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TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Song parodies about President Trump and members of his administration - that's what my guest Randy Rainbow has become famous for. He borrows the melodies of show tunes and pop hits and writes original lyrics. He took the melody of the Mary Poppins song "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and turned it into a Trump song titled "Super-Callous Fragile-Egocentric Braggadocious."
Rainbow performs each song within a video that typically also includes him interviewing Trump, a trick Rainbow accomplishes by re-editing videos of Trump interviews and inserting himself asking the questions and reacting to the answers. These YouTube videos go viral, and that's a tribute to Rainbow's clever lyrics, his great singing voice and hilarious reaction shots.
Yesterday, right after we recorded our interview, his YouTube series of satirical songs was nominated for an Emmy for outstanding short-form variety series. Let's start with one of his songs that borrows the melody from "My Favorite Things." This is "Trump's Favorite Things!," recorded last December when special counsel Robert Mueller was about to file memos about Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort. This starts with Randy Rainbow interviewing President Trump.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRUMP'S FAVORITE THINGS!")
RANDY RAINBOW: Thank you so much for joining me, Mr. President. I hope you have been enjoying the holiday season so far.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I will tell you I am extremely upbeat. The White House is running like a...
RAINBOW: Defenseless young child being tear-gassed at the Mexican border.
TRUMP: ...Well-oiled machine.
RAINBOW: Oh, mine was just an expression.
TRUMP: It's doing really well. I have great people.
RAINBOW: Speaking of criminals, this is a very big week for the Russia investigation.
(SOUNDBITE OF THUNDER)
RAINBOW: Memos about Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, three high-profile defendants, are scheduled to be filed by special counsel Robert Mueller.
(SOUNDBITE OF THUNDER)
TRUMP: It's a scam. There was no collusion whatsoever, and the whole thing is a scam.
RAINBOW: Really? Because word on the street is that you're getting pretty scared. Well, when anything bothers me or my entire family is about to be charged with treason, I try to think of nice things. I mean, there are so many things that make you happy.
TRUMP: And there are certain things that I don't like.
RAINBOW: Oh, let me think - raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, destroying the First Amendment, white nationalists.
TRUMP: Is that enough?
RAINBOW: Brutal dictators and cold-hearted liars (singing) tyrants and traitors and climate deniers, $5 spray tans with under-eye rings - these are a few of your favorite things. Burying tax returns after you file them, tear-gassing migrants for seeking asylum, big fat a** buckets of fried chicken wings - these are a few of your favorite things.
TRUMP: I did nothing wrong.
RAINBOW: (Singing) Blue-collar workers all backwoods and beefy, giant hamburgers with extra covfefe, siding with Saudi Arabian kings - these are a few of your favorite things. When friends flip, when your day sucks and your hair looks bad, like right now, just blame all the victims and praise all the schmucks, and then you won't feel so sad.
TRUMP: How long has this witch hunt gone on? It's gone on for what?
RAINBOW: (Singing) KGB play dates and absolute power, porn stars and playmates who charge by the hour, puppets at Fox News who dance on his strings - these are a few of his favorite things.
TRUMP: I did nothing wrong.
RAINBOW: (Singing) Long-winded tweets with no spell check corrections...
GROSS: Randy Rainbow, welcome to FRESH AIR. I think you are so funny and so much fun to watch. Thank you for being on our show.
RAINBOW: Thank you. It's my honor to be with you.
GROSS: So you do your videos in your home alone. You direct yourself. How many - I love your reaction shots because you have this, like, incredibly expressive face and really big eyes. And your reaction shots to what, you know, Trump is saying are always, like, hilarious. How do you direct yourself, and how many takes do you do?
RAINBOW: Well, I've kind of worked it down to about four or five takes because I could stand there all day. And, you know, as a director, I'm quite hard on myself. The reaction shots are something that I've learned from my audience is more valuable than I even knew. I think that I did inherit a very expressive face from my mother and my grandmother. And yeah sometimes just a look to the camera or a slow burn says much more than even, you know, a song.
GROSS: And it sounds like - you know, so you do this, like, alone in your apartment.
RAINBOW: It's a very lonely existence, Terry.
GROSS: I feel really sorry for you (laughter).
RAINBOW: Thank you for inviting me out of my home. It doesn't happen often.
GROSS: But it sounds like when you were a kid, you did similar stuff. You spent a lot of time alone in your bedroom making videos. What kind of videos did you make?
RAINBOW: Oh, God. They were real classics, real gems.
RAINBOW: I mean, I - you know, I would have, like, my little figurines, my toy soldiers and things - well, I say soldiers, but, of course, I mean Barbies.
RAINBOW: And I would do, you know, sort of horrible DIY kind of stop motion animation. It was really bad. And then I - you know, I had a bunch of friends. I grew up doing theater. I would go to theater camp. And so I found a lot of like-minded young kids who were into performance. And we would get together and make videos. And that's kind of how I got started in the sketch comedy world. And that's what ignited my interest there.
GROSS: So we'll get back to theater camp.
GROSS: But another question about your videos...
GROSS: You have an orchestra behind you when you're singing in your videos. Are those kind of, like, karaoke versions of the show tunes?
RAINBOW: They are, yes. They're - they are ripped karaoke versions that I play with and sort of fine-tune and adjust to be, you know, unique to my videos.
GROSS: And are you going to be sued by any of the estates (laughter)...
RAINBOW: Well, now that...
GROSS: ...Whose composers' work you're using?
RAINBOW: Can we go to the next question? No, I do have a very fancy lawyer now, and what I do falls pretty safely under fair use, you know, with...
GROSS: Oh, good.
RAINBOW: ...Parody and all of that.
GROSS: Good. Please do not deny us these...
RAINBOW: So far, so good.
GROSS: Yeah. OK.
RAINBOW: We'll see after this interview airs. Thanks a lot.
GROSS: (Laughter) Right. Well, I don't think Sondheim's going to be suing you...
RAINBOW: No, thankfully.
GROSS: ...'Cause he's a fan of your work. Yeah.
RAINBOW: Can you believe it? You mentioned Sondheim. But I have, I'm happy to say, heard from most of the composers that I have parodied - everyone from Sondheim to Steven Schwartz to Andrew Lloyd Webber. So everyone is pretty much on board. So I have that in my corner, too.
GROSS: That's great that the songwriters really love your work.
GROSS: So if you're just joining us, my guest is Randy Rainbow, who does song parodies - like, political ones - using Trump within the parodies and then doing songs about Trump. So this next song we're going to hear is "He's In Love (And We're All Gonna Die)," sung for - sung to the melody of "I'm In Love With A Wonderful Guy" from "South Pacific."
RAINBOW: That's right.
GROSS: Yeah. This starts with you interviewing President Trump - again, taking Trump answers and inserting your own questions. And it starts with a little, like, take off of "The Bachelor." So let's hear Randy Rainbow, "He's In Love (And We're All Gonna Die)."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HE'S IN LOVE (AND WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE)")
RAINBOW: I'm here now with the latest castoff from "The Bachelor Hanoi," fresh off his second meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
I don't see a rose. Does that mean no denuclearization?
TRUMP: We didn't sign anything today. It didn't quite work out.
RAINBOW: Did you guys do it?
TRUMP: I just don't think maybe either of us were ready.
RAINBOW: So does that mean we can expect a third date?
TRUMP: We'll see what happens. Again, the relationship is very good. He likes me. I like him. Some people say, oh, you shouldn't like him. I said, why shouldn't I like him?
RAINBOW: Maybe because he's a deranged dictator who starves his people and executes members of his own family. But you know, we all have - my boyfriend doesn't put down the toilet seat, so - men.
TRUMP: Well, no. I just think he's - first of all, he's a character.
RAINBOW: What's your response to critics who accuse you of consistently siding with foreign adversaries over your own intelligence officials?
TRUMP: Why shouldn't I like him? I like him, get along great.
RAINBOW: And what do you say to those who worry that your naivete and reckless behavior are jeopardizing national security and putting us all in grave danger?
TRUMP: We'll see what happens. Again, the relationship is very good.
RAINBOW: (Singing) You would think he'd obey when his own intel agencies tell him to watch out for Putin and Kim.
TRUMP: He's a real personality, and he's very smart. He's sharp as you can be, and he's a real leader.
RAINBOW: (Singing) But he's too egocentric to do what those men think is best for the country instead of for him.
TRUMP: He likes me. I like him. Some people say, oh, you shouldn't like him. I said, why shouldn't I like him?
RAINBOW: (Singing) Yet he's as obedient as a tiny pup for any louse on a nuclear list.
TRUMP: Look. Bottom line - I think he wants to get something done.
RAINBOW: (Singing) 'Cause when his own daddy issues start flaring up, there's not a psychopath he can resist.
TRUMP: He's sharp as you can be, and he's a real leader.
RAINBOW: (Singing) So unabashedly he reveals...
TRUMP: And he's very smart.
RAINBOW: (Singing) ...Those sad, lovely feelings he feels. He gets horny for absolute power. Treacherous goons put a gleam in his eye. His taste in men stinks. Now he says that he thinks he's in love, and we're all going to die. He goes mad for a mad, crazy tyrant who rapes and pillages, murders and lies - merely faux pas he lets slide just because he's in love with these wonderful guys. Of a snitch under oath, on a witch hunt or anyone who disagrees - he's a hater. But ruthless dictators sure make him go weak in the knees. He goes cuckoo...
GROSS: That's Randy Rainbow - one of his many political song parodies to show tunes and pop songs.
Have you learned a lot about writing lyrics from doing this? What I mean is, like, you're patterning your lyrics on some of the best lyricists who've ever written for the stage. And you're frequently following their rhyme schemes, which are sometimes pretty complicated, depending on whose work you're doing. But have you learned a lot from using the greatest lyricists' work as your template to write your own lyrics?
RAINBOW: Yeah, absolutely. I have, and I've pushed myself to do so because I always considered song parody kind of cheap. And I've always been - part of me - a little embarrassed that I do it and that I'm, you know, kind of ripping off other people's work. But it's only now that I'm - that I've been doing it - and then I've gotten response from others, including the actual artists who originated the work, that I'm appreciating it as an art form. But I think that I've pushed myself because I think that if I'm not going to write the original music to go with the lyrics, I'd better step it up and bring something special and strong to the table.
GROSS: So how did you match Trump's second meeting with Kim Jong Un with "I'm In Love With A Wonderful Guy"? How did those two things come together in your mind?
RAINBOW: Well, that was one, I think - I think I have - I have a running list that I sort of refer to, and that was a song that I wanted to do for a while. So I had just been waiting for the right opportunity to do it and - you know, just a classic love song. So I figured it was right for him and Kim.
GROSS: Kim's in love with him. He's in love with him.
RAINBOW: Kim's in love with him. There you go.
GROSS: (Laughter) So who are some of the lyricists you've come to really appreciate?
RAINBOW: Well, Sondheim has always been a god to me. He's really the main one. But I appreciate - I mean, Lin-Manuel Miranda is fabulous.
GROSS: So I know Sondheim, one of your favorite lyricists, loves puzzles. But you loved puzzles, too, as a kid, right?
RAINBOW: I did have a thing for mazes. When I was a kid, I remember drawing little mazes constantly and puzzles. I loved that. And I remember - to sort of tie it together, I - when I started listening to Sondheim's music, I always envisioned - I always pictured a puzzle 'cause that's sort of how his lyric writing is. It's, you know, very carefully and masterfully putting a puzzle together. And so when I got to know him and was invited to his home, and I saw that he's a collector of puzzles, it was quite a full circle moment.
GROSS: How did you get to know Sondheim?
RAINBOW: Well, I've been friends with his now-husband for many years. And so I was first introduced to him about 10 years ago when I was working with him - with Jeff, who's now working with me on my tour. So that's how he first came into my life. And since then, he's become something of a mentor and a great support.
GROSS: Does he ever give you advice on lyrics?
RAINBOW: He knows better than that, Terry. No, he's...
GROSS: (Laughter) He knows who the master is.
RAINBOW: He does. He's very generous. He's extremely generous. And he will compliment me all the time and say, your lyrics are so strong and, you know, how do you do it? - to which I say, Steve, you know, you wouldn't get it.
RAINBOW: I have a gift - not about to explain it to you.
GROSS: Let's take a short break, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Randy Rainbow, and he does really funny song parodies about, typically, President Trump or, sometimes, Mike Pence. We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Randy Rainbow. And he writes and records song parodies, usually taking Broadway melodies and setting his own satirical lyrics to them. Typically, the songs are about President Trump or politics. And he posts them on YouTube; they get a gazillion views. And in August, he's going to start touring again with his show of his songs.
So, you know, you've mentioned that a lot of songwriters like your work. I know a lot of Broadway people love your work. What about President Trump and Vice President Pence? Have they ever commented...
RAINBOW: They're big fans.
GROSS: (Laughter) They're big fans, I'm sure.
RAINBOW: We're all having brunch next Sunday.
GROSS: And they brought pink eyeglasses in honor of your - as a tribute to you.
RAINBOW: Absolutely. You know.
RAINBOW: I haven't heard from anyone in the administration. You know, I've heard through the grapevine that people in the administration are fans, but no one has directly reached out to me. I'm trying every day to, you know, at least be blocked by him on Twitter, but there has been no connection.
GROSS: (Laughter) Haven't gotten that far yet?
RAINBOW: No, but I'm working on it.
GROSS: OK. So let's hear another song, and this is to the tune of "Sixteen Going On Seventeen" from "The Sound Of Music." And the song is about President Trump's endorsement of Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. And this is when Moore was running for the Senate against Democrat Doug Jones. And Trump endorsed Moore in spite of the fact that several women had come forward and accused Moore of sexual misconduct with them when they were underage girls.
So the song is about those girls, and it starts off with a verse about the girl who became his wife. And the setup is that Randy Rainbow is interviewing Kellyanne Conway, who is defending Trump's endorsement of Moore. So it starts - we're going to start by hearing Kellyanne.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KELLYANNE CONWAY: So the president has said the allegations are troubling. They're also 40 years old. Nobody came forward before. The guy's been on the ballot many times. Doug Jones is a liberal Democrat, the president has said, and he doesn't want a liberal Democrat representing Alabama in the United States Senate.
RAINBOW: (Singing) You wait, Kellyanne, with your ashy knees. It's time that you surrender. You are backing a man who admits that he's a bona fide sex offender.
CONWAY: OK, but wait - did we...
RAINBOW: (Singing) Offender.
CONWAY: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Excuse me. Excuse me.
RAINBOW: In Roy Moore's memoir, "I Like Big Butts," he recounts, romantically, the first time he laid eyes on his wife Kayla, writing, quote, "I attended a dance recital and remember one of the special dances performed by a young woman whose first and last names began with the letter K. I always remembered her initials, K.K., because they were just one K short of being awesome." I'm paraphrasing that last part.
CONWAY: Go ahead.
RAINBOW: Well, there's just one troubling part about that timeline, and it's that...
CONWAY: Hurry - I have a meeting.
RAINBOW: (Singing) She was 16, going on 17; Roy Moore was 32. Flagrantly lusting - he's just disgusting, and frankly, so are you. She was 17, going on 18, when she went out with Moore. Think it's a smear? Look - he signed her yearbook when he was 34. Here comes Steve Bannon, Trump and Pence, McConnell, Mike and Ben, fashioning false equivalence, protecting gross old men.
That's so funny. What a surprise.
(Singing) He wants a Republican candidate even though he may be criminal, deplorable, immoral, illegitimate - that's 'cause so is he.
TRUMP: Get out and vote for Roy Moore.
GROSS: That's Randy Rainbow. And if you want to see more of his videos, they're all on YouTube. And that was recorded December 11, 2017. And if you think that that song is hopelessly out of date because Roy Moore lost, consider that in June, Roy Moore announced he intends on running again for the Senate. So "Sixteen Going On Seventeen" seems like an obvious song choice to use for the Roy Moore story. But how did you make that connection in your mind? It seems obvious after somebody makes the connection for you, but how did you think of using that melody?
RAINBOW: You know what? I think that one was a request. Now I have this nice following, so sometimes I will take requests from my fans online, and I think that was one of them.
GROSS: Have you heard from Roy Moore?
RAINBOW: No, surprisingly.
GROSS: Yeah, a bit surprising.
RAINBOW: Hasn't been to one of my meet-and-greets.
My guest is Randy Rainbow. Yesterday, he was nominated for an Emmy for his YouTube series of videos featuring him performing his satirical songs about President Trump and his administration. We'll talk more after a break, and we'll listen back to my 2011 interview with former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. He died yesterday at the age of 99. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF TROTTER TRIO'S "I'M STILL HERE")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Randy Rainbow. He writes and performs song parodies about President Trump and his administration. Rainbow uses the melodies of show tunes and pop hits and writes original lyrics. His YouTube videos were just nominated for an Emmy for outstanding short-form variety series.
So you were in, like, your mid-30s when people started to really know you. Did you think, like, it wasn't going to happen; that you weren't going to have the career you wanted; that you'd be doing, like, other jobs, you know, and then, you know, moonlighting with things that you wanted to do?
RAINBOW: I think other people probably thought that about me, but I have some kind of weird inner quality that - it's just a confidence that I have. I'm very - I'm not very sure of anything in my life, but there's always been something in me that has known that I'm going to get where I'm going, one way or the other. So it really was never a concern to me. I always knew if I just stuck to my guns and did what I wanted to do and put out work that I thought was good and funny and entertaining, it would work out.
GROSS: You say you had this, like, confidence. But at the same time, based on what I read, you didn't have that confidence when you were auditioning at cattle calls for Broadway shows.
RAINBOW: No, I've never been good at auditions. That's why this whole Internet thing we've got going has been such a blessing for me. And the fact that I've been able to utilize it to get myself out there is really something I'm really grateful for because it's given me the opportunity to produce things, you know, for myself in the way that I want to present myself to the world and then put them out there. I don't know if I didn't have that ability that things would've taken off as they did.
GROSS: Sensibility-wise, you are, like, the opposite of Donald Trump. But in spite of being so different from Trump, you've said that Trump reminds you of your father.
RAINBOW: Yeah, Trump is absolutely a carbon copy of my father. And...
RAINBOW: Well, just behaviorally and - so much so that my father, who's no longer with us - he actually died shortly after Trump's election - but his campaign was going on, you know, at the end of his life. And even he said that he couldn't watch Trump on TV because it reminded him so much of himself. So these conversations that the world is now having about Trump's behavior are conversations that were had within my family about my dad constantly. So I think that's kind of why I really have his number.
GROSS: So what were the similarities?
RAINBOW: Just that kind of phony, you know, bravado. And there's just, like, a - you know, I hate to put down any group of people, but there's just a generation of, like, New York guy that - he just came from that stock. And it was just - there was nothing genuine, nothing introspective. It was just textbook narcissism. And I think there are - there's a large group of men who are like that.
GROSS: So how did that affect you growing up?
RAINBOW: Well, it was hard. I mean, it was - it made things very uncomfortable in my home and - you know, which is why I was locked in my room, making videos with my Barbie dolls. It was not a pleasant experience. It was not a pleasant environment because it really just - he was the nucleus, and it just revolved around this man who was really sick.
GROSS: Was he ever in therapy?
RAINBOW: No, I don't believe so. No. He had no interest. I don't think - again, he really had no idea that there was anything wrong with him. It was everybody else.
GROSS: Was there this feeling in the house that unless your father was pleased that there would be, like, a dark cloud hanging over the family?
RAINBOW: Absolutely. Yeah. And it was a full-time job to sort of, you know, try to brush the cloud away. And you know, that's why I was really happy at 21 to leave the house. And that's kind of where - when my life really began and I kind of came out of my shell.
GROSS: How - what was his reaction to you being gay?
RAINBOW: He was - you know, for as negative a force he was in my life, he was also - he was not the worst. He was very tolerant and did not mind at all that I was gay. He also claims to have had no idea growing up, so that shows you sort of how, you know, trapped in his own brain he was. He had - you know, it was a total shock to him when I came out, which was kind of absurd.
GROSS: But your mother said she always knew. She was quoted in the...
RAINBOW: Well, she may have made this guy.
GROSS: (Laughter) Yeah, 'cause that's the way it works.
GROSS: So she was quoted in The Washington Post as saying she knew that you were gay when you were 3.
RAINBOW: Yeah. And I guess, you know...
GROSS: I'll quote.
GROSS: She says, I knew he was gay by the time he was 3. He was constantly putting on shows and making the girls be the prince. He was always Snow White.
RAINBOW: (Laughter) It's true. We would do major productions in my backyard, and I was really a nightmare to work with as a director. And yeah, there was a lot of gender swapping.
GROSS: Do you think that if that was happening today, your mother would think, gee, is my child trans? Should I...
RAINBOW: I often think of that, and I don't know. She very well might. And I think of that because I was an effeminate kid and - but I don't necessarily think - you know, I know I'm not trans. I don't feel - I don't think I ever felt that I was trapped in the wrong body. But yeah, I think that the lines are a little blurred now, and people are still kind of figuring those things out. I hear directly from parents all the time who have those questions.
GROSS: So what were the first musicals your mother took you to?
RAINBOW: The first musicals - well, I have this thing with "Cats," no shade to Andrew Lloyd Webber. But you know, back to Sondheim - I remember being in New York and seeing the commercial for "Into The Woods" on TV, and that was all I wanted to see. It's all I cared about. But much to my chagrin, the first show they took me to was "Cats."
And so I remember having a - you know, a temper tantrum walking under the marquee for "Into The Woods." But she would put - my mother put me to bed - I mean, talking about making me gay - I joke, but only half. She would put me to sleep with the cast recordings to "Oklahoma" and "The Music Man." And I think that contributed a lot to my musicality and my love for musical theater, for sure.
GROSS: You've done a parody of "Trouble In River City" from "The Music Man."
RAINBOW: Yes, I open my live show with it now, actually.
GROSS: Oh, do you really?
GROSS: Oh. Do you want to do some of the patter for us?
I said, you got trouble, my friends. Right here - you got trouble right here in America. Sure, I'm a liberal and a gay, I'm mighty proud to say. Well, I'm kind of scared to say it. I admit that when Trump threw his name in the race, I assumed he was joking. You know how he jokes about stuff with his cool swag and his orange face. And then he started showing up and winning in the polls, like, a lot. And I was like, oh bleep.
GROSS: (Laughter) Yeah.
RAINBOW: It's better with the band, Terry.
GROSS: (Laughter) Yeah.
RAINBOW: You'll have to come see a live show.
GROSS: No, no that is great. Let's take a short break, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Randy Rainbow. And he does really funny song parodies about President Trump. We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Randy Rainbow. He writes and performs satirical songs about President Trump and his administration. Rainbow writes original lyrics set to the melodies of show tunes and pop hits.
You always wanted to get back to New York and try Broadway. So when you got to New York when you were in your 20s, what did you audition for, and what were those auditions like?
RAINBOW: I came to New York, and I put the whole thing on hold because I was a terrified 21-year-old and more, like, you know, 15 because I just had not at all grown up. I don't know what gave me the courage to even come here and live on my own, but I just knew this is where I belong. But I did not go right into the musical theater audition thing. I instead worked in a lot of offices and restaurants and things like that.
GROSS: Did any of the, like, food restaurant bar kind of jobs you have have a theatrical aspect to it, like a piano bar or anything like that?
RAINBOW: Well, the first restaurant I worked in was Hooters.
GROSS: OK, that's - you don't have what you - it typically takes to work there.
RAINBOW: Well, that's very rude of you to say.
RAINBOW: But no, I - when I first moved to New York, my dear friend from childhood was working at Hooters as a waitress and said the manager here is a gay guy. And if you come in, he'll probably give you a job. So I worked first at Hooters as a host. So you can imagine the look of dismay on the gentlemen's faces when they would come in after a hard day's work and I'd be standing there with my clipboard. So that was the first thing.
But that led to my working at the restaurant in Chelsea, which eventually led because of a friend who worked there then started working at a production office - a Broadway production office where I became a receptionist.
RAINBOW: And that was kind of where I got my foot back in show business a little bit. They were working on shows at the time like "Hairspray" and the revival of "Sweeney Todd" with Patti Lupone.
RAINBOW: So for me it was heaven because I was sitting behind the desk, and at any given moment, Patti Lupone would call, or Elaine Stritch would walk through the front door. And I couldn't get over my life.
GROSS: Did you talk with them?
RAINBOW: A little bit. I was so scared out of my wits that, you know, not much came out. But yeah, I had some interactions.
GROSS: Do you know Patti Lupone better now?
RAINBOW: Do I know her better? No, I don't. But I did do - before Trump came along and I was doing those more nonpolitical videos, I did a series of videos where I would lip sync to Patti Lupone's autobiography...
RAINBOW: ...You know, the audiobook of it.
GROSS: That's hilarious, yeah.
RAINBOW: And that was actually a - fairly a - at least among the gay and Broadway communities was kind of a fairly successful series for me. And I understand that she was a fan of that. I hope so.
GROSS: How did you think of doing that?
RAINBOW: I don't know (laughter). I think I was just drunk one night and listening to her. Have you heard her autobiography, the audio...
RAINBOW: ...Book version?
GROSS: No, I haven't.
RAINBOW: I highly recommend it. It's eight years of Patti Lupone just letting everyone have it and just, you know - just - it just - it moved me to sort of act it out and add some drama to it and some visuals.
GROSS: Let's close with a Sondheim melody that you used for a parody. This is "The Mueller Blues," and this was recorded in March 28, 2019. And it's to the melody of "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues" from Stephen Sondheim's show "Follies." So talk about what you're doing in this song.
RAINBOW: Well, this for me was the perfect song to kind of pinpoint the emotions that everyone was feeling that week because the Mueller report had come out, but it hadn't really. And people were happy, and they were not. And they were frustrated. It was just - everyone was sort of running this gamut of emotions. And so my mind immediately went to this song, which kind of encapsulates that feeling of being all over the place.
GROSS: Yeah. And you know, he's almost having, like, a little nervous breakdown...
GROSS: ...In "Follies"...
RAINBOW: Yeah, it's very breakdown-y.
GROSS: ...When he sings this, yeah. So this was recorded right after the Mueller report was released. And right now I think you're waiting for Robert Mueller to testify so that you can write a Robert Mueller testifying parody.
RAINBOW: I am. I've been waiting for some time now. They keep pushing it. Yeah, I'm toying with a few ideas, but I don't think I'll really know which direction I'll take until I see the testimony.
GROSS: Well, while we're waiting for you to write and then post it on YouTube, let's hear your song from March of this year, "The Mueller Blues." Randy Rainbow, it's just been great to talk with you. Thank you so much, and please keep doing what you're doing and do other things, too, 'cause I look forward to seeing you in a Broadway show or on TV.
RAINBOW: Oh, wow - from your mouth. Thank you, Terry. It's been a pleasure to talk to you.
GROSS: And to you. And I should say that this song starts with you being interviewed, so to speak, by Wolf Blitzer of CNN about the results of Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign coordination with the Russians. And then you start singing about the results of the investigation.
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WOLF BLITZER: According to the special counsel, Robert Mueller, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government. Are you ready to accept that conclusion from Robert Mueller?
RAINBOW: A hundred percent, Wolf. This is only good news for the country, and I am here today to say that I am ready to leave this behind us and move on without some big song and dance. Excuse me.
(Singing) O-M-G. He's reached a conclusion. Holy [expletive]. I'm sorry to curse, b****. Thankfully, there's been no collusion. So why don't I feel better yet? In fact, I feel worse.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: The Mueller report now turned in; Robert Mueller's work is over.
RAINBOW: (Singing) It's lasted 22 months. It's no wonder we're stressed. I wish we could just let it go. The things that we learned are not what we guessed. And as for the rest, we may never know.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: How much, if anything, will America get to see?
RAINBOW: (Singing) I've got those, yay, it's finally over - wait; it's only just beginning blues. Those damn you, Robert Mueller - I mean, thank you for your service feelings. Those give me that report; now throw this trash in the bin. Congratulations, Hannity. But wait. What'd you win? Those what about obstruction? Here comes Rudy Giuliani feelings. Those is it really over? Can we still indict Ivanka? - blues.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Robert Mueller has delivered his report, but the political fight over it is just beginning.
RAINBOW: (Singing) Repeatedly, he stated...
TRUMP: No collusion.
RAINBOW: (Singing) He said - I guess that he was right.
TRUMP: Are there any Russians here tonight?
RAINBOW: (Singing) Is he exonerated?
TRUMP: Total exoneration.
RAINBOW: (Singing) Technically, not quite.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Mueller's stopping short of exonerating the president.
RAINBOW: (Singing) His comments were off-color.
TRUMP: And we kicked their a**.
RAINBOW: (Singing) He'd constantly deny...
TRUMP: No collusion. No collusion. No collusion. No collusion.
RAINBOW: (Singing) ...And slander Mr. Mueller.
TRUMP: Look. The entire thing has been a witch hunt.
RAINBOW: (Singing) Now, look who's his favorite guy. I've got those, Nancy, go and get him. Never mind, girl, I'm exhausted blues, Mueller blues. Those, what the hell is Comey doing standing in a forest? - feelings. Host, bartender, we're going to need to refill my cup. And since there's no collusion, could you make something up? And why does Devin's cow have way more followers than I do? - feelings. Those, is it over? What just happened? Can't we just arrest Ivanka? Where's the rest? I got to see it. Give it to me. I don't want it. Yes. No. Black. White. Red. Blue. Left. Right. Thank you. Go away now. Please don't leave me, Robert Mueller, blues.
TRUMP: No collusion.
GROSS: That's Randy Rainbow's song "The Robert Mueller Blues." You can hear more of his songs on his website. His videos were just nominated for an Emmy in the category outstanding short form variety series. He'll resume his national performing tour next month.
Coming up, we'll listen back to my interview with former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. He died yesterday. This is FRESH AIR.
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens died yesterday at age 99. We're going to listen back to our interview with Stevens.
Justice Stevens was appointed by President Ford and served on the court for 35 years before retiring in 2010. Some of Stevens' best-known opinions were his dissenting ones, including Bush v. Gore and Citizens United. He also wrote the majority opinion for the court in two cases that successfully challenged the Bush administration's approach to the war on terror. Stevens kept writing in his retirement. Last year, he wrote an op-ed for The New York Times after a school shooting, arguing for the repeal of the Second Amendment.
I spoke with Stevens in 2011, after he'd retired and written a memoir called "Five Chiefs."
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GROSS: Justice Stevens, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's an honor to have you on the show. Is it something of a relief to be retired and not have the weight of having to make these really important - you know, opinions on really important cases that will affect the future of the country?
JOHN PAUL STEVENS: The answer is yes.
STEVENS: It's definitely a relief, although I do miss the work and - which I enjoyed very much. But it is a relief.
GROSS: One of your most famous dissenting opinions was also one of your last. It was the Citizens United case for which you wrote a 90-page dissenting opinion. That is - that's really long, isn't it? (Laughter).
STEVENS: That is long. And that's probably why a lot of people haven't bothered to read it all.
GROSS: (Laughter) So this is the decision that overturned constraints on corporate spending in political campaigns and said that limits on corporate spending infringed on corporations' freedom of speech. Why were you so angry about this decision?
STEVENS: Well, I don't know if angry is the word or not. I thought it was incorrect in several respects. At the beginning of my 90 pages, I explain why the court would have been wiser to decide the case on narrower grounds because, I think, it's always good craftsmanship in administering the law to decide cases on narrow grounds, particularly constitutional cases, when you have the opportunity to do so. And as I explain in the opinion, there were narrower grounds that would not have caused any major change in the law that could have been used to decide the case.
GROSS: So you're talking about deciding on narrower terms. And you write that you saw it as conservative judicial activism when the court sent back the lawyers in the Citizens United case and asked them to bring a more expansive version of the case and to address broader issues about the relationship of corporations to the First Amendment.
And the way the Supreme Court decided the case, infringing on corporate spending was seen as infringing on a corporation's right to free speech and also equating a corporation's right to free speech with an individual's right to free speech. Correct me if I got any of that wrong.
STEVENS: You've got it right (laughter).
GROSS: OK. So were you surprised to see the Supreme Court equate a corporation's right to free speech with an individual's right to free speech.
STEVENS: Well, not entirely, because some years ago, Justice Powell had written an opinion in the Bellotti case, which held that the First Amendment does protect a corporation's right to communicate with the public on issues of general public interest. But in that opinion, he carefully distinguished speech about general issues from election campaigns.
See, an election campaign, in many respects, is like a debate between two adversaries, which some believe - including me - that it's wise to have rules that make the debate fair to both sides and lead to a reasoned decision, rather than one based on how much money one has or some non-reasoned factor.
GROSS: A question about Bush v. Gore - you describe the story in the book. It's - the Florida recount is happening in this contested election, and the Bush camp wants to take it to the Supreme Court and have the Supreme Court halt the recount.
And as that process is beginning to be set in motion, you run into Justice Breyer at a Christmas party. And in casual conversation, you both agree this is a kind of frivolous case. It doesn't stand a chance of actually being accepted by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court isn't going to hear it. Then, much to your surprise, the Supreme Court hears it and rules in favor of the Bush camp and stopping the Florida recount.
What surprised you most in the argument that was made by the justices who wanted to not only hear the case, but stop the recount?
STEVENS: Well, I guess the thing that surprised me most was the fact that any justice thought that there was irreparable injury shown by the petitioners that would justify the action that was taken.
GROSS: So because this was such a big decision and the country was so divided and the election was so close, was there a lot of tension in the court while that decision was in process?
STEVENS: I don't think I should comment on what went on within the court. I can say that it was consistent with what I said at the end of the brief. I think that the justices respected one another for the views that they expressed.
GROSS: It strikes me - of all the Supreme Court decisions that I've ever tried to talk about on the air with a justice - and I've only interviewed you and Justice Breyer - but, like, that one seems like, I don't want to go there. That seems like the decision that justices, like, really don't want to talk about in public.
STEVENS: I suppose that's right. And of course, I don't think it's a decision that has been cited since it was handed down.
GROSS: Now, when you put on your judicial robe, did it transform you in any way? And I'm thinking, you know, how actors always say when they put on a certain costume, they feel more in character. It helps them get into the role. Did putting on the judicial robe give you the sense of, you know, gravity of the occasion?
STEVENS: Well, I frankly hadn't thought of it that way, but it may - that may well be true because it is a solemn occasion when you get ready to go on the bench and confront the issues that you have to confront as a judge or a justice.
GROSS: And are the robes, like, custom-made for each judge, or do you go to, like, a - you know, a robe supply store and just pick out your size?
STEVENS: That's the one tax deduction that judges have...
STEVENS: ...I can remember. If you buy new robes, I think that's a business expense and can be deducted. But, in fact, my original robes were given to me by my former partners when I went on the bench, and I continued to wear them till they got, perhaps, shabbier than they should've.
GROSS: Thank you so much for talking with us, and thank you for your service to the country.
STEVENS: Thank you very much. I enjoyed our conversation.
GROSS: My interview with former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens was recorded in 2011. He died yesterday at the age of 99.
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GROSS: Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be journalist Garrett Graff, who's covered federal law enforcement for more than a decade and has been writing about the Border Patrol and the roots of the current humanitarian crisis at the southern border. I hope you'll join us.
Our technical director is Audrey Bentham. Our engineer today is Adam Staniszewski. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.
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