“Playing With Myself” by Randy Rainbow; St. Maarten (256 pages, $29)
NEW YORK — Randy Rainbow, the social media sensation who rode to the rescue like lone musical theater cavalry during the dark days of Donald Trump’s presidency, drops two bombshells at the start of his new memoir, “Playing With Me- same”.
The first is that Randy Rainbow is not a gay stage name. Randy, not Randall or Randolph, appears on his birth certificate. And Regenbogen, the German surname of his great-great-grandparents, was translated to rainbow when they immigrated to England. (He assumes he would now be Randy Rabinowitz if those ancestors had sailed to Ellis Island.)
The second surprising news is that Donald Trump is his father. Well, not genetically. But the former president, Rainbow says, is cut from the same mold as his current father, Gerry Rainbow, a bandleader from Long Island who, under shady circumstances, moved the family to South Florida, where he became an entertainment agent on the condo circuit.
As Rainbow writes of her Bronx-born father, who died in 2017: “His mannerisms, down to the cadence of his voice and even some of his facial expressions, made him an almost exact replica of you-know. -who. He was a narcissist obsessed with hair, lying, unfaithful, emotionally rickety and completely self-centered.
So Randy, tell us how you really feel.
It’s hard to imagine the past few years without Rainbow’s cocky campy truth patch. No one has mocked the relentless absurdity of American life with so much Broadway glare. When Trump offered to inject bleach as a possible cure for COVID-19, Twitter held its breath for Rainbow’s musical theater rebuttal. “A Spoonful of Clorox” did not disappoint.
But behind the pink cat glasses and political snark lurks a singing chameleon with a lyrical gift praised by both Stephen Sondheim and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Having charted her own digital path to fame, Rainbow felt it was time to reveal her own story.
“Playing With Myself,” like Harvey Fierstein’s recent theater memoir, “I Was Better Last Night,” is a vivid reminder of the alienation experienced by so many young LGBTQ+ people. It’s also a survival manual, charting the path that helped a lonely Carol-Burnett-loving child grow into adulthood and emerge from the shadow of his father Trumpy.
Speaking at an Italian restaurant not far from his home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Rainbow admitted it was “cathartic” to write about his father.
“I also thought it was an interesting idea for people who have been following me for all these years to find out that the guy who became known as Trump’s nemesis at least on social media is the offspring of a clone of Donald Trump,” he said. “It’s too weird. Like I say in the book, in some ways I was talking to my dad all this time.
In person, Rainbow is soft-spoken, thoughtful, and unassumingly witty. His sense of humor runs in the family. Nanny, his maternal grandmother, whose death is one of the most poignant episodes in the book, was his first comedic influence.
“She was hysterical, like the old school,” he said. “Later, I found out about these other people outside of my family, like Jerry Lewis and Bea Arthur. And I was like, ‘Oh, that reminds me of my uncle or my grandmother.’ I have that in me too.
Coming from a “showbiz-positive family,” Rainbow hasn’t been shy about the sanctuary he’s created in his bedroom for legends of stage and screen. Decorated with show posters, autographed programs and portraits, his bedroom sanctuary, he writes, “looked like a cheap bagel joint in Times Square. It was gorgeous.”
His mother, Gwen, invited neighbors to her Snow White extravaganza in the backyard, found a youth theater group in Florida where he developed a lifelong friendship with Josh Gad, and not only recorded “Funny Girl” for him, but also commissioned the soundtrack to enhance his delight.
To say his mother’s “gay agenda,” as Rainbow jokingly calls it, made it easy for him to date is an understatement. “My mum said to me, ‘You’re gay and I’ll tell everyone. Have fun,’ he recalled. “Like I say in the book, it’s great. missed some of the struggles that probably would have made me stronger…because then you get to the real world and not everyone is so easy about it.
After a singing gig on a cruise ship with her then-boyfriend, a semester in college, and working the Florida stages, Rainbow took a break for New York. Broadway was the dream, but he was under no illusions.
“I was the youngest 22 in the world,” he confessed. “As Pamela Adlon said, I was still covered in amniotic fluid.” (Adlon, the creator and star of the “Better Things” series, in which Rainbow made a memorable appearance, had just texted to ask if he wanted a drink later.)
“I was afraid to go on the metro,” he added. “I didn’t know how to live in the world. I wasn’t about to start auditioning for Broadway shows. It would have been crazy. I said, ‘Let me figure out how to be a bit of an adult.'”
He moved to Queens, worked a series of restaurant jobs, including host in the cafeteria (a favorite brunch spot of the “Sex and the City” gang), and eventually took a job as a receptionist. for a Broadway production company. To ease the boredom of answering the phone, he started his own blog.
Rainbow’s humor has spread. Before he knew it, he had a secondary theater cover for the gay publication HX Magazine. In 2010, he struck gold with a YouTube video that incorporated leaked audio of Mel Gibson ranting against this former girlfriend. He titled the video “Randy Rainbow Is Dating Mel Gibson”, and an internet star was born.
The viral news sharpened his comedic persona. In her memoir, Rainbow describes this character as “a little Jack McFarland and a little Karen Walker from ‘Will & Grace’, a little Patsy and a little Edina from ‘Absolutely Fabulous’, a little Sarah Silverman from ‘The Sarah Silverman Program, ‘ a bit of Blanche Devereaux from ‘The Golden Girls’, and a bit of me after a vodka soda or two (gut splash, thanks).
The transition to politically themed musical theater parodies was a natural synthesis of his talents. After posting the “Braggadocious” video, a parody of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from “Mary Poppins” transposed to the first debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton, Rainbow woke up to find it had racked up 16 million views.
Trump has become his golden goose. While planning for 2020, Rainbow told his agent he wanted to scale back his tours so he could focus on the election. “I knew people were going to expect a lot of content from me, and I had to produce,” he said. “But the strangest thing is that I didn’t talk about the elections. I have a new co-star in COVID.
Being a stand-alone operation, Rainbow was able to continue through the pandemic. With so many people stuck at home, there was a need for his brand of relief from the musical.
Post-Trump, there is no shortage of subjects, such as the videos “Clang, Clang, Clang Went Josh Hawley! and the “Marjorie Taylor Greene” inspired by Barbra Streisand attests to this. But Rainbow no longer feels like it’s in a race against a president’s outrageous Twitter feed. He can wait for inspiration, bring in outside collaborators and devote more time to production.
“The reason I started this was to make an audition tape, but it backfired and turned into a career,” Rainbow said. said.
Hollywood still hasn’t figured out what to make of him, even though he’s received three Emmy nominations for his online work and his videos have more viewers than many network shows. “They didn’t want me on talk shows during the Trump years,” he said. “They were like, ‘Oh, we like him, but he’s too political. We don’t want to go.
Last month, Rainbow made her late night debut on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” – a sign perhaps that the industry realizes that he is “a scripted comedic artist” and not a political “expert”.
“Granted, my opinions and my anger come out on these topics, but that’s not what gets me out of bed to voice them,” he said. “People see someone playing dress up and having a wonderful time singing material that they wouldn’t normally receive in any traditional professional world. And that’s why the work has had longevity.
This may also be why he was not besieged by the right. Show tunes could soothe MAGA’s wild breast. On the contrary, Rainbow is more defensive about how some of his old Twitter jokes have been dug up by a handful of leftists who have accused him of being a “neoliberal elitist” and worse.
Satire is a dangerous business these days, and Rainbow isn’t playing it safe. But he’s not complaining. Neither does his kvelling mother, even when stopped at the supermarket by memoir readers wondering why she didn’t leave Randy’s father sooner. Gwen can brag about being her son’s date at the Emmys.
Nanny may be gone, but Rainbow knows how proud she would have been to learn that Burnett had become a friend. After her beloved cat Mushi died early in the pandemic, Burnett had a grove of 20 trees planted in the cat’s honor. “It’s almost as if my grandmother, who loved it so much, sent it to me,” he says.
Last year, Rainbow released their first full-length studio album, “A Little Brains, a Little Talent.” He’s also working on a new podcast for Sean Hayes’ production company. And after a long hiatus, he resumed touring his live show, which recently premiered in Las Vegas. He hopes a pumped-up version will hit Broadway, possibly in 2024 under the title “Randy Rainbow for President.”
Tempted by the idea of a musical based on his memoir, Rainbow said it would be a dream come true if Fierstein were to adapt it. But he wrote the book for another reason.
“I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself to all these people who have been so generous with their personal stories,” he said. “To the people who thanked me for getting them through Trump and the pandemic. They shared their own struggles, and I realized they don’t know who they’re thanking. They don’t know me.
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