Through his comedic and quite musical take on current events, Rainbow makes our dismal political reality that much easier to contend with. In the same vein as Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart, Rainbow uses his platform to educate, illuminate, and help fight the good fight. “There's something really powerful about comedy,” Rainbow tells Billboard by phone. “When the little guy, the comedian, punches up towards the big guy, or Trump, exposing him, calling out the emperor for having no clothes, that’s really important. We need that now more than ever.”
Now, in anticipation of both the upcoming holidays and election 2020, Rainbow is releasing his first ever Christmas album, Hey Gurl, It’s Christmas! The seven track EP, created in partnership with legendary composer Marc Shaiman, takes on classic Yuletide standards, turning them into politically-inflected satire, and features star friends of Rainbow’s like Kathy Griffin, Alan Cumming, Norm Lewis, and Lorna Luft.
Ahead of the New York Comedy Festival's Hungry For Laughs event benefitting Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Billboard spoke with Rainbow to gauge his thoughts on the current impeachment proceedings, the story behind Hey Gurl, It’s Christmas!, and which 2020 candidate has slid into his DMs.
We're officially in impeachment mode since last week’s move by the House to adopt rules for how they will conduct the public phase of the impeachment investigation. How are you feeling about all this?
I feel I've been affected the most. [Laughs] No, honestly, I'm kind of numb to everything right now, politically speaking. I’m just a human person, a citizen of the world. Like many others, I have no expectations for this. I don't pretend to know where this will go. But I’m hopeful!
You gained a lot of notoriety in no small part because the demand for politically savvy content like yours increased dramatically after 2016. If he and his cronies indeed end up being removed, are you worried about a sudden lack of content inspiration? Will you still be making political content?
Frankly, I'm ready for a new cast of characters. I've been doing this since 2010, really, when my first viral video hit. Then, like you said, in 2016, the shit hit the fan nationwide, which actually took me to the next level. So it absolutely has helped to launch my career. Of course, I’d rather our country be safe and whole again than have my career be helped by its woes, but it’s true: comedy thrives in adversity. The worse things are on the world stage, the more fodder there will always be for comedians. But at the end of the day, I trust in my abilities to make comedy and create art, with or without Donald Trump.
Aguably, independently-created political satire has helped to turn the tide of public opinion. Sometimes it takes someone other than a talking head on a nightly network news show to really put atrocities into focus.
Jerry Seinfeld said that Colin Quinn said -- I just quote comedians quoting other comedians, that's what I give you -- “Comedy is the closest thing to justice that we have left.” Comedy is able to point out things in ways that more serious people cannot. There's something really powerful about comedy. When the little guy, the comedian, punches up towards the big guy, or Trump, exposing him, calling out the emperor for having no clothes, that’s really important. We need that now more than ever. Comedy illuminates. And it unifies people, it's not as polarizing as shows with specific political agendas. So I'm very thankful that I am able to do that, and proud of it.
Let's talk election 2020. Do you have a candidate yet?
Well, I don't like to get political as a rule. [Laughs] No, I think it’s just too soon to officially endorse anybody. But I'm looking, I like a lot of people, I like a lot of things that I see. I will say, the Buttiegiegs have slid into my DMs. They’re apparently big fans of mine, so I am now a fan of theirs. Still, I don't know. We’ll see how things pan out.
What are you looking for in a candidate?
At this point? Just a rational adult who is not mentally insane. That would be nice. So it's a low bar at this point.
Well, speaking of the cross roads between entertainment and politics, you have a fabulous Holiday album coming out very soon featuring some stellar featured talent!
Call it a Christmas album! I'm a Jew with a Christmas album. It's fine.
Why a Christmas album, and why now?
Well, because it's November, and I've always wanted to! I mean, this has been a dream of mine for a long time, to have a Christmas album. I've always been a fan of Christmas music and this album is actually the result of a resolution I made last year. I said, there's a couple of projects that I will work on in 2019. One was to start a book, which I've kind of started on. And the other was a Christmas album. So the time came, summer, and I said let's go for it! I was able to call on favors from some of my now-friends and all time idols like Alan Cumming, and Kathy Griffin, and Norm Lewis, Lorna Luft. And of course my friend Marc Shaiman wrote with me the title track. So it was genuinely a thrilling experience.
Things are pretty dark these days...did making this Christmas album lift your spirits as expected?
It did. It's a lot of work, it turns out, to make any sort of album. And I'm so used to working in a vacuum by myself that at this point, to invite other people in was kind of a challenge. Making any album can be stressful and involves a lot of moving parts. But yeah, you can't be in a bad mood when you're singing Christmas songs in August.
And what are you wishing for the New Year?
Let's see how this impeachment goes. And of course, peace on Earth.