LOS ANGELES (AP) — If Randy Rainbow is adored by the legendary Carol Burnett, and he is, what flimsy excuse could TV Academy voters have for denying him an Emmy for his fourth nomination?
Rainbow, who elevated musical parody to the status of political satire, is once again David versus Goliath. Its competition in the short series category includes shows from James Corden, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers.
Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke: The Series” has won the award for the past three years. Does Rainbow consider the British actor and comedian as his main enemy?
“Nemesis is a strong word” Rainbow replied, waiting for a perfectly timed beat: “Enemy,” he said ironically. “No, I’m a huge James Corden fan, so it was an honor to share the category with him. They might throw it at the little guy once in a while.
It’s true that the self-described little guy has no network or resources to fall back on. But his YouTube videos – usually ruthless, fearless and forceful roasts of conservative politicians and politicians – have racked up more than half a billion views, and he’s amassed more than 3 million social media subscribers.
“He’s a genius” Burnett said of Rainbow. “His lyrics are on par with Stephen Sondheim… In fact, Steve said he’s one of the best lyricists around. I mean, that’s a quote from Sondheim, and it’s from the master himself.
The late Sondheim said exactly that. John Legend and Lin-Manuel Miranda are among the many other prominent Rainbow admirers.
His latest Emmy nomination is for “Cheerful”, which takes aim at Florida’s GOP governor and the new law he championed that bans kindergarten through third grade sexual orientation and gender identity classes. The award will be presented Sept. 3 as part of the Creative Arts Emmy ceremony that precedes the main awards show on Sept. 12.
“This is my send off, a tribute, I guess you could call it, to Ron DeSantis and his ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill”, Rainbow said, using the title awarded by her detractors. “This video obviously makes a lot of sense, and I was very proud that it had such an impact. It was good to be recognized for that one.
But it’s the desire to entertain, not the pundits, that drives his career, he said.
“I didn’t get into this because of an interest in politics. I’m definitely more interested in politics now than I was when I started making YouTube videos 11 years ago,” he said, attributing the change to his own maturity and time.
“But I try to stay true to my original intention, which is just to be fun and to bring some levity to those situations that are otherwise anything but light,” he said. “I think that’s why it keeps resonating with people and why people are still having fun with my stuff.”
The escape from pretending is what helped Rainbow – her real last name – as a shy and bullied youngster, along with the undying love of her mother, Gwen, and the grandmother who he called Nanny. All three shared a passion for music, and Rainbow credits Nanny’s caustic humor as another key influence.
When he reached adolescence, Gwen Rainbow accepted without hesitation that her son was gay. In his touching and lively new memoirs, “Playing Alone,” Rainbow remembers her mother’s assurance that she “loved his gay friends.”
“I certainly don’t remember meeting them,” Rainbow written. “I mean, I’m gay for five minutes and suddenly my mom is Liza Minnelli at Studio 54?”
His musician father was “reasonably tolerant” Rainbow says in the book. But Gerry Rainbow dismissed young Randy’s early artistic endeavors, telling him he would never make a living “wearing wigs and making silly videos.”
So much for the predictions, with Rainbow’s success on YouTube just the beginning. He’s on the road with his national “The Rose Glasses Tour” named after a favorite prop (and a song he co-wrote with composer Alan Menken). His last album, “A small brain, a small talent” includes duets with Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone, Broadway stars he had long admired from afar.
Rainbow always performs a lightweight video operation. The studio is in his two-bedroom apartment in New York, “where all the magic happens” he said during a recent Zoom interview, pointing to the modest space. A producer, arranger and musicians tailor the songs to Rainbow’s specifications.
He often writes lyrics to the Broadway tunes he reveres. In the guise of a television journalist, he conducts fake interviews with excerpts from his targets before embarking on a tailor-made song. He’s the lead singer, his own backup singers in a dazzling array of costumes, and he does the editing.
He knows how to sell a song. Rainbow’s supple voice easily adapts to each track, and her beautiful childish face becomes a veritable flipbook of lively expressions that glide from false sincerity to skepticism to wide-eyed alarm.
The source material that Rainbow relies on is equally varied. “Gurl, you are a Karen,” which pokes fun at Republican Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, is set to look like “Dentist,” sung by Steve Martin in the 1986 film “Little Shop of Horrors.”
“Cheerful” is set to “Shy,” a song Burnett performed when she made her Broadway debut in the 1959 musical “Once upon a time there was a mattress.” In his first viral political video, Rainbow slotted in as the moderator of the 2016 Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton presidential debate and made a “Mary Poppins” riff on Trump’s use of the word impromptu “braggart”.
“He is super insensitive, fragile, self-centered and boastful. Likes to throw big words and hope we all notice. If he keeps repeating them, they might just make him a POTUS,” Rainbow belt.
Biting lyrics and brassy on-screen persona aside, Rainbow is “funny and affectionate, and there’s just that kind of sweetness about him,” said Burnett, a friend as well as a fan. “You just fall in love with him.”
Burnett said she shares her political views, but Rainbow learned from meeting with fans that they’re not all in sync. Some have bluntly informed him that they don’t like his opinions but like his videos.
“In a way, what I’m trying to do is transcend the politics of it all. So it’s always nice to hear. he said.