Weird Al Yankovic

Weird Al Yankovic

Date of birth: 23-10-1959

Born in California to a Yugoslav father, Al Yankovic began making song parodies while still a teenager, getting his break in 1976 when his first song was played on the Dr Demento radio show. The DJ championed him and gave airtime to early parodies such as Another One Rides The Bus.

He toured with a Dr Demento live show and released his first, self-titled, album in 1983. He shot to worldwide fame the following year with a parody of Michael Jackson’s Beat It, called Eat It, partly on the back of the video which closely resembled the original.

Over the years he has sold more than 12million albums and recorded more than 150 parodies. The most successful include White & Nerdy, which got to No 9 in America’s Billboard charts in 2006 (but just No 80 in the UK) and 1992’s Smells Like Nirvana (No 35 in the States, No 58 in the UK).

He has also directed original videos for artists including Ben Folds,Hanson and Black Crowes.

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Weird Al Yankovic: Mandatory Fun

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Hammersmith Apollo

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic doesn’t do cool. Even without his Hawaiian shirts, tie-dye suits and porn-star moustache, he works in that most critically derided of genres: the song parody. The man who got famous for changing Beat It to Eat It is not going to suddenly start stretching the boundaries of comic invention.

But, my god, is he entertaining! You won’t find many nights that are as full-on fun as this glorious salute to the cheesy. And the key is his commitment to being stupid. He utterly owns the ridiculous. There’s plenty of self-deprecation, but essentially he’s celebrating being the fool, and giving us permission to do the same.

That and the music, of course. It’s like seeing 25 bands in one night – and just doing their greatest hits; none of this ‘…and here’s one from our new album, hope you like it’ horseshit. He knows how to put on a show, too. Of course he’s got the band to help him, plus the jumbotron for some nifty videos, yet he also throws himself into his performance, no matter if this is not how a man of 55 ought to behave. He dances like a man possessed, prowls the auditorium offering corny (surely not?!) chat-up lines during the Prince parody I Wanna B Ur Lovr, and even makes a dramatic entrance through the back of the auditorium.

The showmanship extends to a stage wardrobe Kylie would be proud of, including an octopus outfit to spoof Lady Gaga, a Maple Leaf jacked for Canadian Idiot and a Michael Jackson fatsuit for, yes, Fat, in which he looks not unlike those unflattering pictures of Radio 2’s Steve Wright that the tabloids published recently.

His many costume changes are covered by videos that often splice Weird Al into genuine interviews or movies to hilarious effect (especially Whiplash). Although done as a dumb joke, the technique allows a brilliant takedown of Eminem, hoisted by his own inarticulacy, while probably funniest interstitial offers Yankovic’s life up as spoof biopic, checking every cliche of the genre.

But really his career is covered in other videos that montage various mentions of Weird Al in popular culture – of which there are surprisingly many; from Scooby-Doo to Veep; King Of The Hill to New Girl. He’s the go-to guy when you need a cornball celebrity as a punchline, but he’s very much in on the joke.

We’re here for the tunes, though, and when he first gets out his accordion, it’s presented aloft as if it were the holy grail. It’s deployed for the spirited Now That’s What I Call Polka medley – a good ole fashioned tub-thumping toe-tapping gimmick that’s never not funny. Hearing tracks such as Wrecking Ball, Timber and Thrift Shop reduced to a hyper-jaunty nonsense subliminally reduces any pretensions the singers might have had.

Similarly the indie angst of the likes of the Pixies is beautifully reduced when their style is applied to worries about First World Problems. And Nirvana are mocked for their incoherent lyrics – in what’s ironically one his most clearly delivered songs. As with any rock gig there are quite a few tracks where the intricacies of the lyrics are lost under the music… but even if you miss a few of Yankovic’s puns, it’s the whole silly spectacle that makes the show.

Talking of silly, some die-hards have shown up in hats they’ve fashioned from aluminium foil, a nod to his take on Lorde’s Royals, reimagined to be about the household essential, more than actual madness that the Illuminati are stilling their thoughts. Probably.

Yankovic only shelves his broad, mugging performance for a collection of his older hits (Beat It, Like A Surgeon, I Love Rocky Road among them) in the sort of stripped-down acoustic set that wouldn’t be out of place on a pretentious episode of Later With Jools Holland. It’s Yankovic Unmugged.

Despite being in the game so long, these are probably new to some of his audience, as Weird Al is still to be growing his fan base – and enthusiastically entertaining gigs like this will only help. Mandatory Fun was his first No 1 album, topping the Billboard charts last year, which Bill Maher joked was a signifier of the impending Apocalypse along with planes falling out of the sky.

Before this, Yankovic’s first top 10 single was 2006’s White and Nerdy, parodying Chamillionaire’s Ridin’ and of course given a run-out tonight,after he rode on to the stage on a Segway. The title surely applies to both him and his audience, who rightly love his Robin Thicke parody Word Crimes, picking up on all the grammatical snafus the internet likes to get angry about. And the Star Wars version of American Pie, impressively staged as an encore, cements the geeky reputation.

Yankovic is a real meme genie, not letting a pop culture moment pass him by without seeing if it’s ripe for parody. Did we even spot a nod to the Boosh’s crimping in his gloriously nonsensical number, full of odd noises and jerky choreography? Yes, we did.

Parodies are often looked down upon as cheap, easy and corny. But in making them such a blast, and continuing to do so for well over 30 years, Yankovic is tearing up the comedy rulebook in his own way.

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Published: 5 Oct 2015

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