NEW YORK — At a time of unprecedented polarization in the United States, it seems almost impossible for one to express their political opinion without much backlash, especially when they do so on social media — or better yet, in weekly YouTube videos.
Just ask internet sensation Randy Rainbow. Anyone performing even the most cursory Google search of the latest political scandals involving President Donald Trump has probably come across videos of the 30-something gay Jewish man interviewing politicians — and occasionally sliding a pair of pink cat-eye glasses on his nose while bursting in song.
Rainbow (yes, that is his real name) has gained online fame over the past few years with his political parodies delivered to the sound of some of Broadway’s biggest hits.
Since the 2016 United States presidential elections, Rainbow, who has been dubbed a “genius” and “virtuoso,” has spared no one, especially those in the current administration. From Trump himself, to First Lady Melania Trump, Kellyanne Conway and Omarosa Manigault, everyone has been called out and ridiculed.
Despite his very clear stance however, Rainbow says people “would be surprised by how much hate mail I do not get.” Perhaps laughter is a rare point of consensus?
His lyrics and Broadway melodies admittedly make for many an earworm, and it is almost impossible to watch clips such as his latest “If You Ever Got Impeached” without instantly wanting to skip right back to the beginning again.
Rainbow’s success has become so big, in fact, that he is now on tour, performing his sketches onstage in front of thousands of fans across the country. In between performances, Rainbow caught up with The Times of Israel for a quick chat about his journey.
So tell us, how did this YouTube adventure start for you?
Well, I had a show business background. I was on the stage since I was a kid. I moved to New York and kind of put that on hold. I started working in restaurants and offices and then I started working as a receptionist and by chance it was a Broadway production office. Long story short, I was just so bored sitting at the reception desk that I started writing, and I started a hot topics blog that gained a following in the Broadway community and the gay community.
Once I saw I had some eyes on me, I thought, “Well, why don’t I jump in front of the camera and perform some of these written pieces that I’m doing?” So I did, and people started to like them.
I decided to do a sketch that incorporated the pop culture moment of the time, which happened to be Mel Gibson. So I made a video called “Randy Rainbow is Dating Mel Gibson.” It’s a video of me walking around my apartment having romantic phone conversations with his horrible racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, scary phone messages. It went viral and I stuck with that format.
How would you define this genre of musical comedy mixed with political parody that you seem to have invented?
I would call it the “Randy Rainbow original” because I’m really just doing all of the things that I want to do and like to do, and the things that interest me or that I find funny or entertaining. I’m doing comedy and I’m talking about hot button issues. The parody writing really kind of came out of necessity just because I wanted to use my musical abilities. I love singing and I love musical comedy, but I don’t write songs. So that’s just kind of a great way to incorporate that and apply it to the topic.
How did politics enter the mix? Because you were not doing political content before the 2016 election cycle happened. Was that a difficult transition?
I was not really a politics junkie by any means, but for me it was extremely natural because my thought process is to always go where there is heat, to the thing that everyone is talking about, the thing that is on everyone’s Facebook feed. But in 2016, the shit really hit the fan.
I was always interested in being funny and amusing and creating art and comedy. Still to this day, the goal is always to make people laugh: It’s to bring levity to the situation, it’s never really to make a political statement. Having said that, I also have a passion for truth. I think that’s the aspect where my more passionate political voice is coming through in the videos.
Do you remember the day after the election? How did you feel when Trump was elected?
Well, the videos had started gaining some popularity during the primaries and so I was hired to do an election eve show at a legendary Jazz club here in New York and it was kind of a celebration because we all thought things were going to go a different way. And the next night, I flew to Orlando to host an election viewing party. So I was at a gay club in Orlando singing happy songs, some of my popular parodies. But it quickly went from a party to a wake. In fact, I had made a Hillary victory video and I was ready to drop it as soon as she was elected and I was bummed out that no one will see it. But I tweeted about it and people requested it so much I did put it on YouTube — but it’s not the original cut.
I’m guessing it’s not too hard to find inspiration when it comes to Trump and his entourage?
They really make it very easy for me. The last video that I made was a parody of “If I Only Had A Brain” from “The Wizard of Oz” and the idea simply came because of something he said in an interview. It just perfectly lent itself to it. What is happening on a day-to-day basis is just so absurd that inspiration is not really my problem.
Are you surprised by how well people have responded to what you are doing and how popular this has become?
Super, yeah. It’s still crazy, every day it’s something new. It’s amazing for it to have become as crazy as it has. But nothing has changed on my end. I’m still in my apartment — thank God it’s a slightly bigger apartment now — but I’m in my apartment in Queens making videos by myself. The only thing that’s changed is that I go in the street now and get recognized sometimes. And I’m able to go on tour to cities I’ve never been to and have rooms full of people who know my work.
Do you know if Trump or anybody in the administration has seen what you are doing?
I have to imagine that at least Kellyanne has seen the videos. But hey, Anthony Scaramucci follows me on Twitter, that’s as close as I have gotten to his administration acknowledging me. But yeah, Sarah Huckabee Sanders hasn’t invited me to brunch yet.
You must get a lot of backlash as well. Anything scary?
Knock on wood I haven’t gotten anything scary. You’d be surprised by how much hate mail I don’t get. I think that has to do with my style. I try in my own way to make myself the butt of the joke so I think people kind of pick up on that so they are not too threatened by it. So even if I’m expressing an opinion that is conflicting with theirs, I don’t think that they are offended. I get a couple of trolls once in a while, but that’s show business!
How big of a place does Jewish identity occupy in your life?
I am very proud to be a Jew. I really wasn’t raised with much religion. I mean we practice kind of the basic tradition, but for me it was always more of a cultural thing and that’s a part of me and my ancestry that I always loved. I mean, I think that a lot of my humor is “Jewish humor” at its root. And so culturally I love that part of myself.
Have you visited Israel?
I have never! But I will make it there.
You are now on tour. Tell us about those nights when you perform.
It’s very exciting for me because I get back on stage and that’s where I had started. It’s also that I’m very much by myself in my apartment for the majority of this. I’m making these musical extravaganzas but it’s just me and my computer, so to get to transition onto the stage with live music and get the feedback from the audience is very exciting. The show is called “Randy Rainbow Live” and it’s kind of me in concert. It’s all about the music, and there is a big screen behind me with interactive videos that segue into the songs.
So if Trump were to really get impeached, since that’s the title of your latest video, what would happen for you?
First of all if he did, I would have Mike Pence to contend with — and I don’t think I’ll be short of material there either. And [Trump] is not just going to leave a clean and tidy little situation. But I will always go where there is heat, whatever people are talking about. If Beyonce shaved her head and robbed a K-Mart tomorrow, and that was the story that everyone was talking about, I’d make a video about that. But as long as there are racists, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, bigots with fading show business careers, I will be there. As long as there are headlines I’ll have material.