Growing up with the name Randy Rainbow was tough.
“I was bullied constantly on the playground, the whole story — but I was constantly escaping, really through fantasy,” Randy Rainbow told the Globe in an interview.
As a show-tunes loving boy in Long Island, and then Florida (his family moved when he was around 9) he escaped “into the world of musical comedy and musical theater. My movies and costumes were my safe haven that I’d run home to every day. It’s interesting that I do what I do now, because it’s just an extension of my coping mechanisms as a kid.”
You likely know the viral sensation, four-time Emmy nominee and author of the new New York Times bestselling memoir, “Playing With Myself,” for his political satire videos.
As he brings “The Pink Glasses Tour” tour to PPAC Friday, I called him at home in New York to ask about the Rainbow behind the glasses.
While he’s more subdued that his on-stage persona, Rainbow’s wit is consistent. I laughed throughout our recent interview.
I saw your Twitter promo video where you say Providence is one of your favorite cities. Is that actually true? Have you been here?
I have, but unfortunately — between you and me and your millions of readers — I really don’t get to have a great time when I when I’m on tour. It’s a lot of inside of hotel rooms is what I’m seeing.
I go by the audience. I’ve always had a nice time in Providence.
Nice. You’ve also got a new podcast, with some really big names, like Carol Burnett.
A: It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve had some exciting names, like Sean Hayes, who’s producing the podcast, so I kind of had no choice.
But he’s also a personal hero of mine. Josh Gad, Harvey Fierstein are coming up, Jon Cryer, Judy Gold.
Josh Gad tweeted that he was your childhood friend —was that just a joke?
No, we went to summer camp in Hollywood, Florida, when we were like 11, 12 years old. He was one of my best friends back then. I taught him everything he knows, frankly.
[laughs] As a kid were you always drawn to theater?
Very theatrical. My mother put me to sleep with the soundtracks to “Oklahoma!” and “The Music Man.” She tried very hard to raise the gayest kid on Long Island. She succeeded.
Your grandmother was an inspiration. It sounds like she was really funny.
She was hilarious. Very much a Joan Rivers. She gave me my comedy philosophy, which has helped me in my professional life, and got me through life in general. Her outlook was: Laugh at everything, even the most inappropriate thing.
She would also skewer the TV news.
I spent a lot of time at her house and the TV was always on. If a political interview was on, she’d talk back as though she were conducting the interview. She had perfect timing. So I joke — though it’s not really a joke — that that’s my whole shtick: I’m just an old lady talking back to her television set.
You took off into viral fame with your spoof video about dating Mel Gibson in 2010.
We’ve since broken up, I don’t want to talk about it.
That was how I developed the schtick of inserting myself into headlines. Then 2016 came along, and took it to a whole new level. I don’t have to tell you why.
Right. But what sparked that first video?
Really, I just was experimenting. I was kind of lost back then. I was working as a receptionist at an accounting firm. I started experimenting with YouTube comedy. It was just an idea that popped into my head.
Was performing your ultimate goal as a kid?
I always wanted to be a performer. Then the Josh Gads of my life went on to school, eventually getting work on Broadway and being Tony-nominated. I’ve always marched to my own drummer, so to speak, so I never really was that goal-oriented. I moved to New York [as] the youngest 21-year-old, still covered in amniotic fluid.
I had a lot of growing up to do. I wanted to perform but was too afraid to audition. Thank God for social media and YouTube.
Did you go to school for theater?
I went to community college, then dropped out as I’ve dropped out of everything.
And now I saw John Cleese is a fan. You must feel you’ve arrived.
That’s been one of the most exciting things for me, because I’m just a fanboy at heart. The people I’ve heard from — Carol Burnett has become a friend — I never in a million years would have dreamed half of this.
What will spark an idea for a bit?
It’s pretty easy these days. I put on the TV and wait for Wolf Blitzer to give me my musical marching orders. I naturally think in show tunes — I’m super gay.
[laughs] Will you go back to doing entertainment bits?
I follow the bouncing ball of what everyone’s talking about. So if I’m doing videos about Kim Kardashian again, we’re in a good place. I hope we get back there soon. Also politics is the new entertainment.
True. And how did you come up with the pink glasses?
The pink glasses started as a cheap gag. I had an old bag of Halloween junk and pulled out these silly pink cat-eye glasses and put them on the way Anderson Cooper or serious journalists play with their glasses when they’re getting ready to go in for the kill.
They took on a life of their own. People started commenting about the glasses, so I kept doing it. They’ve become different things to different people — people dress their kids and their dogs up in them for Halloween. Some people send me touching stories about how wearing the pink glasses has helped them through challenging times.
That’s awesome. And how do you get into character? Who is Randy on stage?
I’m going to have an identity crisis right here on this call. I mean, the version of me people know from videos, where I’m bursting into show-tunes, is the scripted version of me. In real life, I’m a bit more introverted and shy. But get a couple of drinks in me, I’m certainly bursting into show-tunes.
This interview has been edited and condensed.