Randy Rainbow says comedy 'saved' his life after overcoming an eating disorder

·5-min read
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 10: Randy Stewart Rainbow attends the opening night of
Randy Rainbow is opening up about overcoming an eating disorder and how comedy ultimately "saved" his life. (Photo: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images)

Known for his political satire and musical parodies, Randy Rainbow has been a fan favorite since breaking into the comedy scene nearly a decade ago.

The Emmy-nominated Rainbow (yes, that’s his real name), a proud Jewish gay man, first found recognition from an LGBTQ audience for staging dramatic (fake) phone conversations with celebrities like Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan and the performer then known as Kanye West. He later earned crossover success during the 2016 presidential campaign, when he began producing musical parodies roasting politicians and the election process.

While anti-LGBTQ politicians are often the primary targets of his songs, which are typically reworked Broadway classics, the man behind the tunes says he actually never intended to be a political mouthpiece.

“People think I've been hired by Nancy Pelosi and the DNC, or that I'm pushing some agenda,” he tells Yahoo Life. “The truth is I’m like any other yenta on social media screaming my opinions in the black hole that is the internet.”

Not exactly: Rainbow’s videos regularly get 500,000 to 1 million views. And now his diehard fans are getting to know him in a more intimate way through his new memoir, Playing With Myself, chronicling life experiences that include overcoming an eating disorder, healing from childhood trauma and his career evolution.

"Comedy saved my life," he says, adding of the writing process, “I had this craving to kind of cut the shit and be real,” which has been “cathartic” and “more emotional," he says, than anticipated.

Rainbow, whose mother has also struggled with an eating disorder, says he was “bullied on the playground” growing up a “fat little effeminate kid” in New York's Long Island suburbs. That experience led him to developing an obsession with exercise and diet — causing a silent battle with anorexia that led to him collapsing one night on a cruise ship during his early years as a performer.

The singer says the root of his eating disorder began after puberty, in what he describes as an “ugly duckling transformation” in which he “dropped a bunch of weight” and suddenly, “I was getting all this positive reinforcement and attention that I had never known before. And it spun out of control."

He remembers saying, "'I want more of this.' And that meant eating much less.”

At one point, the only food he consumed was some dried fruit for dinner every night, and it became even worse after moving to New York City in his early 20s.

“It was really raging because I had no control of anything else,” he says of his eating disorder and the period of time when he was barely scraping by and bouncing around from apartment to apartment. “I had no money in my bank account. I really wasn't sure where I was living. The only thing I had control of was what I put in my mouth, so it was really bad.”

While Rainbow says he’s overcome his obsession with weight, it’s still something he is “working through” daily, noting, “I’m a work in progress."

A major reason why he wanted to write about his eating disorder is because, he argues, the topic is “barely” touched upon in the gay male community — something he hopes will change by telling his own story. Comedy, he says, became the perfect balm to heal that pain.

“I spent years struggling to find my path,” he says. “What ended up being my success was just doing what I love, what I want to do and doing the material that makes me happy.”

Of the videos that have made him famous, he explains, “There's something cathartic about hearing your thoughts expressed neatly and in musical form. What people are seeing is someone dressing up and living in a fantasy world, and having a great time. And you know, what comes from the heart goes to the heart. I think that's why it resonates [with people] and why it's continued to resonate for years now.”

Still, although Rainbow’s talents earned the respect of Broadway greats like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Rosie O’Donnell, Patti Lupone and the legendary Stephen Sondheim (with whom he was friends for over a decade until his passing last year), the funnyman is not immune to criticism.

Rainbow came under fire in 2020 after a series of decade-old troublesome jokes resurfaced, with some viewing them as transphobic and homophobic. He apologized to his fans following the controversy. Speaking of the incident in the book, he writes that while he’s learned from his mistakes, he hopes the same can be said for comedy as a whole.

“The line is changing every single day,” he says of the limitations comedians are faced with. “I do hope that we return to a time when context and nuance are considered and that, you know, comedy and art are not judged like black-and-white medical transcripts.”

While he maintains a “love and hate” relationship with social media, there’s no doubt it’s given him the success he has today, which is why self-care has become a priority in his life lately — but even that is a work in progress.

“To be honest, I have to get better about it, so if you know any therapists, I’m taking phone numbers,” he quips. “I am trying every day. It’s a daily practice, as I'm sure many people know.”

Of the future, which Rainbow hopes includes turning his book into a Broadway show or, perhaps, a "scripted something," he acknowledges it's "best not to know what will come next."

When all feels uncertain, though, he says his refuge will always be the confines of his "playroom," producing videos that make millions of people smile.

“That's been my saving grace,” he explains, “To be able to come into my playroom and escape. That's how I've always done it: escapism. But you can't run from your problems forever. I'm still working on it.”

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