Randy Rainbow has a Christmas album!
The Emmy-nominated singer may be gay and Jewish, but that has not stopped him from releasing HeyGurl, It's Christmas!, a collection of holiday hits infused with Rainbow's signature satire. Speaking to The Advocate, he called the album a "musical prescription" for fans of his viral musical and political parodies suffering under a deluge of dispiriting headlines from Washington, D.C.
Below, Rainbow discusses the album, LGBTQ representation in holiday media, and the future of his music after the election year. Learn more about Hey Gurl, It's Christmas! on RandyRainbow.com.
The Advocate: Why did you want to make a Christmas album?
Randy Rainbow: I'm a gay Jew and I feel it's just a natural progression to make a Christmas album. [Laughs] But I've always have been a fan of Christmas and Christmas albums. I also wanted to dip my toe into the studio recording, sellable music world.
Why do you love Christmas?
First of all, I am Jewish, so maybe there was that element of like, you know, the forbidden fruit kind of thing. But it was never really kept from me.
My parents always had a Christmas tree in the house and I was put in ballet at a very young age. So every year I would be in TheNutcracker. I have Italian family members too, so we always had big Italian Christmases. As a gay kid, I think it was the first time I saw people outwardly being overly theatrical and all the glamour and lights and all of that. It's appealing to a little queen.
Hallmark recently said it would be "open" to having gay characters in its Christmas movies, which are currently very white and straight. What are your thoughts on the call for LGBTQ representation in holiday media?
Yeah, it's very Candace Cameron-Bure over there. You're right, I think they need to step it up a little. I would love to throw my name in the ring to be the first gay love interest in a Hallmark movie. Half of their audience is gay men. You think they'd want to please the people.
Well, thank you for bringing your own representation to the Christmas singing landscape.
My pleasure. One of the tracks I'm proudest of on the album is my sexy romantic love duet with Broadway's hunky Norm Lewis. I love having it on there because it's super gay. It's a Christmas love duet between two men on a Christmas album. I don't know if that's been done before, but I'm going to say it's revolutionary.
I would agree. How did that collaboration come about?
I've been a huge fan of Norm's for my whole life. I ran into him at the after-party for Barry Manilow's show on Broadway -- the gayest night of my life. I just had a couple of drinks and I gave him a couple too, and I asked him if he would sing a duet with me. He just said yes right away.
You have a number of other special guests on the album: Alan Cumming, Kathy Griffin, the president [laughs]. Can you talk a little bit about how those collaborations came to be as well?
I had a short dream list of who I would love to appear on my first album. And I just sent out a couple of emails thinking I wouldn't hear back from anybody. They all immediately responded and said, "Yeah, let me know what you need and where to be."
Would you say that the album is part of the war on Christmas?
I think it's the solution to the war on Christmas! Even in the little insert on the CD, I say that this is a valiant act of patriotism, my releasing a Christmas album and Yuletide advocacy because I'm for Christmas.
Is there a political message you hope to send with the album, other than just some good wholesome family fare?
I hope it's not terribly political. I mean, on the first track ["Hey Gurl, It's Christmas!"], I deal with that right away and make a little joke because the first line is kind of loosely about Trump and politics and I comedically put a stop to it.
I just anticipated it would just be a big gay romp because I was writing it with Marc Shaiman, who of course wrote Hairspray and Mary Poppins Returns. But as I was writing the lyrics, I decided that it should be my written musical prescription to my friends and fans who are so obsessed with the news and social media and all that stuff to just kind of turn it off for a few days and shut the hell up and enjoy yourself.
Can you talk a little bit about the evolution of Randy Rainbow toward tackling political issues?
It's "beshert" as we say [in Yiddish]. It was meant to be. It started for me in 2010 when I did a video where I pretended I was dating Mel Gibson. I walked around my apartment having romantic phone conversations with his anti-Semitic, misogynistic, racist, homophobic rants. And that is where this gimmick of inserting myself into the hot topics was born.
People were liking it because it took the sting and the edge off of the thing that people were fighting about or didn't want to discuss. As comedy does, it just brought it down to a size that was manageable. So I stuck with it and I did whatever was presented to me. And in 2016, it was just a natural progression that I started talking more about politics 'cause that's just what everyone is talking about now. That is pop culture now. I've never been a political junkie of any sort and never thought that this would be my life.
What have you learned about politics since immersing yourself into this world?
I guess I'm a lot more "woke," if I can say that. It's cathartic for me to be able to make comedy and music about all this crap going on. Otherwise, I would just be stressed out and drinking all the time. But it also has enlightened me and it's also made me a little more aware of what's going on and it's activated me politically in a way to rise up against these adversities, though, that we're facing still on a daily basis.
What would you say is the power of combining musicals with political commentary?
When someone just bursts into song, it's a joke to many people and it seems campy, over-the-top, and silly. [But] there's strength in saying what needs to be said in the moment, concisely, with clever rhymes and high belting, that just makes a powerful argument in some way. For people to see me responding Trump or whoever the subject is with show tunes, as a minority -- I'm a gay Jew -- there's a power that people appreciate.
Who are your creative influences?
Stephen Sondheim was a major influence. What I just said applies perfectly to his work. He was really imparting wisdom and infusing a real message in his lyrics and I really saw the gravity that musical theater could have from him. So I think that I try to follow in his footsteps a little bit when I'm writing.
Would you ever want to make your own original musical?
Absolutely. This title track on this album is the first time that I wrote just from scratch a song, and to have Marc Shaiman doing the music for it was super exciting. It made me want to do more.
I've never had the pleasure of seeing your tour. But what it's like as an entertainer to perform for a live audience versus releasing videos on the internet?
It's very isolating to do what I do. I don't work with anyone. I have no editors. I have no directors. There's no one even holding the camera or anything. It's just me in my apartment. I put these things out to the world and I get the feedback online. But to then go and perform the songs or to show the videos to a room full of 2,000 people in a strange city and to hear that response and hear the laughter is overwhelming and really, really exciting.
Is there a favorite of the other songs and videos that you've created?
Back in 2016, I did "Braggadocious!," which was my Mary Poppins parody and that had like 28 million views in a day. That brought me to the next level, so that'll always have a special place in my heart.
Do you ever get a response from the people that you lampoon, like Kellyanne Conway or other members of the Trump administration?
Kellyanne has not reached out, although George Conway, her husband, is a fan of mine. I don't understand what the fuck is going on there. That needs to be a Lifetime Christmas movie: Christmas With the Conways.
How do you know that George is a fan?
He follows me on Twitter. And he [once tweeted] a reference to Fiddler on the Roof and how he always hears the song "Tradition" set to "Corruption" every time Trump talks. Everyone sent the tweet to me, and then he responded to me and was like, "Oh, well, my friend already started the lyrics." We got into a little dialogue. It's very weird.
In my live show, I do a whole Kellyanne Conway medley where I sing "Fact-Checker, Fact-Checker" to the tune of "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" from Fiddler on the Roof. So I'm going to invite him to a show. I think he would enjoy it.
I'm sure you've thought about the election next year. What happens to Randy Rainbow if Trump wins and what happens if Trump loses?
I just kind of go with the flow. There will always be news. There will always be controversy. I'll always have material to work with. My plan is to just hunker down next year and cover as much material as I can, 'cause there's going to be a lot of it. We'll see what happens. And in 2021, I'll go on tour with either the "Here We Go Again" tour or the "Happy Days Are Here Again" tour. I'll be ready for a new cast of characters by then. I think we all will.
Do you have a favorite among the Democratic candidates?
I love Mayor Pete. I've always liked Joe Biden. I like Elizabeth Warren. I liked Kamala. I'm kinda sad to see her go, but I don't think we've heard the last of her yet. I heard from the Buttigiegs too, because I mentioned Pete in a thing. So Chasten reached out [and] said they're fans.
What message do you hope your music sends to the world?
Music and comedy, musical comedy, specifically, really helped me through my childhood. I felt out of place, I felt lots of adversity, and I felt scared all the time. This really was a coping mechanism for me. So I hope it's teaching people to be aware, be woke, be active, but also don't be afraid to laugh at shit. It's necessary.
Hey Gurl, It's Christmas! is now available on Amazon, Apple Music, or find a signed copy on RandyRainbow.com. Listen to the titular track below.
This interview has been condensed.