Randy Rainbow's 'Playing With Myself'

  • by Brian Bromberger
  • Tuesday July 5, 2022
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Randy Rainbow
Randy Rainbow

(To the tune of "Hello Dolly")

"Hello Randy, Well hello Randy.

It's so nice to read your funny, dishy book.

You're lookin' swell Randy, as you remind us Randy.

Your campy videos mock right-wing schnooks.

We feel our heads swayin'

All the stars sayin' how great you are and you tellin' us the same.

Those chic pink glasses so spry.

This "schmuck with wigs" flying so high,

Playing with himself, craving the acclaim."

For those out of the loop, Jane Pauley on CBS Sunday News defined him prior to an interview, "Take a dose of political satire, mix in a dash of musical theater, add some colorful commentary, shake it all together and you have Randy Rainbow."

He's a comedian and singer, best known for his YouTube video spoof interviews and parodies of right-wing political figures that have become viral social media sensations with millions of views.

Some of his more well-known popular political lampoons include: Bragadocious ("Supercalifragillisticexpialidocious", about Trump's debate with Hillary Clinton), Kavanaugh ("Camelot," about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh), Sedition ("Tradition," about the January 6th Insurrection); and Gay ("Shy," from "Once Upon A Mattress" about the Florida 'Don't Say Gay' Law).

These online send-up videos form the centerpiece of his memoir. His first one "Mel Gibson's Gay Jewish Boyfriend," began after he heard the infamous audiotape of the actor being abusive to his girlfriend with anti-Semitic and homophobic rants. Rainbow had the brilliant idea that since he represented everything Gibson hated, he would date him. So he walked around his apartment having romantic phone conversations in-between Gibson's revolting tirades. It was a huge success when posted on YouTube.

With the campaign and election of Trump, he found his golden goose, with material for new skits coming so fast, he could barely race to stay ahead of the news to get his videos produced and out before the next headline made them obsolete.

There is an entire chapter on how these videos come together providing detailed, often tongue-in-cheek instructions, including inspirational moments, writing lyrics and script, playing all the roles, costumes, filming with a camcorder, recording the audio, editing, to the final version being posted, all done by him alone, in his spare bedroom apartment, within 48 hours. He has written two original songs, "Pink Glasses" about his trademark look and "Randy Rainbow for President."

In his spoofs he makes people feel better about appalling behavior because "that's how I made myself feel better." He's been nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Best Short Form Variety Series 2019-2021. For many viewers, they provided welcome respite from pandemic lockdown blues. Rainbow claims his main objective isn't political but to be amusing, poking fun at everybody's opinions particularly his own.

The first half of the book is a genuine memoir. Randy Rainbow is his real name (the English translation of his German surname) that appears on his birth certificate and "in black Sharpie ink on the inside of every pair of underwear I own."

He grew up on Long Island with a showbiz-positive family. His first star turn, age 8, was the lead in his backyard production of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" with his mother sewing his dress. Then he wore pajama bottoms on his head giving him pigtails to emulate Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz."

The real catalyst in his life was his celebrity-obsessed grandmother from whom he received his comedic timing, which he described as "Lucille Ball, Joan Rivers, Bea Arthur, and Don Rickles rolled into one, with a little Cardi B thrown in."

His "eight-year-old childhood bedroom looked more like the men's room at a gay bar in Hell's Kitchen."

Unfortunately, he didn't get along with his absent, often unemployed father whom he called, "a hair-obsessed, lying, cheating, emotionally stunted, and completely self-absorbed textbook narcissist...an absolute Donald Trump clone" and in his videos ridiculing Trump, "I've been talking to my own father the whole time."

His parents fought constantly and he used humor as a coping mechanism. His father's intense rages and temper tantrums caused Rainbow nightmares, forcing him to spend more time alone in his room, binging on junk food and putting on weight. Because his father stopped paying the rent, the family lost their Long Island home.

In school, he was a shy, lonely, awkward kid with few friends. Chubby, flamboyant, and effeminate, he was often bullied by other students (i.e. he carried a purse in second grade), but found solace in musical theater, often cast as the lead.

He was outed by a friend to fellow students at a state high school drama competition, which forced him to deal with his sexuality. His mother was gung-ho supportive, though Rainbow believes some struggles would've strengthened him, "because you get to the real world and not everyone is so easy about it."

Instead of going to college, he sang on cruise ships (with his then-boyfriend) and appeared in regional theater productions. Having lost weight, he became obsessed with exercise and dieting, which led to a full-blown eating disorder, at one point collapsing.

On Broadway
He moved to New York, landing a job as the first ever male maître d' at Hooters. He was a receptionist for a Broadway production company, where he had to record how many times employees used the bathroom. He covered theater for the gay publication HX Magazine.

He had a brief stint working for a lecherous movie producer who was more interested in Rainbow romantically than professionally; this led to an attempted sexual assault. Throughout his life, Rainbow has struggled with anxiety and depression.

Unfortunately, the second half of the memoir reads like an infomercial for his videos. The name-dropping of celebrities who adore him is incessant. We read complimentary testimonies from composers whose music he employs in his videos such as Lin-Manuel Miranda, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Schwartz, Alan Mencken, and especially his 16-year friendship with Stephen Sondheim.

Celebrity endorsements become whole chapters, with Rainbow gushing over a star who in turn tells him how wonderful he is, including Rosie O'Donnell, Weird Al Yankovic, Jimmy Kimmel, Steve Martin, Barbara Streisand, Carol Burnett (his fairy godmother), Patti LuPone, Hillary Clinton, RuPaul, etc. He even mentions the surprising number of Republican who are fans of his videos, such as former Trump administration members Michael Cohen and Anthony Scaramucci.

Such brown-nosing is tiresome. Yes, his videos are often clever, and require hard work and preparation. What queer person wouldn't be thrilled when he skewers figures who have persecuted them, such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis? But does he constantly have to inform us how fabulous he is? Also, Rainbow flatly contradicts Michelle Obama's dictum, "When they go low, we go high."

He's more a scripted comedic entertainer than a political pundit, though his opinions and anger are central to his parodies. He discusses the public backlash from controversial offensive Twitter comments made in his earlier comic career. Embarrassed by them, he apologized for racist and transphobic tweets, saying "the idea of 'offend everyone ironically to prove you love everyone actually,' was getting lost in translation."

If you love Rainbow's videos and his campy truth-telling, you will probably love his memoir. But frankly his humor comes off better on YouTube than it does on the printed page. Despite some dark patches in his early years, the memoir is a light-hearted, buoyant, and entertaining, occasionally moving and honest portrait of a gay contemporary Mark Twain who loves performing. However, his narcissistic self-promotion can become off-putting.

For LGBTQ adolescents having a tough time with family and school, "Playing With Myself "(a double entendre referring to his self-created videos) could act as a survival manual on how to reach adulthood. With bad news erupting daily, we can use all the laughs we can muster, with Rainbow eager to provide them. And as he advises at the end of his memoir, "spend some quality time with you. Go on...play with yourself!"

'Playing with Myself' by Randy Rainbow. St. Martin's Press, $28.99. www.macmillan.com

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