Don’t See Randy Rainbow Live

Although I went out of my way to not have this site’s automatic twitter posts tag Randy Rainbow, many of his fans noticed. They were so angry I figured I must have written something really bad. But I’ve gone back and read this article. It’s fine. Unlike most of the press that Rainbow gets, however, it is not glowing. I have yet to see what I think of as a real review of his act. And that’s just not taking him seriously as an artist.

The complaints were mostly about my criticism of Randy Rainbow’s dismissiveness. People apparently can’t read. I was accused of calling him an “asshole.” I did not. (No one seems to have taken the time to even glance at the link.) I was also accused of calling his fans idiots. I did not. These people clearly didn’t like my less than rave review and latched onto fragments that gave them the best option for attacking me.

Not one person evidenced any understanding of the two points I was making. It was tribalism and nothing more. And that’s all art is for most people. Apparently, Good People never criticize anything about Randy Rainbow. Only “shitty” writers and general “douchebags” do that. And that’s fine. But it says a lot that not one of these people who were so upset could bother to leave a comment. Twitter really is the perfect medium for a country that lacks nuance.

–Frank Moraes (20 April 2019)

Randy RainbowLast night, I went to see Randy Rainbow. I got a free ticket. But it was extremely troubling.

It’s hard to write this because I had a great time last night. The show was funny and the band was great. But part of me can’t watch a show without seeing it from a professional and political standpoint. And on these fronts, it was pretty bad.

Professional Entertainment

The crowd that came out to see Randy Rainbow last night was scary. I thought that I liked his work. These people were crazy in love. During the question and answer section of the show, I suffered greatly from pena ajena. The questions were embarrassing. One example, “If your mother ever wants a break, I’m willing to step in.” Rainbow dealt with the question well, “You know I’m in my 30s, right?” (He’s fast approaching 39. Vanity, thy name is Randy!)

So it shouldn’t be surprising that the audience ate up the performance. But my seat cost $55. So I had expectations even if I wasn’t the one paying.

Problems With the Show

Probably the worst part of the show was that the sound was horrible. All the canned sound (more on that in a minute) seemed to come from one speaker. And the EQ was off. There wasn’t enough bass and there was too much treble. It made me uncomfortable. And even though I was otherwise enjoying the show, I probably would have slipped out if I hadn’t been packed in on both sides.

More annoying when it came to the ticket price was the fact that roughly a quarter of the show was pre-recorded video. And these weren’t recorded for the show. They were mostly standard Randy Rainbow YouTube videos. I’d seen half of them before.

And they’re good. (Of course, blown up on a big screen they don’t look so good.) But I could stay home and watch it for free. I think it says a lot about Randy Rainbow’s contempt for his audience that he doesn’t think he needs to program a full 90 minutes of live material.

Canned Music

The live songs always include canned music — mostly background vocals. I don’t particularly like this, but I understand it. I wouldn’t even bring it up except that when Rainbow is singing live, he is usually up on the screen singing as well.

It also highlights the fact that Randy Rainbow isn’t that compelling a live performer. His singing is fine but his gestures are muted — designed for nightclub performances, not a large theater. I think that having a giant screen is meant to make up for this but it only made the live Randy Rainbow seem smaller. It was also extremely distracting.

Often, when performers don’t have a great stage presence, they make up for it in other ways like having outrageous costumes. Rainbow does this to some extent, but not nearly enough. His costumes are more along the lines of prototypes. Like he’s saying, “If this were a real performance, I’d have an amazing costume here.”

Another factor that makes it less than it could be is Randy Rainbow’s dismissive personality. His attitude toward the audience is the same as it is toward Trump. And I kept remembering a headline in Current Affairs, People Who ‘Pretend’ to Be Shitty Are Frequently Just Shitty. Although given his audience, I can’t necessarily blame him.

Commodity Machine

Truthfully, the show would be far better if Randy Rainbow just performed show tunes with his exceptional band. I was especially taken with Justin Vance on sax, clarinet, and flute. He really added to the feel that there was an orchestra on stage instead of just a four-piece combo.

Of course, such a show wouldn’t be popular. It certainly wouldn’t pay for the caliber of the band. But that’s the point. The entire Randy Rainbow organization is a commodity machine.

Randy Rainbow Merch

There are a half-dozen different Randy Rainbow t-shirts you can buy. They are low-quality and made in Honduras. But hey, a good-quality t-shirt might have taken a dollar off the profits.

So perhaps you would like Randy Rainbow glasses? How about socks? The t-shirts are $30 but the socks are a real bargain at just $20.

For only $5, you can get a “what the fuck you guys?” bumper sticker, which is more or less what I thought about this exercise in non-productive capitalism.

Making Money

The two young women selling all the Randy Rainbow stuff were working very fast to meet the demand. It made me start to do some rough calculations.

There were 1,633 seats at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. Seats were $39.50, $45.00, and $55.00. Based on where I was sitting, I would say these represent about 30%, 50%, and 20% of the total seats. The place was packed, so that’s roughly $75,000. I figure rental is $10,000 for the night. The total cost for labor is $10,000 — if Randy Rainbow pays really well. And let’s give him another $10,000 for misc expenses.

That means, even without at least a few thousand dollars from Randy Rainbow merch, the production netted $45,000 playing in a small city. I don’t begrudge Randy Rainbow. Get it while you can!

Capitalism Destroying Art

But the whole thing highlights many problems with capitalism. First, Randy Rainbow is making an excessive amount of money while producing relatively little material. And he’s fast approaching the point where he will not have to produce anything at all.

Then there is the fact that people have to pay $40 just to get a bad seat at this event. And they are apparently paying it because of Randy Rainbow’s celebrity. I too went in eager to like it. But had I paid, I would have felt let down. There was maybe $15 up there on stage. The extra $25 to $40 was what we pay because the market can bear it.

Whatever. Randy Rainbow remains an interesting creative artist. And the people love him. But there really is no reason to leave the house. You can buy all that crap from home too.

YouTube and Twitter are the perfect venues for Randy Rainbow.

17 thoughts on “Don’t See Randy Rainbow Live

  1. I can understand if a person who busts their brain regularly to put on a great show has the occasional off night, it happens. What I don’t understand is why somebody who’s bored with their act would keep half-assing it and charge a ton to customers who wanted the best a performer can give. Money, I suppose. I’ve done worse for less. But that’s when the rent was due.

    • I definitely think that he wasn’t at his best that night. It’s well known that New York is one of the best places to see someone because the performers are always at their best. In Santa Rosa you don’t have to try so hard. But that wasn’t really my problem. It’s just not what I consider a well designed and implemented show. I might be missing something. But I doubt it because the plays I write are along the lines of this show. And I know when I see lazy decisions. (I make them all the time!)

      But maybe his fans require that he have the big screen and perform like he’s still connected to the internet. I don’t know. I do know this: I will continue watching his videos but I won’t ever see him live again unless I hear that he’s changed his show in a major way.

      • I can tell you that the band is a fairly recent addition to the show – his earlier shows from 2017 merely consisted of him performing alone on stage, with a video screen behind him.

  2. Since you’ve accused us of not bothering to leave a direct comment on your post, I’ll throw in my two cents. I wouldn’t be able to adequately get my entire point across in 280 characters anyway.

    I’ll start by addressing your criticism of Randy’s “dismissiveness,” since that was my main point of contention with your writeup. I most certainly did read the linked article, and I don’t feel that the comparison is apt. The article examines Louis C.K.’s comedic persona – the difference between his “narcissistic, lazy, vicious” stand-up act and the “thoughtful, sensitive, self-interrogating” person he appeared to be in real life – to explain why his onstage persona was, in fact, always a reflection of the actual person he was in real life, and how to determine when someone is a “bullshitter.”

    One of my favorite online comedians used to be a man named Doug Walker, who portrayed a character named “The Nostalgia Critic” – an angry, bitter, whiny adult who constantly screams and nitpicks movies from his childhood – but he generally came across as friendly and humble when not acting in character. Long story short, he eventually turned out to be an example of precisely what the writer of that article was talking about: a seemingly nice guy who was, in fact, the very same type of person he portrayed in his comedy act – something which, in retrospect, was always evident from the amount of mean-spirited jokes he would make at his fans’ expense.

    I have never gotten this impression from Randy Rainbow – in fact, I’ve gotten the complete opposite impression. Randy frequently states in interviews that his persona is merely a heightened version of his real self. In his videos he acts outspoken, sarcastic, flamboyant and campy, but his comedy and humor is still a clear reflection of his actual viewpoints – he does not “pretend” to be a “shitty person” for laughs, as Louis C.K. does. His satire is always an accurate reflection of how he actually feels (and how his fans actually feel) about the Trump administration, and people enjoy it because it speaks to them and gives them a sense of catharsis about the situation. The reason he occasionally makes sarcastic comments toward his fans is because that’s just his style of humor – he treats everyone that way. From time to time, he even makes parody videos of people he likes (such as Barbra Streisand) but there’s no ill intent behind it, and I’ve never gotten that impression from him – he seems truly appreciative of the support he receives from his fans. You may not have explicitly accused him of being a “shitty person” or an “asshole,” but by referencing that article you certainly seemed to be implying that you thought he was.

    • You criticize and insult Randy Rainbow’s fans for being willing to pay (in your opinion) exorbitant amounts of money for a show that didn’t live up to your expectations, simply because of Randy Rainbow’s “celebrity.” This ignores one of the main reasons people enjoy his comedy in the first place. As I said, people enjoy Randy’s videos because they provide a sense of catharsis in a time of chaos and connect with his fans in a way that few others are able to. Anyone can make fun of Donald Trump – just look at Seth Meyers or Stephen Colbert – but what sets Randy apart from them is that he does it all by himself. He writes, produces, performs, records, and edits these videos completely on his own – sometimes in a matter of hours – with no assistance or formal technical training whatsoever, and the results are always incredibly professional-looking, as though an entire crew had done it. The fact that he is able to regularly do this while constantly having to keep up with the news to find material for his next video, and still maintain a consistent level of quality the entire time, is a true testament to his talent and skill, and in my opinion is worthy of all the praise in the world. Considering all of this, expecting him to program a full 90 minutes of new material for his live show is a bit unrealistic.

      That being said, I do sometimes get the impression that he panders to his base somewhat, in that he generally sticks to political humor because that’s what made him famous. He says in interviews that he has never been particularly interested in politics, and he has been making comedic videos on various topics since 2010, but in light of how popular his political videos have become, he now feels an obligation to continue pumping them out regularly to satisfy his fans. This is why I think a television show or Netflix series might be a good venue for him to branch out and expand his repertoire, and to possibly revisit concepts from some of his early videos, as I personally feel that he has far too much potential for what he currently does.

      • I don’t think I criticized his fans except for my snarky comment about how I could see why Rainbow might go back to his hotel each night and have a major bitch session about his audience. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being gaga over a performer. I’m that way about Stewart Lee. Just the same, it makes me really uncomfortable to see such public displays. But that’s okay. I’m a mass of neuroses with extreme anxiety problems. But I saw this as a situation where the audience’s intense love was being abused.

        What Randy Rainbow does in his videos is irrelevant to his live show. He isn’t doing his live show alone. And professionals are not graded on a curve anyway. What’s more: he has the material. He just chose to run videos of songs rather than perform them live. What’s up with that? It’s entirely possible that I don’t get what he’s doing live. But I don’t think so. And no one has made the case that I don’t. Instead, they just make excuses for him providing less than I would expect from a similar artist. That doesn’t make him a bad artist or person. But I do think that more people should stand up and say, “Your audience deserves better.” And remember: this is a guy who loves the theater (as I do). It’s odd that he wouldn’t want to put together the kind of show that would inspire a long Broadway run. (Not that I think much of Broadway shows at this point.)

        • I don’t know about the show you attended, but when I saw him, he did perform the majority of the songs live. I got the impression that the pre-recorded videos were, in part, meant to give him enough time to change costume between songs (of course, you also say you didn’t think his costumes were elaborate enough, so what do I know). I’ve seen Weird Al Yankovic live a few times, and he does the same thing: playing pre-recorded video to fill time whenever he walks off stage to change costume. Randy’s show overall reminded me very much of that – which I find quite appropriate, since his shtick in general has always reminded me of Weird Al as well.

    • I appreciate you taking the time.

      Okay: I didn’t say that Randy Rainbow was a horrible person. I just suggested that it might not all be an act. It is certainly no secret that comedians aren’t normally the nicest of people. I started my career as a comedy writer. And as all Randy Rainbow fans seem to agree, I’m an asshole. It’s also common for artists to both love and despise their fans.

      The main thing is that everyone seemed to get hung up on this point. I only added it because I wanted three examples of how the show disappointed me. That was an effort at formalism that I deeply regret.

      • Well, every fanbase has its idiots, as Randy is undoubtedly aware (and make no mistake, if one of his fans tweets something stupid or arrogant to him, he will call them out for it). But most of the jabs he makes at his audience seem affectionate and non-malicious to me, as I’ve gotten the impression that even he can’t believe how much love and support he receives from them (in an Instagram video he made to promote his tour, he began by saying “Y’all are crazy! But, like, in a good way.”).

        • I’ve put this all in one comment. It’s a pain to have separate threads.

          I didn’t say the majority of his show was canned. I said roughly a quarter of it was. The costume change theory is not correct. Those were minor changes that would take 10-15 seconds at most. In addition, he spent a great deal of time at the side of the stage drinking water.

          Of course my criticisms are subjective! But other than the costume change theory, there hasn’t been a defense of him. “I prefer to go to the theater to watch videos!” That would be a subjective opinion that counters mine. I’ve presented objective facts about the show that I did not like. It’s fine to disagree. It’s just my opinion. But based on the reaction, I think his fans know deep down that he ought to be providing more value. Because no one really goes to the theater to watch videos. And his show was just short of 90 minutes. And 90 minutes is the minimum length that most promoters will book.

          Serious question: when he performed alone, how much were the tickets? I’m glad he added the band. As I noted, it was great. The woodwind guy works full-time for Radio City Music Hall. But given this, it’s very possible that the show is still evolving and that it will become more of what I expect. One thing I didn’t mention was that the band was not used as much as it could have been. BTW: the pianist also scored the show and that too was excellent.

          I agree that he can’t believe the affection shown him. I mentioned feeling pena ajena. Randy Rainbow seemed to suffer similarly. What’s more, I suspect that he would much rather be out touring with the kind of show I would prefer. That gets to my broader political point. But don’t think my criticism is that the show wasn’t what I wanted to see. The show was pretty much exactly what I expected. It was just that it was underdone. But I get it. Art is never perfect. And I’m as big a whore as anyone.

          • I never attended any of his 2017 shows, so I wouldn’t be able to tell you how expensive the tickets were. According to this link I found, tickets to his 2017 show at the Milton Theatre in Delaware cost $20 to $30. I believe you are correct that the show is still evolving and being improved upon. I found an article that quotes him as saying “I have plans and dreams to take the show that I am doing now and flesh it out a little bit more and make it a more full-scale production.” I also seem to remember another article (which I can’t find at the moment) where he mentions switching out older songs for newer ones in his live show (his earlier shows featured his “Covfefe” medley, which is absent from his newer shows). That said, I’ve seen him a total of three times, all within the past several months (once in Pittsburgh, once in Ann Arbor, and once in Grand Rapids – I’ve been waiting for him to come to Michigan forever, so when he announced two Michigan shows I figured I might as well get tickets to both) and all three shows were virtually identical, with the exception of one or two of the videos shown.

            • I suspect his shows will get better after Trump is gone too. He might feel trapped. The whole show felt like a Two-Minute Hate for Trump. And it was satisfying. He’s definitely been part of making the last two years bearable for American liberals. But he’s clearly capable of much more diversity and I’m sure we will see that in time — both on and off stage.

              I don’t blame him for the shows being the same. Just like a legitimate play, it is written. Some performers ossify and give pretty much the same show on tour after tour. That annoys me. But what RR does was fine. Hopefully, in 5 years, I’ll write a glowing review of his show. Of course, I’m old; I’m not keen on the whole stimulation overload. So he may never be my kind of live artist I most like. But even still, I would applaud him for presenting a longer show with more live content. He’s clearly trying. I appreciate the context of the earlier shows that you provided.

  3. One last point I’d like to make, regarding what you refer to as the “over-commodification” of Randy Rainbow and that people are not taking him seriously as an artist: Putting aside the (entirely subjective) question of whether the amount of money he makes on his tour is excessive, did you ever consider that maybe part of the reason his fans are willing to pay to see him live is precisely because they want to support an artist they love, and are willing to do so through whatever means they think are necessary? The main point I’m trying to make is that there are more factors in play here than you seem to think.

    • I do understand this and as I noted before, it’s the basis of my whole article. This is kind of like the forgotten Good Child. Because his fans love him so much he should then be able to provide them with a substandard show? I get that his fans are fine with the show. I think I’m a bit more objective about this is all. I like Randy Rainbow a lot. There was a time when I eagerly awaited his next video each month. I was thrilled to get the ticket. I had a great time at the show. I spent a ton on merch for a friend who couldn’t go. But I also notice how the show could have (and should have) been better. And by this, I don’t mean that I would have done it differently. I mean that it was not up to the standards of the form.

      As a result, it doesn’t mean anything to me to say, “I loved the show.” It doesn’t matter that people love him so much that they want to give him money. I am making two related points. First, Randy Rainbow should be delivering his fans a better show. Second, the capitalist system pushes artists to under-deliver and over-commoditize. These are issues that I care about. I don’t see how this article can be considered a hit job when it is extremely positive toward Randy Rainbow (but not the show itself).

      I absolutely wish I hadn’t written this. As with everything on this personal blog, I’m working things out. The site has regular readers and they understand the wider context of my critiques. Randy Rainbow fans who only see this article do not. And I knew I was in danger when I published it. But I thought it wouldn’t be noticed by fans. Silly me. On the plus side, it will probably lead to a substantial article on how capitalism hurts artists. And in it, I will most definitely not mention Randy Rainbow.

      I really appreciate your taking the time to respond in a thoughtful way. (Three times!) There is no pleasure in arguing with people who I mostly agree with. But analysis is what I do. See The Meaning of Marlene on the Wall for an embarrassing example (that nonetheless gets a huge amount of traffic).

      • Whether the show was substandard is, again, entirely subjective. I think it’s fair to assume that we simply had different expectations and that yours were not met. I’ll be honest and say that there are certain aspects of the show that I thought could have been improved upon as well, but for reasons I’ve already stated, I feel that complaining about them would be extremely petty and a waste of time and energy. As far as I’m concerned, if Randy is happy with the show, and the majority of his fans are happy with it, that’s all that matters.

  4. Wow, Twitter…

    The “blowing a kiss” emoji was a nice touch. Basically announcing “I am a rude asshole online and I’m proud of being one.”

    This person is absolutely begging for a punch in the nose. And quite likely the most pathetic sort of pushover in real life. The kind Monty Python mocked constantly. Never stands up to jerk bosses, but occasionally leaves mean anonymous notes under a neighbor’s door. “Ha! I told them what I think of their yard! I am more badass than Genghis Khan!”

    • Well, I’m always interested in career advice! But to be fair, that woman’s twitter bio specifically says that she is “mean.” But the whole thing did seem very much like being back in high school. There were people yelling at me and then a chorus of others saying, “Right on!” And they are all liberals! These are my allies. And that was what most disturbed me because I can’t see it as anything but tribalism. I didn’t say anything bad about Randy Rainbow that reflects on what they like about him. I didn’t criticize his songs. I was just saying that his live show wasn’t very good. But the article was not meant for them. I wasn’t trying to kill their buzz. I’m interested in the broader point of how our economic system hurts the arts. Based on what Allen J told me, it seems RR is perfecting his show on the road. There’s nothing wrong with that. But he’s doing it for top dollar. You can see Stewart Lee doing WIP performances for half as much in small clubs. It’s the economics that causes an artist to play large clubs with a show that isn’t well-tuned.

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