Emmys: 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' songwriting team talks 'We Tapped That Ass'

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
(Photo: CW)

Heading into this year’s Emmy nomination process, the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend songwriting team — which includes the show’s co-creator and star, Rachel Bloom, as well as executive music producer Adam Schlesinger and music consultant/staff writer Jack Dolgen — planned to submit four tunes for awards consideration. But as the deadline approached, Schlesinger knew there was one surefire winner from the show’s second season: a tap-dancing ditty called “We Tapped That Ass.” Performed by Vincent Rodriguez III and Santino Fontana in their finest Gene Kelly/Donald O’Connor form, the song is a roll call of all the places where Bloom’s troubled heroine, Rebecca Bunch, has had sex with the two men in her life: buff Josh (Rodriguez) and emo Greg (Fontana). Why did Schlesinger know the tune would resonate with Emmy voters? Simple: “Everyone just likes the word ass!” the Fountains of Wayne bassist tells Yahoo TV. “It’s a crowdpleaser.”

Sure enough, “We Tapped that Ass” is the most eye-catching title amongst the six nominees for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics. (For the record, the trio also submitted the hilarious Marilyn Monroe pastiche “The Math of Love Triangles,” which didn’t make the final cut.) It’s the second year in a row that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been represented in this category, with the Season 1 favorite “Settle For Me” getting a nod last year. Sadly, because this award is presented at the non-televised Creative Arts Emmy Awards, we won’t get to see Rodriguez and Fontana (whose character left the show midway through Season 2) sing lyrics like “I banged you here, I nailed you there” and “On the table you were willing and able” in front of such nominated actors as Robert De Niro and Jessica Lange on Emmy night. But the song’s writers are still giddily ass-tonished to be in the running for a second year.

Bloom, Schlesinger, and Dolgen filled us in on how “We Tapped that Ass” came to be and the two things about the song that network censors found too… cheeky.

What are the origins of “We Tapped that Ass”?
Rachel Bloom: We had known for a while that we wanted to do a “Moses Supposes“-style number, but dirtier. Like, “We f**ked you there, we f**ked you here.” [We liked] the idea of Rebecca being overwhelmed by her memories and the wordplay of her memories, and we had a lot of the internal jokes in the song thought up. As an internal joke, Jack pitched the line, “We tapped that ass all over this house.” And Adam and I were like, “F**k you, Jack, that’s the chorus!”

Adam Schlesinger: And then we beat the s**t out of Jack!

Jack Dolgen: It was really confusing. [Laughs]

Schlesinger: On the musical side, a lot of times, Rachel or Jack will send me something that’s [a] pretty-formed melody and I may or may not tweak it a little bit. With this one, we basically just kicked around jokes for a half an hour until I had a bunch to choose from. We didn’t have any kind of a melody. We were doing a little rhythm while improvising the jokes, so I took that and came up with the melody later.

Bloom: In another genre, it’s a song that could have felt, for lack of a better term, rapey. Because it’s in a playful genre, it’s threatening without being distractingly threatening. It helped knowing that Vincent and Santino have tap-dancing skills. It’s been fun to write to the skills of the actors on the show.

Dolgen: It doesn’t hurt that Vincent has every tertiary skill imaginable! He’s acrobatic, he does karate; I’m waiting for the unicycle juggling song.

Schlesinger: Rachel has telekinesis and we haven’t used that yet either.

You get away with some pretty filthy jokes in the song. Did you have any issues with the network?

Bloom: Every time we come up with a new song, we send the lyrics to S&P; everything also gets sent to S&P.

Schlesinger: That’s Salt-N-Pepa she’s referring to. They wrote “Push It.” We love their work.

Bloom: Sorry, Standards and Practices! [Laughs] We sent this song in and it mostly passed. The only thing that was problematic was the ending. Originally, the guys said, “Where should we finish? How about on her chest!” And S&P was like, “You can’t say this! Are you insane?” And I said, “Okay, what if Rebecca says, ‘Please not on my chest’ and then immediately adds, ‘You’ll scratch it.’ So she’s actually talking about the chest [in the house].

Dolgen: That wound up being a second joke in the original joke, which was awesome. I remember they also wanted to make sure that when the guys tap dance on the giant butt, the butt had underwear on it. You can’t show a bare ass even if it’s a piece of staging, I suppose.

(Photo: CW)

What lyric are you proudest of? “On the ottoman, you took a lotta man” is memorable for sure.

Schlesinger: “Back patio” is pretty good.

Bloom: I like the run about them doing an impression of Rebecca when she’s trying to have an orgasm and she’s directing them. That one is very relatable. And whoever came up with, “On the safe in the closet, I made a deposit,” hats off to you! Such a great line.

Dolgen: This song is all killer, no filler. I think about the lyrics and how once it starts it doesn’t really let up. I’m proud about that. It’s a tight, funny song all the way through. Not to toot our own horn.

Or pat your own asses.

Bloom: Right! When I listen to the song, I’m impressed with all of the places Rebecca did have sex all over her house.

Dolgen: Also [how it works] just as a video. These Emmy submissions aren’t just audio submissions, they’re basically music video submissions. The episode was directed by Erin Ehrlich and the sequence was choreographed by Kat Burns. It’s such a huge team effort to make these things, and the combination of music and dance came together to make it what it is.

Schlesinger: Even though it’s a goofy, silly subject, there’s a lot of virtuosity at work. It gives everyone a chance to show off their skills. They had to record the actual tap sounds later, because they’re not wearing tap shoes.

Bloom: Vinnie and Kat got into the recording booth after the fact, and tapped on wood, right?

Schlesinger: Yeah, and that’s why Kat as a choreographer really contributed musically to the song. The sound of those [tap] rhythms is a big part of the rhythm of the track. When we first orchestrated it, we left an empty space so the rhythm could come from their feet.

Dolgen: We’ll have written over 100 songs for this show by the time Season 3 airs, and each song gets its own special treatment as a music video. One of the coolest things about doing this show is that we get to do all these different genres and visual experiences depending on the song. Like “Settle for Me,” which we were nominated for last year, is totally different from this one. It was done black-and-white and looked like this old-school number.

It certainly can’t be lost on you that both of your Emmy-nominated songs harken back to an older era of Hollywood. “Settle For Me” is vintage Astaire and Rogers, while this is more Kelly and O’Connor. Do you think that reflect the tastes of the voting membership at all?

Bloom: Adam, you’ve met more [Emmy] people…

Schlesinger: Adam, you’re old — what do you think?

Bloom: Yeah, that’s what I meant! [Laughs] I think they do like the old Hollywood stuff. Not to sound old myself, but there’s a certain musicality to stuff that harkens back to a golden age that you sometimes don’t get with modern music, which is so much about the production. It’s amazing production on a few very simple chords. With a song like this, there’s a lot going on musically that a lot of times you don’t get in modern music.

Dolgen: That’s one of the appeals of doing a multi-genre musical like we do. We get to do old-school pop numbers, modern pop stuff, country songs, and rap songs. We really travel around, and Adam’s flexibility and chameleon quality as a music producer allows us to be completely imaginative without restrictions. He can produce a song in any genre and really nail it.

(Photo: CW)

As you alluded to before, there’s a lot going on thematically in the song as well. It’s not just a goof.

Bloom: The thing I think people forget about the show is that the silly songs are very rarely silly for silly’s sake. There’s usually a strong emotional undercurrent. We’re not the kind of songwriters who are going to write a song called “I Really Like Cats,” with lyrics like “Cats are fun, I really like cats.” I don’t have an interest in doing songs like that.

Schlesinger: Well there goes that pitch!

Bloom: Oh, great! [Laughs] We write this show like a musical, and there’s an old adage in musical theater: “When the emotion is too strong to speak you sing. And when the emotion is too strong to sing, you dance.” We really do use that as a guideline in our songwriting. “We Tapped that Ass” precipitates Rachel having a nervous breakdown and trying to burn down her apartment. “Settle for Me” is the mantra of a guy who has time and time again looked down on himself and gone for women who don’t want him.

Do you think that viewers are picking up on those deeper ideas?

Bloom: We are still a cult show, but I will say that the people who do watch the show are quite smart.

Dolgen: Both of them.

Bloom: Both people who watch the show — my mom and Jack’s mom — really get the complexity. I think it’s a really big deal that we’re about to hit 100 songs, and I just hope that the audience continues to grow and that people appreciate that no one has ever done that. No one’s every done what we’re doing on TV before.

Schlesinger: These are all original comedy songs that have quite a dramatic element to them. We don’t phone a single song in. We hold ourselves to a really high standard. Doing that with as many songs as we do on this show is an insane undertaking that was probably a mistake! [Laughs]

Unlike the Oscars, the Emmy-nominated songs aren’t performed live at the ceremony. Would you love to see Santino and Vincent sing “We Tapped that Ass” onstage?

Bloom: Totally! If you could hook that up, that would be great. We’re such whores on this show: we’ll do anything for anyone, anywhere. [Laughs] The other thing is that this is not an award given at the main Emmy awards. It’s part of the Creative Arts Emmys, which is seen as a lesser awards show, because it’s not the fancy primetime Emmys. But it’s still a f**king Emmy!

You’re up against nominees that include Saturday Night Live, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and a Mickey Mouse Christmas special, Duck the Halls. If you don’t win, do you have a favorite that you hope does get the Emmy?

Bloom: They’re all great songs. I will truly be shocked if we win. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s song is a 1:1 parody of Lemonade, which is very hip. And “Last Christmas” [from SNL] is about the last Christmas with President Obama. Because we are a show that writes and films months and months before we go on the air, we never have songs that are super-topical, because by the time they air, they’ll be old. I think topical stuff tends to have an advantage. But the other nominees are all fantastic.

Do you have a plan to get your own Disney Channel holiday special? That might be another good way to get a nomination.

Dolgen: Yeah, maybe “F**k the Halls.” It’s all about communal living where you don’t like to have any hallways. [Laughs]

You’re midway through making Season 3 right now. Do you already have your Emmy submission for next year?

Bloom: We have a couple! This is my favorite season. I think the songwriting we’re doing is some of our best work, and I think I can think of two or three options right now. I’m immensely proud of the work we’ve been doing.

Dolgen: We’ve got maybe 16 songs written and close to in the can. I’ll echo Rachel: I’m pretty excited about the songs we’re writing for Season 3, and the videos are turning out incredibly. You’re going to see some incredible stuff from Rachel. It’s going to be an exciting season in a lot of ways, and the musical numbers are no exception.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season 3 premieres Friday, Oct. 13 on The CW. The first two seasons are currently streaming on Netflix.

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