agree with you that when I see a show where everybody is all pretty and perfect and eyebrows plucked and when they wake up in the morning they’ve got their makeup on, I’m out. It’s not real and I’ve lost interest.
John: I’m going to stand up for beautiful people.
Rachel: Please. Please.
John: I’m going to defend some beautiful people because I don’t think it’s realistic to get all of them off the screen–
Craig: We’re not talking about putting them in camps or anything.
John: So, I’m willing to hold onto the beautiful people, but I also think we need to – if we saw the beautiful people having the same issues that all normal people have I think that would go a long way. So that people who are just conventionally look like normal people would see that, oh, even beautiful people have the same issues that I’m having and the same insecurities or the same nervousness about things.
So while it’s not going to be a perfect match I think it will help people have better expectations about sort of what sex should be like and what they should be looking, particularly women. I feel like they often sort of get forced into a set of expectations that’s unfair and unrealistic. Particularly about whether they should enjoy sex. And that we can say that, oh, it’s good, we can try to be positive and say like women should enjoy sex, but in any series or in any story in which we show a character who genuinely enjoys sex and is having sex “like a man” with multiple partners the hammer of judgment still comes down on her. Like she’s not a virtuous character. Or she’s a character who has to learn a lesson and it’s not that what she’s doing is OK.
Rachel: Yes. And also oftentimes it’s often a man’s idea of what a woman who likes a lot of sex is. Because I mean I think a big part – so I did the foreword for a book called Moan which is anonymous personal stories about women and their orgasms, put together my friend Emma Koenig, and I think what was interesting is the number of stories in there of women who can’t orgasm and have never had an orgasm. So, it’s a weird contradiction because, yes, women should come but also there are women out there who can’t come and will never come. And that’s not their fault. That is just literally how their body works. But sex is still really enjoyable for them.
Rachel: And so I think that the idea of you have sex, it leads to orgasm, and then you’re done, that’s also really untrue. Because for me, I mean, just to be candid, I cannot come without some direct stimulation to my clitoris, which makes me like I think 70% of women. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t get immense pleasure from penetrative sex. I do. And I’m not talking about just when I’m actively engaging my own clit. I’m talking about I do get pleasure from that. It’s just not the pleasure that leads to an orgasm, which is fine. Pleasure does not have to always be towards this end goal. It’s very American in some ways to be like, “Yeah, you got to get in there. You got to come. And you’ve got to get out. Go to sleep and take a shower.” No, no, it’s a process. Pleasure is a multi-faceted and multi-layered thing.
And so this emphasis on the orgasm, you know, you didn’t make me come, let’s all calm down. Let’s everyone calm down and communicate about their body and what they actually like and want. And it’s OK if you’ve never had an orgasm as long as you’re happy. And, granted, a lot of people aren’t happy they haven’t had an orgasm and that’s a whole other thing. But that emphasis on that kind of binary of you come or you don’t, sex is good if you come and it’s bad if you don’t, which is sometimes women saying well I didn’t come so he’s a bad lay. Well, no, there’s a lot of other stuff to consider.
Craig: I wish every boy could hear this. I really do. Because I wish I had known all of this. I had to learn that generally speaking you can’t make women come just with your dick. And I also had to learn that sometimes women just want to have intercourse but then say like, actually no, I’m good. No, I’m good. That’s all I wanted. That was it. That’s what I wanted tonight. And I also wish we could – and this is where porn becomes a real problem – explain to boys as they’re becoming men that the porn their watching which is designed to run for, I don’t know, 20-mintue scenes or 40-minute scenes, is just a battering at some point. Like, yes, there is a line where you go, OK, this is technically premature ejaculation. But if you’ve been having intercourse for, I don’t know, for five or six minutes, or seven minutes, or something like that, and you can’t hold back, you’re not a fucking failure.
You know what I mean? Everybody calm down.
Rachel: Yes. Exactly. And I watch a fair amount of porn and I always though, and there are some websites I watch which are porn made by women, and there is a certain difference. There is a certain dog whistle difference. But even in that I fast forward through when positions look uncomfortable.
Rachel: Kind of standard porn position is the man is sitting and the woman is like squatting over him reverse cowgirl style. And I just, I’m so uncomfortable. She’s doing a constant squat. I can feel that.
John: You can feel the tension.
Rachel: I can feel that in my hammies. I have to fast forward through this. I can’t. I’m not doing that. Like I’m doing that. And I’m in bad shape right now where like sometimes when I’ve been having sex I’m like, oh, this is like doing a crunch. I need to exercise. This is getting to be a problem. A personal health problem for me, which is a different story. But I have to fast forward through uncomfortable positions because I know what they’re feeling and I know – also they’re on a set.
And I talked to someone who did porn one time. And I wish I talked to people more who did porn. And they said it’s actually a big problem when men come too soon. It happens a lot. But they don’t talk about that because it has to be 20-minute porn scenes.
Craig: Right. Exactly. The other one that Melissa always comments on, if there are two women and one of them has long nails and they generally do–
Rachel: Oh my god.
Craig: She’s like, nope, nope, nope.
Rachel: Oh my god! You’re so right. I’ve actually never – yes, when they have these long French manis and they start fingering each other. Yeah, ugh. Oh my god, I’m literally wincing right now. You’re totally right. And that’s very male gazey.
Craig: So male gazey.
Rachel: I mean, something we haven’t talked about is both the porn and cinema space and talking about the scene in Booksmart is when you start to get into more of a lens of LGBTQA – it starts to get more realistic because I think we don’t have thousands of years of well this is how sex between two men should be. And obviously there’s fantasy and there’s idealization, but – someone correct me if I’m wrong – but you don’t have that same kind of baggage of a thousand years of I guess the patriarchy.
John: Well, here’s where I’ll speak up as the gay person. Where I do feel the patriarchy is there’s an expectation that penetrative sex is going to be the norm. And so therefore like oh it’s not that, it’s not really sex. And there’s a wide range of things between two guys which would be considered sex and should count. And so that is a frustration I do sometimes find as I watch scenes that are overall trying to be positive but they’re rushing to a thing that is just not realistic.
Rachel: Well that’s a really good point because penetrative sex being the norm is also very, very if you have two people with vaginas who are having sex, yes, it is sex if they are just going down on each other or fingering each other. That’s still sex. But this emphasis on another penis has to go in something. You’re totally, yeah, that’s so interesting about it being the patriarchy. And I’ve also just learned, I will say in that LGBTQ space, if you’re doing penetrative sex, and this also goes for men and women too, there’s a lot of prep involved. And you never hear a sex scene where it’s like, “Hey, let’s have sex tonight. I’m going to go to the shower and get my shower douche and I’m going to clean myself out.”
John: Never see it.
Rachel: No one told me that. And, in fact, I wish I’d known that as a girl engaging in certain butt things. Like oh no, no, it’s a thing that men who are having sex with men do. It’s a whole thing that you prep all day for and my friend Mano Agapion who is a brilliant comedian, he did a podcast where he was – oh, he did my friend’s podcast Duty Calls which is all about these embarrassing shit stories – where he talked about prep and I think Mano maybe said to me personally, he went, “There’s about 15 minutes when a butt doesn’t smell like a butt.” And that’s so true and great and interesting.
And as a straight cis women I’d never heard about that, but that’s so interesting for me to know about my butt.
John: Absolutely. On the show The Other Two, which is a great show from this last year which you can catch up on, that is a whole issue and there’s a whole discussion. These two guys are going on a date and it’s not quite clear who is going to be doing what. And so neither of them have really been eating all day–
Rachel: Oh, that’s unbelievable.
John: Because they’re trying to be ready.
Craig: They’re just trying to clean–
Rachel: Well, I’ve exposed myself in not being up on The Other Two which features my friends and is co-created by Chris Kelly who taught me improv 201.
John: Very nice.
Craig: How about that?
John: Can I take this as a handle to talk a little bit about improv, just because we just did our live show with Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone.
John: And so I asked them about Groundlings, but you’re from the UCB world. How much – a question I didn’t ask them that I want to ask you. How much would you recommend an aspiring comedy writer go through a program like UCB or Groundlings? How important do you think it is for someone who is learning how to write funny?
Rachel: Oh, a lot. I’ve heard that compared to other comedy programs, I’ve really only been a UCB gal, but I know a lot of people who have done Groundlings and Second City. And from what I’ve heard from the stuff that Del Close taught, game, which is what the UCB teaches, which is what is the game of your scene. What is the pattern of what’s funny in your scene and then how do you heighten that? That’s one element of what Del Close taught and that’s a major element of the UCB program which is really conducive to writing. I think it’s why a lot of great writers come out of there.
So, I really, really recommend it. And I think this idea – and in all improv schools they say don’t think, go with your instinct, really connect with someone – comedy coming from inside you and inside your impulses, not what you think should be funny but what you’re actually feeling in the moment is really important for writing.
And it’s very relevant for a writers’ room which is in essence in a way one long improv game where you’re suggesting jokes, you’re building a world, you’re suggesting jokes that are in the realm of this world. That sometimes the best jokes come from trusting the room enough where you don’t think. It just kind of comes out and it makes everyone laugh. I think it’s really great and really relevant. Because even if you’re not an actor getting in touch with your own impulses in a scene where you’re doing an impression of reality really helps you write.
John: If a writer doesn’t like it, if a writer takes a class and doesn’t like it, can they bail? How far do you have to get into it before you realize whether it’s for you or it’s not for you?
Rachel: Well, are you using it as a writing tool or are you using it because you want to get into improv? They’re kind of two different questions. The hard thing about improv is that to get good at it you have to do it a lot in order to free up those impulses. Because improv classes 101 through 301 often are awful. Because you are so locked in, ugh, I’m trying to muscle the scene into being funny. And that’s something that everybody does.
It’s only when you get into the upper levels that you relax into it, that you have the muscle memory, to actually let your impulses bubble up. So it’s weird and it’s difficult. And now that I’m done with my show a big goal of mine is to get back into improv because I miss – I feel some of those impulses now getting, especially when I try to do improv again, it’s a muscle. And you have to keep it going.
I don’t think it’s necessary for good writing. But I think it’s a really good tool.
Rachel: Have you ever done improv?
John: I’ve never done improv. Craig, have you done improv?
Craig: No, I’ve done improv but I have–
John: You’re supposed to say yes Craig.
Craig: What? Oh, yes, sorry, yes and—
No, but I have done a lot of the kind of, I guess I would call it unwitnessed improv. I remember spending hours with Jason Bateman where the two of us would just sort of improv scenes that then we would kind of cherry pick from as we were working on Identity Thief. So you just start to play a character and you start to have those discussions and react with each other and just see where it goes.
The part that’s terrifying to me about improv is the audience.
Craig: Just by the way the same reasons – the part that’s terrifying with writing is the reader. You know, I wish we could get paid for writing a script and then we didn’t have to show it to anybody. But we do. It’s such a bummer.
Rachel: Well, you guys, if you guys want to start an improv practice group that’s just in someone’s house with no audience. There would have to be a coach just to help you along. I mean, I found Aline to be very good at improv.
John: Oh, I’m not surprised.
Rachel: Because she was a writer. I mean, I’m kind of her stage mom now. I encourage her to perform. But I mean when we write together it’s basically as improvising together.
Rachel: I think you guys would be great at improv. I’d pay a lot to see you guys do a two-man improv show.
John: Thank you. We’ll try it one of these days. Rachel, a question, I don’t know, did you meet your husband through UCB, through improv?
Rachel: Kind of. We met because he was a graduate of my college sketch comedy group which the graduates of that group went to go on and do UCB. So in short story is no, long story is kind of. Our relationship story is, yeah, we’re both UCB people. Our basement is covered in props and costumes from UCB sketch shows. And that’s what happens when two sketch comedians marry each other. It’s a nightmare.
John: I just love that you and Melissa and Ben and Greg have such a similar ways of getting together.
Rachel: I know, I really – I’ve only met Melissa once, but I really would like to get a double date with them, because they have a similar sweet dynamic.
John: They really do. Rachel, you are now done with your show. But you are doing a ton of concerts. Where can people see you this fall?
Rachel: Oh boy. Well, I’ll just say, I’m going to have a residency at Largo in LA once a month where I’m just going to try out a bunch of new shit every month.
John: Oh my god, I can’t wait to see that.
Rachel: Which is you live right by there. It’s only – Largo only seats about 250 people, but it’s going to be me trying stuff out in preparation for I’m also doing a little mini tour of America, the country America, which is on my website.
John: Is this called What Am I Going to do with My Life Now?
Rachel: It’s called What Am I Going to do with My Life Now. Because that’s what everyone is asking me. They’re like so what’s next. I’m like get off my fucking back. I just got back from London.
Rachel: I’m tired. I want to nap.
Craig: I know.
Rachel: So that’s what’s next. And then the other thing is I am now the queen of general meetings. Oh boy, I’ve been going on a lot of generals.
John: The water bottle tour of Los Angeles.
Rachel: Yes, the water bottle tour. For me the English breakfast tea tour of Los Angeles. And I think it’s interesting. People are hungry for content. There’s a lot of hunger for content now which is cool.
John: This is the point in the show where we do our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is an article by Emma Hunsinger in The New Yorker called How to Draw a Horse. It’s just terrific. It is an illustrated story of like teenage longing and it was heartbreaking and funny and just delightful. So I’ll recommend that. There’s a link in the show notes to that. Craig, what is your One Cool Thing?
Craig: Cool. My One Cool Thing was a gift/curse from Mr. David Benioff who is kind of the king of time wasters. He was the one who told me about – I think he was the one who told me about Alto’s Odyssey.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: Anyway, this one is called Dig It. So it’s an app. It’s for the iPhone and as always I don’t care about Androids so I don’t know if it’s available for that. But it’s a very, very simple concept. You’re trying to get these little green balls into a little green cup. And by moving your finger you are erasing dirt. You’re digging through dirt and creating paths. And it just gets more and more complicated.
I’m so frustrated with it and I have to keep going. And I don’t know, $1.99 or something. Dig it.
John: Great. Dig It.
John: Rachel, what would be your One Cool Thing?
Rachel: I’ve recently become obsessed with this podcast called Hello from the Magic Tavern. I don’t listen to podcasts where comedians just sit around and talk about their lives because those are the people that I’m friends with. I really like podcasts that are funny, so I’m going to fit a couple One Cool Things into this Cool Thing. I’m a really big fan of there’s a podcast that The Onion put out called A Very Fatal Murder which is–
John: Which I loved so much.
Rachel: It’s unbelievable. And it stars my friend David Sidorov and it’s the hardest I’ve laughed at any podcast. It’s so good. And—
Craig: Is it like a spoof of Serial?
Rachel: It’s a spoof of Serial. What is the one where the guy was the murderer of Tara? It’s all of those podcasts.
John: Dirty John. All of those things.
Rachel: All of those things that are kind of a little bit getting off on these people’s lives who have been ruined. It’s a brilliant podcast. And I finished A Very Fatal Murder. I’m also a big fan of Off Book Podcast which is an improvised musical podcast where every episode it’s a different musical story. But anyway I finished A Very Fatal Murder and I was in the mood for something with narrative thrust. And I found Hello from the Magic Tavern which is an improvised podcast but it’s an ongoing plot. It’s maybe the one time I’ve heard choices made in the midst of improv turning into sci-fi fantasy canon. Because it’s a podcast that takes – this guy Arnie Niekamp who is a real guy – the premise is he fell into a magical portal behind a Burger King and now he’s doing a podcast from the magical land of Foon. And the cohosts are a wizard named Usidore and a shape-shifting badger named Chunt.
Rachel: It’s great. It’s fantastic. But the thing is they’ll say something on the podcast and suddenly it becomes canon. So there was this thing that someone said where, oh, you know, wizards have two buttholes and suddenly it’s a major thing of the whole podcast where how many buttholes can you magically get.
It’s a great example of plot and improv intersecting in a really cool way.
John: Yeah. In a future episode I’m going to do a dissection of Craig’s theory on how to write a movie and I think that’s actually part of it in that sense of that wasn’t a thing that was planned but it ends up changing the experience and how we encounter story in moments. And I think that’s a great example of that. So, excited to see that.
Last bit of news I have on my side is this past week we launched Highland2.5 which is a major revision of our screenwriting app. We added revision mode that is super nice and simple and it’s for all documents, not just for screenplays. So if you’re curious about that it is on the Mac App Store.
And that’s our show for this week.
Craig: Yeah, that was a good one.
John: Rachel Bloom, thank you so much for joining us.
Craig: Thanks Rachel.
Rachel: Thank you.
John: Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our intro and outro this week is by James Launch and Jim Bond. If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions.
But for short questions I’m on Twitter @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Rachel, you’re on Twitter as well.
John: @racheldoesstuff. And @racheldoesstuff is also where you can find her website which has all the tour dates for things, but we’ll have a link to those in the show notes as well. You can find those show notes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find transcripts. We get them up the week after the episode airs.
Some people do recaps on Reddit, so join us there and tell us what you thought about our sex episode on Reddit.
Rachel: Oh my god, do you read your own Reddit?
John: I read my own Reddit thread.
Rachel: Oh, you are strong like Aline.
John: Ha, yeah. It so far has been pretty good. And I’m impressed that they’re actually doing the recaps. It’s nice.
Rachel: That’s nice. God.
John: You can find all the back episodes of the show at Scriptnotes.net or download 50-episode seasons at store.johnaugust.com. We have an app where you can listen to all of those back episodes including the very first time we met you which was at the holiday live show where you came and you sang When Will I Be Famous.
Craig: And look what happened.
Rachel: And then I kind of was.
Craig: You kind of are.
John: And now you’re doing a national tour.
Craig: See? You just had to sing that song. We’re like little leprechauns. You just rub us on our heads and gold fires out of our butts.
Rachel: That is true. And that’s another realistic sex thing that I think you should portray.
Rachel: That if you rub a man on his head gold will shoot out of his butt.
Craig: Oh god. I wish that were true.
Rachel: So do I.
John: Thanks Rachel.
Craig: Thanks Rachel.
John: Thanks Craig.
- Rachel Bloom’s Realistic Sex Interview
- Sex Education TV Series
- Moan: Anonymous Essays on Female Orgasm with foreword by Rachel Bloom
- How to Draw a Horse
- Dig it! on the App Store
- Hello from the Magic Tavern
- A Very Fatal Murder
- Rachel on Tour
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- Rachel Bloom on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro by Jim Bond and James Llonch (Send us yours!)
Email us at email@example.com
You can download the episode here.