If you’ve had that catchy chorus from the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt theme song stuck in your head since the show hit Netflix on March 6, you have one man to thank: Jeff Richmond. The composer (and husband of Unbreakable's co-creator Tina Fey) is single-handedly reviving the lost art of TV theme song writing, first with 30 Rock's joyfully jazzy opening number and now with the addictive, auto-tuned ditty that starts every episode of Kimmy Schmidt. After spending the last 11 days singing “They’re alive, dammit!” to myself sotto voce, I decided it was time to give Richmond a call and get some more details about the creation of this unique and viral earworm. (Bonus: He also gave us an update on the Mean Girls musical, which he’s writing with his wife. It’s happening, people!)
Kimmy Schmidt’s opening credits recall Charles Ramsey, the neighbor of the Cleveland kidnapping victims whose local news interview became a viral sensation. How did the idea to use that conceit for the theme come about?
It came about from the very, very onset when Tina and Robert [Carlock] first conceptualized what the show would be. I remember, I walked in the office and they said, “How’s this: This girl’s been in a bunker for 15 years. She gets out. She moves to New York to start over and the main title of the theme song will be just the retelling of the story by the local neighbor who has witnessed the whole account. It’ll be an auto-tuned version.” Of course, it is an absolute reflection of the Charles Ramsey Cleveland story.
We all knew that it was an appropriate way to do it, because of the grim nature of Kimmy’s backstory. This theme gave the audience a way into her story and set up that it was going to be at least light and fun and at its heart a comedy.
What key elements do you need to make a successful theme song?
I remember when we were doing the 30 Rock theme, Lorne [Michaels] said — in his Lorne kind of way — “A good theme song, you hear it in the other room and you know your show is starting.” So it should not sound like anything else. It should sound fun and should just grab your ears. I’m not mistaking this for something else.
On 30 Rock, in addition to the theme, you wrote much of the additional music, like the MILF Island theme song and the ode to Cleveland. Is that the same case with Kimmy Schmidt — like when Titus auditioned for Spider Man Too: 2 Many Spider Men?
Yeah. Tina and Robert are not afraid to have characters sing and they like to explore musical styles.
Will there be more of those types of musical moments in Season 2 of Kimmy?
My guess is with the success of Titus Burgess, you can pretty much count on Titus singing at least as much as he’s done this season. There are so many people in the cast that are good singers. Jane [Krakowski] sang for years on 30 Rock… and I could see her singing, for example, at a benefit and getting points from Titus.
The other one we have is the delightful Carol Kane, who’s also a Broadway singer. I’d love to find a way for her to sing something.
You composed several different versions of the 30 Rock theme song before choosing one. Did you have any other versions of the Kimmy Schmidt theme?
There were. There was a time when Tina and Robert wanted to call the show Tooken. So the hook of the song in those days was [sings] “Those cars were bookin’, something, something, them girls got tooken.” What we realized after we had gone through a version or two of that is that that didn’t really leave you with the exact sentiment of the show. You know, it was fun to rhyme “bookin’” and “tooken” but actually hearing those girls sing “They’re alive, dammit It’s a miracle!” seemed much more like what the show was going to be about.
One last question before I let you go: Has there been any progress on the Mean Girls musical you and Tina are working on?
Oh, thanks for asking. There is. There’s been quite a lot of progress on it. Here’s what I can tell you: We’ve been writing with… Nell Benjamin of Legally Blonde fame, she’s working with us as a lyricist. We’ve been working for a long time now. I’m going to say it’s like 60 percent written, and it’s being staffed creatively… We are looking to do some actual solid readings coming around this summer. The Kimmy Schmidt thing took a lot more time than we all thought, so it slowed some Mean Girls stuff down.
Can you tease a song title for us?
How about this one? There’s a song called “Old Blonde Song.” It’s sung by Regina’s mother.
Nice! Is there a number called “Fetch”?
That does not exist yet. I don’t think it will.
Season 1 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is now streaming on Netflix.