And we’re back! We’ve had a little break, and here we are now, happier than ever! So, while Score It and I were away, I binge-watched Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. I’m a bit late to the party… And yes, the theme song is imprinted on my brain, thanks for asking. If you’ve watched the series back in March, I’m pretty sure that you still find yourself singing “Feeeemale are strong as hell” from time to time. It’s infectiously catchy, what can one do?
Kimmy Schmidt‘s opening credits (Source : Netflix)
The culprit has a name : it’s Jeff Richmond. He’s not unknown to people familiar with the Feyniverse. He’s also responsible for the beloved Bar Mitzvah hit “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” and the star-studded charity song “Kidney Now” (both from 30 Rock). An executive producer and composer on Kimmy Schmidt, Richmond has been Fey’s partner in crime on screen since her days as head writer of Saturday Night Live, and also IRL as the two are married.
Jeff Richmond, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock (Source: The Hollywood Reporter)
If Richmond knows how to musically translate her absurd wit, uproarious zingers and sharp comments on today’s world, the task on Kimmy Schmidt might have been more arduous than on their previous collaborations. Indeed, even if Tina Fey, indisputable queen of comedy, was behind the steering wheel, how does one score a series dealing with women who have been kidnapped and locked away in an underground bunker for 15 years? Fey and Richmond turned to the only thing that manages to make fun of the sad, of the mundane, of the tragic: THE INTERNET.
From the very start, Fey, Carlock and Richmond had the idea that the story of these so-called Mole Women would be spread nation-wide thanks to the news interview of a nearby neighbour which would be turned into a viral Internet video.
Bankston’s raw interview in Kimmy Schmidt
After they shot the scene with comedian Mike Britt as Walter Bankston, the neighbour, Richmond wrote the music and incorporated bits and pieces from the interview into the song… And voilà:
They alive, damn it!
It’s a miracle!
They alive, damn it!
And female are strong as hell
The female back singers and the angel-like quality of their voices puts emphasis on the “miracle” the song is talking about, and for Richmond, the clapping evokes kids playing in a playground, something that Kimmy did not get to do as she was kidnapped at a very young age. Using pop culture phenomena such as memes and auto-tune, the song is at the same time an ode to and a satire of the Internet’s capacity to appropriate and recycle everything and anything, for better or for worse. The Kimmy Schmidt fake viral video is of course a direct nod to real life viral videos and YouTube smashes such as Charles Ramsey’s remixed account of how he helped rescue three kidnapped women in Cleveland, or Antoine Dodson’s “Bed Intruder” interview in which he explains how someone tried to break in his sister’s house. For added truthfulness, Fey and Richmond sent everything to The Gregory Brothers —who famously remixed Antoine Dodson’s interview into the ‘Bed Intruder’ song— for them to make the Kimmy Schmidt viral video look as real as those we find on YouTube.
Bankston’s remixed interview by The Gregory Brothers in Kimmy Schmidt
Antoine Dodson’s remixed interview by The Gregory Brothers
Kimmy Schmidt probably has one of the best theme songs I’ve heard in ages. I almost have a Pavlovian need to spread out my arms and make grand gestures every time I hear the “It’s a miracle” line, just like some people feel the need to clap their hands five times when they hear Friends’ “So no-one told you life was gonna be this way” or to scream “Bang” at the end of The Big Bang Theory’s opening credits. Richmond’s catchy and empowering ditty perfectly encapsulates the comedic deftness of Tina Fey and her ability to tackle heavy subjects while making you laugh about them.
And because a Tina Fey series wouldn’t be complete without one or two silly songs, Richmond blesses us with “Gonna Be Famous” —another take on the viral video following Titus’ epic interview fail— and “Peeno Noir.” The creation of this “ode to black penis” as put by Titus himself (amazingly played by Titus Burgess) was quite chaotic according to Richmond. Until the day of shooting, there was no melody for “Peeno Noir,” just a few rhymes on the script (the writers following Titus’ motto “As long as it rhymes, everything will be fines”). So in a panic, Richmond’s assistant went through the 30 Rock archives and dug up the beat used in the video of a fake Denise Richards song (in season 6 episode “Idiots are People Three !”) that they were able to play while Burgess recited the approximately rhyming verses of Peeno Noir. Au revoir.
Marine Wong Kwok Chuen