The Deep Cuts of a Randy Rainbow Song Parody

September 12, 2020

American comedian and musician Randy Rainbow has recently enjoyed YouTube success thanks to a group of people he apparently vehemently dislikes: President Donald Trump and his administration. One video alone has garnered as many as 6.5 million views.[1] Although most of Rainbow’s videos start with splices of Donald Trump interviews with Rainbow as the interviewer, they quickly dissolve into a parody song. Rainbow draws upon the musical theater repertoire with a healthy sprinkling of American pop music hits as fodder for his videos. Although one does not necessarily have to possess a complete knowledge of whatever musical Rainbow is referencing to understand the humor, it certainly helps. If you know the original, the parody becomes richer through analytical and historical lenses. Musical parodies all originate somewhere, and U.S. musical theater as a genre often deals in parody and pastiche. The television musicals in the vein of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Galavant come to mind as clear examples of these types of humorous devices while they introduce musical versions of these devices to a non-Broadway audience. 

One of Rainbow’s recent creative outputs was “The Bunker Boy,” released June 7, 2020. This was a week after President Trump was reported to have taken refuge in a White House bunker while Black Lives Matter protests were happening right outside his gates. Four days later, Trump and his staff tried to change the narrative, claiming that the president was merely inspecting the facilities, even though witnesses reportedly saw Secret Service agents rushing the president into a bunker. The comments section of the Rainbow YouTube video would tell (or verify to) listeners that “The Bunker Boy” is a parody of “The Jitterbug” by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, a song that was cut from the famous MGM film musical, The Wizard of Oz (1939). Looking through his video output, Rainbow has tended to draw from better known songs and musicals, so one has to wonder why he selected a relatively unknown song (albeit from a well-known film) for this particular parody. Even though Rainbow is drawing from a relatively unknown musical theater song, viewers are still able to find humor in the video from lyric references relating to specific Trump-related activities happening within the week before the video was released. Parody can work even if the audience does not immediately understand all of the references, but understanding and applying an intertextual framework to these references can add complexity to the meaning of “The Bunker Boy.”

Randy Rainbow, “The Bunker Boy” (set to the tune of “The Jitterbug”)

Jeremy Orosz argues that musical imitation can come in two forms: autographic and allographic. Orosz repurposes these terms from Nelson Goodman’s Languages of Art to apply them towards musical art forms. Autographic imitation is defined broadly to mean imitation of another person, and Orosz divides this term into three subcategories: replication, imitative substitution, and whimsical impersonation. Autographic imitation in music

includes all attempts to reproduce either a specific performance, most likely captured on a recording, or the performative style of a known musician or ensemble 1) to mimic the imitated performer or ensemble with the utmost accuracy, allowing the possibility of deception (replicative), 2) to provide a passable replacement for a performer in their absence (imitative substitution), or 3) to mimic another musician or group, to humorous ends (whimsical impersonation).[2]

Conversely, allographic imitation relates to imitation of music itself and is divided into the same three subcategories. Orosz defines these as 

any attempt to reproduce the style of another composer with the goal of 1) mimicking a composer’s voice with the utmost accuracy, allowing the possibility of deception (replicative), 2) providing a proxy for the work of another composer in their absence (substitutive), or 3) producing a pastiche or parody of a composer’s work (whimsical).[3]

He also acknowledges that all of these subcategories have fluid boundaries, and musical imitations do not always fall into only one category. Since Rainbow writes, sings, and produces his own video parodies, both forms of Orosz’s musical imitation definitions will be considered in this analysis of “The Bunker Boy,” which I am treating as a case study for Rainbow parodies, to show that understanding the context of the original song and the parodied version can add to the listener’s overall appreciation.

It would appear that Rainbow was at least partially inspired by Twitter to comment on the bunker incident. On June 4, 2020, Rainbow re-tweeted a comment from one of his followers, which stated, “Randy, do a bunker boy song!”[4]The re-tweet is accompanied by a gif of Jim Carrey furiously typing away, indicating that Rainbow was in the process of writing “The Bunker Boy.” Two days later, comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted, “The #BunkerBoy meme trending, Lindsey Graham outed, and massive protests still happening. @RandyRainbow: [still from a close-up of Mozart from the film Amadeus].”[5] Rainbow would re-tweet Oswalt, commenting, “So accurate.” Although the phrases “the jitterbug” and “the bunker boy” conveniently have the same number of syllables, it is still unclear as to why Rainbow 

Fig. 2 Randy Rainbow confirms that he is writing away on his next parody song

selected this particular song. Perhaps he was equating Trump with jitterbugs—small annoying insects trying to distract Americans from Trump’s alleged collusion and corruption. Perhaps it was the fact that “The Jitterbug” was cut from The Wizard of Oz because the dance form it was named after was perceived as a fad (as well as being simply cut for time).[6] Or maybe Rainbow wanted to carry on lyricist Yip Harburg’s tradition of writing as activism, and therefore participating in Orosz’s second and third subcategories of allographic imitation—a substitutive but still whimsical song parody condemning President Trump.[7] Indeed, after the video was released, composer and lyricist Marc Shaiman re-tweeted Rainbow’s video saying, “Yip Harburg, the lyricist of “The Wizard Of Oz” from which this song “The Jitterbug” was written for (but cut) was a writing activist (and blacklisted for it) and he would have loved this, I am sure. I know I do! Randy Rainbow for President (and/or Saturday Night Variety Show) [heart emoji].”[8]

Fig. 3 Marc Shaiman praising Rainbow for using a Yip Harburg song

Rainbow’s autographic imitation in this video includes imitative substitution and whimsical impersonation. In the original “Jitterbug” song, Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow all sing lines, including the intro in which all the characters speak. In Rainbow’s video, Rainbow performs as different unnamed reporters and White House staff members (Fig. 1). Slight vocal changes, camera angles, and editing all work together to give the illusion that they are different people. Although I do not believe that Rainbow intended to  replace the original Oz characters, there is a moment in which he switches from his normal vocal range to his falsetto range at the lines “So be careful/Not to scare him/[falsetto]He’s a flower,” as if to briefly channel Judy Garland’s feminine voice at the place she sings her line in the original. He does not sing a solo like this at any other time in the video. In the second half of his video (1:32), Rainbow is clearly engaging in  a whimsical impersonation of the Cowardly Lion, in which he is seen in a familiar brown wig with a red bow at the top. He also has his face painted with a nose and whiskers and makes cat-like gestures with his arms and hands in time with the music. Although one could try to draw connections with Trump (who Rainbow refers to as a “coward” in the song) and the lion’s moniker, it is more likely that this costume was included as a humorous nod to the origins of the song as well as to provide a hint to his audience regarding the source of his parody. 

Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, “The Jitterbug” in The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Perhaps in 2020, the obscurity of a parodistic reference is not as important to a listener, as long as the listener is relatively up to date on national news. To understand the source of the song “The Bunker Boy,” a viewer (like myself, at the beginning of June) would have to simply look at the YouTube comments or take a peek at Rainbow’s Twitter feed where he stated, “Thank you all for helping me make an obscure Wizard of Oz deep-cut trend on Twitter. It’s the only gay pride I need this month.”[9] However, it is clear that Randy Rainbow’s parody 

Fig 4. Randy Rainbow confirming the source song of “The Bunker Boy”

operates on many levels, and the more a listener knows about what is happening on all these levels, the funnier the song is to them, and the more complex it becomes. When Rainbow sings in falsetto to match his range with Garland’s, it is not only because he is able to do so. A viewer cannot ignore the fact that The Wizard of Oz is a classic Judy Garland film, that Garland is revered as a gay and musical-theater icon, and that Garland had an unfortunate history with MGM studio executives, who controlled the star for much of her career. Although viewers can find humor in the lyrics themselves (“But he’s only a clown that hides underground/And he sits on the toilet and tweets”; “I bet it smells like hamburgers and quiet desperation”; “I heard they had to childproof the bunk bed that they got him/Does he have a little ladder?/Doesn’t need one, he’s a bottom”), peeling back all this information about The Wizard of Oz and “The Jitterbug” can provide viewers with a more complex and nuanced understanding of this (and other) Rainbow parody songs.

– Caitlan Truelove


[1] See also Stephen Daw’s Billboard article on Rainbow’s rise in popularity: https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/pride/8499286/randy-rainbow-interview-donald-trump-parodies.

[2] Jeremy Orosz, “Autographic and Allographic Imitation: Revisiting Counterfeit in Linguistic and Musical Arts,” Contemporary Aesthetics 16 (2018), https://digitalcommons.risd.edu/liberalarts_contempaesthetics/vol16/iss1/12/.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Randy Rainbow, Twitter post, June 4, 2020, 12:22 PM, https://twitter.com/RandyRainbow/status/1268578957911343106?s=20.

[5] Randy Rainbow, Twitter post, June 6, 2020, 1:33 PM, https://twitter.com/RandyRainbow/status/1269321630213341188?s=20.

[6] John Fricke, “’The Wizard of Oz’: An Appreciation and Brief History of the Film and an Annotated Guide to the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Produced by Marilee Bradford and Bradley Flanagan,” liner notes for The Wizard of Oz: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – Deluxe Edition, 1995, 2 compact discs.

[7] In fact, Harburg once drafted (but did not publish) a song specifically criticizing John D. Rockefeller. He later published a revised version of the song, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” in which he questioned capitalism after experiencing and seeing hardworking people drastically affected by the Great Depression. See Harriet Hyman Alonso, Yip Harburg: Legendary Lyricist and Human Rights Activist (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press 2012).

[8] Marc Shaiman, Twitter post, June 7, 2020, 10:06 AM, https://twitter.com/marcshaiman/status/1269631759307681792.

[9] Randy Rainbow, Twitter post, June 7, 2020, 5:20 PM, https://twitter.com/RandyRainbow/status/1269741087977078784.

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