An Interview with Randy Rainbow
By Gregg Shapiro
With millions of Facebook views to his name, Randy Rainbow is a certified social media sensation. His original musical video parodies, which have gained considerable attention before and after the 2016 Presidential election, have become the stuff of legend. Watched, shared, and tweeted by gay and straight folks alike, Rainbow’s wicked sense of humor and polished performance skills have made him a household name. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with him about his career and meteoric rise.
Gregg Shapiro: Randy, I’d like to begin by asking you to say something about your background and performance training.
Randy Rainbow: I’ve been on the stage since I was a kid. I started with ballet when I was six. I have a musical theater background; a lot of theater camp as a child, a lot of community, regional theater. I dropped out of college and worked on a cruise ship for a time. (My background is) primarily in musical theater, and mostly in South Florida.
GS: In what ways, if any, does being a South Florida-native come across in your work?
RR: I got some really great training there. I spent most of my childhood at the Hollywood Playhouse, all of my summers growing up. Josh Gad and I, who you probably know (from The Book of Mormon and Frozen) were buddies back then. I did a lot of children’s theater in Miami Shores. My base musical theater training happened there.
GS: Your videos have remarkably sophisticated production values. Do you work with a creative team or are you strictly a one-man-operation?
RR: I’m very much a one-man-band [laughs]. It’s all out of my little studio apartment here in New York. There’s a green screen that takes up my entire living room. I write it and perform it with my cat sitting on the bed watching me. Then I edit everything myself.
GS: Are you self-taught in terms of the technical aspects?
RR: Yeah, that’s actually my least favorite part of it. I’m a tech-savvy person by nature, but I have had to train myself to do what I’ve got to do. I learned Final Cut and Adobe After Effects. I have a good ear and a good eye for editing, now that I have a basic knowledge of it. I know how to make the finished product that I see in my head, how to make it happen. Technically, it’s not my strongest suit, but I make it happen.
GS: Well, they look great!
RR: Thank you.
GS: Have you heard from any of the people whose songs you parody?
RR: Yes, actually, I’ve heard from some big ones. Most recently Andrew Lloyd Webber tweeted the Cats parody that I did. I guess that counts, huh [laughs]? That was very exciting. I’ve also heard from Stephen Sondheim. Stephen Sondheim is apparently a fan of my videos. When I did the Mary Poppins video to “Supercalifragilistic…”, I heard from Jeff Sherman, who is the son (of songwriter) Rob Sherman. That’s been thrilling for me. I’m such a huge fan of all this material that I’m spoofing. To hear from those people is amazing to me.
GS: Who are some of the song parodists that you consider to be inspirations and influences?
RR: That’s interesting because I can’t really say that I am inspired by song parodists. I’m trying to think of notable ones, like “Weird Al” Yankovic. But I never really grew up with him. My inspiration really comes from musical theater and musical theater performers.
GS: In terms of your process, how do you go about selecting a song to parody and pairing it up with the appropriate subject matter?
RR: It kind of depends. I’m a big show queen to begin with. I think in show tunes. For example, for the “Braggadocious!” video my mind went to “docious” from “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” When I did the Meryl Streep Into The Woods parody, I thought about Meryl Streep singing “Greens, greens, nothing but greens” in the song (in the Into The Woods prologue). I transformed that quite easily into “Tweets, tweets, nothing but tweets.” Sometimes it just pops into my head. Now that I have a nice big following, sometimes I’ll get suggestions from people that I’ll use. Sometimes it’s just word play, like “Alternative facts!” has nothing to do with Jellicle cats, but it sounds close enough. That’s how that happened. I have a vast vocabulary of musical theater references, so I can easily draw from that.
GS: Have you heard from any of the subjects of the songs that you parody?
RR: Well, Trump hasn’t called yet. Thank God! I think the first time that that happened was with Jennifer Holliday. I spoofed an interview that she did regarding her declining to play the (Trump) inauguration. She tweeted it and said, “Thanks for the laugh. That was hysterical.” That was exciting. Sometimes I’ll hear from some of the CNN people if I use their interviews and plug myself into their positions as the interviewer. Jake Tapper follows me now and I’ve heard from Brianna Keilar. I’m happy to know that they are fans and supportive of the joke.
GS: What is your most popular video to date?
RR: As far as numbers, it’s still the “Braggadocious” video which has 31 million views. They’re all doing a good 10 million now. The last few I’ve put out are around 10 million and over.
GS: If you don’t my mind my asking, what is your current romantic status – are you single, partnered, or married?
RR: Ugh, now I’m depressed. I wasn’t sad, but now I am.
GS: But, Randy, everybody wants to know.
RR: I am single as [can be]. If anyone’s looking, let me know. You know my email, put it up there [laughs]. I’m telling myself I’m focusing on my career, which is what everyone says when they’re not dating.
GS: I just know there’s someone out there for you.
RR: I hope so!