Randy Rainbow, the so-called “internet sensation” and self-described “show queen,” has become so well-known for his zinging, homemade Broadway parodies of the Trump Administration—the latest is aimed at Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh—that he now has a bestselling live tour booked all over the country.
His secret? He’s not even that political but he found in Trump a way to exorcise a lot of the dark feelings he felt for his late father.
“Trump fucking infuriates me,” says Rainbow, 37, who grew up in South Florida but now lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Astoria, Queens. “He reminds me so much of my father. That narcissism. Even my father couldn’t stand watching him because I think Trump reminded him of himself.”
For the past two years, Rainbow has been dropping his increasingly popular YouTube videos skewering Trump, members of his administration, family and friends as stealthily as Ronan Farrow discharges his New Yorker bombshells.
“Now he’s accused of sexual misconduct. A crime at which our president’s a pro,” Rainbow sings in “Kavanaugh!” set to the tune of “Camelot.” “And though some say ‘pshaw,’ some find it, well, a flaw. Still, privileged old white assholes can’t say no to Kavanaugh.”
With his even features, flawless teeth and Broadway-quality pipes, Rainbow’s shtick is part Anderson Cooper, part Robert Goulet. Brandishing his signature anchorman pink cat glasses, Rainbow first hit internet gold in 2016 when he “moderated” the first presidential debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton. He was so annoyed by Trump’s use of the word “braggadocious” that he burst into a song based on “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” The video has more than 27 million views on Facebook.
“Ivanka, you already have so many titles,” begins Rainbow in his “interview” of Ivanka Trump, whom he calls “Binaca” and who appears to stare stonily at him throughout the video. “Career woman. Mother. Daughter. Wife. Daughter-Wife. What made you take on an official role in the White House and who the fuck authorized that?”
Rainbow often comes up with his musical parodies within 48 hours of a news event, and he proved particularly prescient when he released “Kavanaugh!” on Sept. 24.
After Dr. Christine Blasey Ford—who’s accused Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her as a 15-year-old— testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, the committee voted in favor of advancing Kavanaugh’s nomination to a full Senate. Then Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), after being confronted in an elevator by sexual-assault victims, called for a week-long postponement so the FBI could investigate.
“Republicans assumed he was a shoo-in. Political control was all they saw. But look whose reputation’s now in ruin. Judge Kavanaugh!” Rainbow sings in the nearly 5-minute video. (On Saturday, after a remarkably thin investigation—and despite protesters swarming Capitol Hill—Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court in a 50-48 Senate vote divided almost entirely along party lines.)
Rainbow (it’s his real name and he says a Wikipedia claim that his family name is “Ribner” is false), grew up in South Florida in a family originally from New York. Many of his grandparents and great-grandparents were musicians, singers and bandleaders who played the old Borscht Belt circuit in the Catskills.
Rainbow’s father, Gerry, who died last year, was a talent-booker and manager right out of The Golden Girls who booked acts at places like seniors-only condominiums in Florida. Rainbow said his father was “not a complete monster” and accepted his son’s homosexuality but was too Trump-esque for the two to ever bond.
“Just the speech pattern alone gets me,” says Rainbow. “It’s that old school of New York man. Trump and my father were part of that. That bullshit thing they learned in a class somewhere. Just a shit generation of a shit generation. My father was a textbook narcissist. If he didn’t like the narrative he’d start gaslighting you. He threatened the democracy of our family.”
Rainbow credits his grandmother as his inspiration and role model. She was a combination of “Lucille Ball and Elaine Stritch who had a comeback for everything and was the funniest person I ever knew.”
Rainbow went to theater camp as a kid and performed in school musicals but when he moved to New York City at age 21, he said he was too timid to embark on the usual round of cattle-call auditions.
But the shyness may have stemmed in part from what Rainbow calls his “problem with authority” and a desire to do things his way, even if it took longer to break out. He took a job in a Broadway producer’s office as a receptionist and befriended the stars who came in and out. He also began blogging and making satirical videos.
He taught himself how to edit and do special effects in his tiny Astoria studio when all he had was his sidekick cat, a green screen and bits doing fake phone calls with Mel Gibson, Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian West.
His “Randy Rainbow is Dating Mel Gibson,” which used actual audio from Gibson’s notorious racist and misogynist taped rants to an ex-girlfriend, racked up YouTube views in 2010 and was followed shortly thereafter by “Mel Gibson and Randy Rainbow Seek Counseling.”
But his career—and a social-media following that includes everyone from Debra Messing and Kristen Chenoweth to Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Rosie O’Donnell—really took off during the 2016 presidential election
He’s now made enough money off his lucrative touring schedule to afford a bigger place but he still does everything himself.
Rainbow splices footage of news events together with video of him posing as a news anchor, all set against the green screen in his apartment. He does his own hair and makeup (using products from Duane Reade) for both the news segment and the part where he sings.
“I also edit myself, and by the time I’m at that point, I’m pretty delirious and have no idea if what I’m doing is funny or not,” says Rainbow. “That’s the downside of total creative control: You’re isolated and after a while you can lose a little perspective. But I’ve taught myself not to listen to my own self-doubt.”
It’s Rainbow’s dream to star in a sitcom and many of his fans don’t understand why that hasn’t happened yet. It’s the only time Rainbow bristles during the interview.
“I’ve had lots of meetings and there’s a lot in play,” he said. “But I’m the victim of my own success in a way. I’m not really that political and I love the idea of a sitcom. But a lot of people want me to become the next Jon Stewart. We’ll see. It’s hard out there for a pimp.”