The Burden of Spoof
Weird Al Yankovic Dares To Be Stupid.
By Curtis McCrary
FEBRUARY 28, 2000: This is for all you lampshade-wearers out there. That's right, clown boy, I'm talking to you. I see you over there making crank calls, doing your little "food dances," your public displays of doughy ass, your mock kung-fu battles, all for the holy grail of jokers everywhere: the girl. That's right, you do it to impress girls, not for something so pedestrian as a laugh. I'm on to you because I'm one of you -- and I'm on to your hero, too. Whoosat? you say. Adam Sandler? No, I'm talking about someone subtler, despite his seeming obviousness. I'm talking about a guy who straddles the wall between corny and sophisticated, and rules over both sides. I'm talking about a guy who'll have to be surgically removed from his Hawaiian shirt when he dies. I'm talking, of course, about Alfred Matthew Yankovic.
It seems you've forgotten about "Weird" Al, the stalwart jokester, a lifelong Californian who began waging his war of laughter when you were discovering you had a favorite chair. He was his high-school valedictorian, graduated at the tender age of 16 and matriculated to the prestigious geek school Cal Poly, where he recorded a parody of the Knack's "My Sharona" called "My Bologna." Al sent the song to his own personal Yoda, Dr. Demento, who still hosts the nationally syndicated radio novelty show where the single debuted. Dr. D adored Al's song, and the latter ultimately landed at the selfsame label that was home to the subjects of his parodies, Capitol Records. Along with his second-ever parody single "Another One Rides the Bus" (based on the Queen hit), Al was on his way into the loge box of comedy.
His big break came with the 1984 hit parody of Michael Jackson's "Beat It." "Eat It," which charted at No. 12, was released on Al's second Scotti Bros. album, In 3-D, and established him as Pop's Premier Party Polka Parodist. Suddenly Al was all over MTV, with videos and guest hosting spots, and specials such as AL TV, which led to more cameos, spots and specials. Follow-up albums included Dare to Be Stupid; the overlooked Polka Party, Even Worse, whose strength was another incredibly funny Michael Jackson goof with "Fat" (parodying "Bad"); a well done Nirvana parody on Off the Deep End; and the recent Bad Hair Day with its good-natured Coolio send-up, "Amish Paradise."
(Absurdly enough, "Gangsta's Paradise" is a sampled update of Stevie Wonder's "Pastime Paradise," but nobody ever asked Stevie if he was upset at Coolio's parody. Al describes the Coolio episode as a miscommunication, and wrote an apology letter to which he never received a response.)
Ever consider doing serious music, Weird Al?
"There are enough people out there doing unfunny music. I enjoy my niche, I enjoy doing comedy music, that's my love." Amen.
After the success of "Eat It," Al dedicated himself to full-time clownboydom, with an ardor unmatched by any of his contemporaries. When not in some sort of "fat suit," he maintained a clownboy exterior, a look likely upheld out of torpor than anything else, but it suited him: freakishly curly poodle hair, glasses, a big-but-not-Gene-Shalit-big moustache, and the pièce de résistance, his staple, his trademark: his Hawaiian shirt.
The look has evolved somewhat over time. Since undergoing corrective laser surgery in 1998, he now only wears non-corrective glasses. He also recently fell afoul of a razor, and lost the mustache for the first time in nearly two decades. His hair (as evidenced on the cover of his latest, Running with Scissors) has gotten metal-dude long, and the weight of it has caused his curls to straighten somewhat. In fact, he looks a little like Dave Mustaine, and perhaps that's why Megadeth wanted him to direct a video for them a while back. (He had to turn them down due to touring obligations.)
And you probably forgot about him. Or perhaps you've seen the "Saga Begins" Star Wars parody video, or "It's All About the Pentiums," and were reminded for a short time of just how funny, just how gifted this unassuming man is at turning pop culture on its ear. The problem is, he's so good, so clever, that the public takes him for granted. Weird Al gives and gives and gives. And you just take, and forget. Stop it.
Maybe you think you've outgrown him. Al's not hip, you might say to yourself. But did you know that he was down with the Beastie Boys? That he directed and appeared in the video for "Wail" by Jon Spencer? That he's won two Grammys? That recent Oscar nominee Spike Jonze, the hip director (not Spike Jones Al's musical idol), sabotaged a Weird Al interview in 1996 in a neck brace, making goofy parody suggestions? ("I didn't realize it was him until after the fact," Al says.) Or that in some circles, his 1988 feature film UHF is considered an avant-garde classic?
His Behind the Music special on VH-1 was the fourth highest rated ever, of all the spectacular washouts ever documented on that series, besting even Madonna. Al didn't even have to spill any stories about sharing drugs with near-casualty sperm-donor David Crosby (mainly because he's never done drugs, but if he did, you know he'd share).
Still unconvinced? How many wisenheimer clones-of-clones like Nada Surf ever had Steven Spielberg in their video? Has Ween been to Michael Jackson's house, or better yet, have the Butthole Surfers ever had the opportunity to open for M.J. on his 1988 European tour? Who besides Weird (and Weezer) ever had somebody as "anti-cool" as Rick Derringer produce early albums? Where's that list of chuckleheads who have appeared in Naked Gun 2 1/2 holding a gun on O.J. Simpson? And nobody but nobody has enough "edge" to record a version of Peter and the Wolf with transsexual Moog heroine Wendy Carlos. Except Al. That's Crispin Glover territory, my friend (on whose album The Big Problem our man Weird Al appeared).
"Performance is my favorite part of what I do," Al says. No whining about being on the road too long (aside from a holiday break, the band is in the middle of an 18 month tour), just taking it out there, from town to town, balls out, fat suit, lederhosen and wigs on. The tour isn't just any rock show, it's an extravaganza, an Alapalooza. He's got more costume changes than Madonna and Elton John combined. He rocks the stage like he owns it, and he will own you, and you'll beg his forgiveness for your neglect. And he'll forgive you. He's too nice not to.
Al wants you to dust him off, take him out. Salute the first person who ever dared you to be stupid! Memorize these words: "Your table manners are a crying shame/you're playing with your food, this ain't some kind of game/ now if you starve to death, you'll just have yourself to blame/ so eat it."
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