Day 6·Q&A

Randy Rainbow wants to use comedy to break tension in the world

Yes, Randy Rainbow is his given name, and it’s hard to imagine being anything short of a star with a name like that. And that is exactly what the American comedian has become.

The internet star tells the story of how he became a comic in his memoir Playing with Myself

Randy Rainbow has a memoir coming out called Playing with Myself. (Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

Yes, Randy Rainbow is his given name, and it's hard to imagine being anything short of a star with a name like that. And that is exactly what the American comedian has become. 

He's done it through channeling his opinions into show tunes, and turning that into political satire. Now he's sharing the story of his rise to stardom, from his mother playing him show tunes to go to sleep to his grandmother's comedic timing, in his new memoir Playing with Myself. 

He spoke with Day 6 guest host Nicole Martin about the memoir and his career. Here's part of that conversation, starting with an exchange about the day after he came out as gay. 

The next day, you were in the back seat of your grandmother's car and her friend Susie is sitting up front, and you credit your comic timing to your grandmother, your nanny. Describe that car trip. 

My grandmother is my greatest muse in comedy and in life, and if I have any comedic timing, it's because of her. She was Joan Rivers and Bea Arthur and Don Rickles and Lucille Ball rolled into one. 

So she was just a comedic genius, but also taught me my comedy philosophy, which was really, laugh at everything, find the joke, find the funny in everything and get the hell through it. And it's just how I live my life.

So the next day after I came out, we were in the car and I sort of had a feeling that my mother — who had become my gay agent, so to speak, my gaygent and told everyone in my family the news — I figured that she probably had told my grandmother.

My grandmother hadn't mentioned it yet. I certainly wasn't bringing it up. She was in a heated discussion with her friend Susie in the front seat. They were fighting about politics and she caught a glimpse of me in the rear-view mirror and saw that I was kind of tormented in some way and she knew what was going on in my head. 

And so as Nanny always did, this was just one example of many occasions that she would save the day with her humour. She was having this debate with her staunch Republican friend, Susie. 

And she stopped cold and said to me, Listen, Randy, I just want you to know your mother told me what you are and please know that what ever you are, it doesn't matter. I love you anyway. And she said, "As long as you don't want to be a f--king Republican; they're lunatics."

Randy Rainbow uses show tunes and political commentary to create his YouTube videos. (Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

And in that moment, Susie started laughing, I was laughing, and the things that had us tense and angry and fighting, and I was stuck in my head and I was nervous, all that sort of just evaporated with one joke. 

She popped those two balloons, and it was sort of in moments like that, that I said to myself, I want to be like my nanny and, if I have any ounce of that superpower in me, I want to use it whenever I can. 

Here you are now making political parody videos viewed all around the world. Yes, take a bow. And yet you say you're not political, though. So can you explain the connection or the disconnect? 

That will probably be shocking, and it is shocking to people when I say this. What I say is the videos are not politically motivated. And by that, I mean, you know, there are people on Twitter, for instance, who think that I've been hired by the DNC or Nancy Pelosi or one particular group to push an agenda. 

Now, oftentimes, my videos are politically themed because that's what everyone's talking about, and that's sort of always been my shtick to talk about what everyone is talking about. And I am angry and opinionated about many things, and I am the writer of this material. But that's not what gets me out of bed to make these videos. 

My intention is to first and foremost be entertaining and try to bring some levity to these topics. So yes, my personal opinion as a citizen of the Earth does get infused in the writing, but they're not politically motivated. I'm just, you know, I'm like any other yenta screaming his opinions into the black hole that is social media. I just use show tunes to do it. 

And so now, of course, you're a superstar. You're being recognized in the street. You're becoming more popular every day, celebrities reaching out to you. And yet still, it was a struggle for you to pay the bills. What ended up turning that around for you and really bringing you success? 

I'm one of those 12-year overnight success stories. So when I first moved to New York, and I go through this in the book, you know, I worked dozens of odd jobs, and I was at restaurants and working as a receptionist and office buildings and things like that. 

And then I started experimenting with YouTube comedy and writing and stuff like that. And in those early days, like anybody, [it] didn't click right away. And even when I had my first taste of viral internet success, they don't send you a cheque right away for lots of money to take care of all your problems. 

So it was years and years, and I eventually just settled into doing what I love. So what people see in my videos is me dressing up and having a great time and essentially playing in my playroom with musical theatre and comedy and just having a great time. And that ultimately is what ended up working and allowing me to be self-sustaining.

Written by Philip Drost. Produced by Laurie Allan. This Q&A was edited for length and clarity.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?