If laughter really is the best medicine, political satirist Randy Rainbow just might be your Prozac for the next four years. His buzzy, self-produced video parodies, from last year’s Clinton vs. Trump debates to a recent poke at presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway’s claim about recording-capable microwave ovens, can’t change that we have an imbecile playing president – but they sure as hell ease some of the pain.
As the South Florida native, who now lives in New York, likes to say, “It’s terrible for our country, but fabulous for my career.” (And, clearly, for the rest of us.)
The current administration’s embarrassing disregard for the truth (#BowlingGreenMassacre) and endless parade of senseless spewing has done wonders for Rainbow’s rising visibility as a comedian, singer and theater performer. Below his video titled “Alternative Facts,” which Rainbow turned into a jingle to the tune of “Jellicle Cats” from Broadway’s “Cats,” the lead comment reads, “The only good thing from this hellish election cycle was discovering this channel.”
Rainbow’s channel launched in 2010 with videos of him phoning imaginary boyfriends such as Kirk Cameron, Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen. Later came the “GOP Dropout” series, which targeted the likes of Marco Rubio and Ben Carson. Then, in 2016, he turned to the presidential primaries, and when “the shit hit the fan with this election,” he says, “is when I started really seeing the numbers and getting the feedback I’ve always wanted.”
In a new interview, Rainbow shared some non-fake news about the reality of his party-bridging political rebukes – and why they just may be the kind of unifying breakthrough this country needs.
With a name like Randy Rainbow, you were born to be a star, right?
Well, I mean, I had to do something! I couldn’t be a football player with that fuckin’ name, that’s for sure. It’s worked out now for me, but it was a very difficult childhood, I’ll say that. I’m kind of joking, but it’s just kind of lucky that I turned out to be a gay comedian and entertainer with that name; otherwise, I don’t know what would’ve happened. Back before all that was going on, it was just me and my name, and I was just some awkward gay kid named Randy Rainbow in high school.
With your videos, what do you think you’ve tapped into that people are seeking right now?
Any excuse to laugh at this nightmare is welcome (laughs) – I think that has a lot to do with it! It’s an important thing to laugh at, because it can be scary sometimes if people really are drawn to it.
At first, it seemed just gay people were posting your material. But then, I was seeing straight friends post your videos, which must mean you’ve made it.
Yeah, I’m mainstream now! You know how I know I’ve made it? I sell T-shirts on my website, and my mom will wear them to the gym and people will go up to her and say, “Oh, I love him too!”
On a first date, how do you describe your career to someone?
I go through a whole list of things, because I still don’t know exactly what to call it. But, first, I say I’m a comedian, and then I say… it’s so obnoxious, what am I gonna say? “Internet sensation”? That’s obnoxious!
I never liked YouTube celebrity. First of all, my numbers are bigger on Facebook, but I’m certainly not gonna say I’m a “Facebook celebrity.” Internet sensation is what I say when I have to categorize it, but first and foremost I’m a comedian and performer and writer. My whole Grindr feed is people knowing who I am now: “Oh my god, are you really Randy Rainbow?”
What’s your background as a comedian, performer and writer?
I’ve been on the stage since I was a little kid. I started in ballet when I was 6; it went from that to musical theater. Musical theater was mostly my background. Theater, camp and regional theater all through childhood and high school and a little bit in college, and then I dropped out of college and worked on a cruise ship and sang a little. So, mainly musical theater was my first love and what my background is in, and then then I started writing. Once I moved to New York, I started developing my comedic voice and, a few years after, put the two together and that’s how I came up with all this.
How different is your comedic voice from your everyday persona? Do people expect you to be the Randy Rainbow they see on the internet?
Sometimes. I guess everyone who is a comedian goes through that. Anyone who does anything funny has to deal with inevitably disappointing people in person. But I would say that my comedian persona is kind of a heightened reality of my real persona – maybe me after a couple of drinks.
When did you know that you wanted to make parody videos?
I’ve had a couple web series on BroadwayWorld.com, which came from them knowing about my first videos that went a little viral that were always hot-topic stuff like Mel Gibson when his (ex-girlfriend tirade) tapes were released six years. I figured it was a good place to sneak in my musical chops a bit. I started with the musical stuff, and that led to Kim Davis (the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples) over a year ago when I did “Cell Block Tango” and it got, like, 4 million views, so I was like, “This is working.”
What is your most viral video at this point?
It’s still (the first 2016 presidential debate parody) “Braggadocious,” with 30 million views on Facebook.
You recently wrote new lyrics for a parody of “Officer Krupke” for the cast of “Will & Grace.” Might you be involved in the forthcoming “Will & Grace” reboot?
I hope! I don’t have any news yet, but I’ve heard from the whole cast – I know they’re fans – and I’ve actually heard from (series co-creator) Max Mutchnick who said they’re fans and he’d love to speak, so we’re kind of setting that up. It didn’t sound like (he had) any particular agenda, but if there’s any fucking way that I can be a part of that, that would be a dream come true, absolutely.
What is your process for making a parody?
Sometimes it’s just wordplay, like the “Braggadocious” thing, for instance. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. I’m a big show queen – no surprise! – so sometimes it’s a situational thing. When Kim Davis was in jail, immediately I thought “Cell Block Tango.” Now, I have a nice, big following, so sometimes I’ll take suggestions.
Do you think you’re gonna keep on the political streak you’re on?
My thing has always been the hot topics, so right now, what else is everyone talking about but that? Certainly, I’m known for it now, so I’ll keep doing it as long as it’s necessary and as long as there’s material. At this point, I don’t see it dwindling… unfortunately, for America.
I’m making some legitimate money on my YouTube channel now, so I can devote more time to my own stuff. And I’m traveling a little bit now and I’m booked all through gay pride all over the country. I’m doing gay prides. I’ll eventually have a calendar assembled on my website, but it’s coming together now. I’m doing PrideFest Milwaukee, I did Tampa Pride, so that pays.
How does your work translate to a pride event stage?
I’ve done a couple of live shows. I did Birdland here in New York twice, and it depends on what the gig is. But I’ll show some videos, and it’ll be a little stand up and then I do the parody songs live. My hit singles.
So a lot like Mariah’s Vegas No. 1s show?
(Laughs) I will be singing live, though.
How did comedy impact you as somebody who was young and dealing with being gay?
I consider myself lucky that I kind of fell into this role that I’m in now because everyone is up in arms, and understandably. But I get to be up in arms and make jokes and showtunes and that always helps.
When I hear from people, it’s not just, “Hey, that was a funny video.” I’m getting a lot of, “Thank you, that was so necessary.” People are so grateful for comedy and for escapism now, and I realize what I’m doing is just taking two primary tools that I always used growing up as an awkward gay kid who was kind of an outsider, which, for me, was always musicals and comedy – those are the two things that always make me feel good and (help me) get through shit – and I’m just using those tools now. I’m happy that I’m able to use them to make other people feel good.
Do you think you’re reaching people through comedy who may otherwise be resistant to hearing your side of the story?
I think, absolutely. I hear from more people on the other side of the fence who say, “We don’t agree and I’m a Trump supporter, but you made me laugh.” I think that’s the thing about comedy: the root of comedy is truth, and so because of that, it’s unifying. I think comedy is the ultimate unifier.