Born Alfred Matthew Yankovic on October 23, 1959; married Suzanne, 2003; children: Nina, born 2003. Education: California Polytechnic State University, bachelor's degree in architecture, 1979. Addresses: Home--Los Angeles, CA. Fan club--Close Personal Friends of Al, PMB #4018, 8033 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90046. Website--http://www.weirdal.com/.
"Weird Al" Yankovic's method is simple: Take the title of a popular song, change it slightly to make it sound ridiculous, write funny lyrics to go with the new title, and make an equally funny video to go with the resulting song. Yankovic has used t hese means for over a decade to establish himself as pop music's premier parodist.
Yankovic told Lynn Van Matre of the Chicago Tribune that the "warped outlook" that characterizes his work is the result of the accordion lessons he took as a child; it was the accordion that helped Yankovic take his first step toward stardom. In 1979 Yankovic was an architecture student who also worked at his college radio station. At the station one day, he took his accordion into the men's room and recorded "My Bologna," a parody of the flash-in-the-pan pop group the Kna ck's "My Sharona." He sent the song to Dr. Demento, host of a nationally syndicated radio show featuring offbeat, obscure, and humorous recordings. "My Bologna" was a hit with Dr. Demento's nutty audience, and Capitol Records offered Yankovic a contract t o issue the song as a single. He followed it with a parody of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" entitled "Another One Rides the Bus," which became the most requested song in the first decade of Dr. Demento's show and led to a recording contract with Ro ck 'n' Roll Records.
Yankovic's first album, Weird Al Yankovic, was released in 1983 and featured a mix of his Dr. Demento hits and new parodies. One of the new songs was "Ricky," which put lyrics about Ricky and Lucy Ricardo, of the long-runn ing 1950s television series I Love Lucy, to the tune of Toni Basil's hit pop tune "Mickey." The result was a single that made Billboard's Top 100 and a video that gave Yankovic his first exposure on ca ble network MTV. He was quoted by Gary Graff of the Detroit Free Press as saying, "Ricky Ricardo has always been one of my major role models. I always wanted to grow up to be a Puerto Rican band leader."
But Yankovic has come to be associated more with superstar Michael Jackson than with Ricky Ricardo. Yankovic's biggest hit came in 1984 when "Eat It," his parody of Jackson's "Beat It," made the Top 20, and earned Yankovic a Grammy for Best Comedy R ecording. The video of the song was also hugely popular, imitating the sets and dance routines of Jackson's video, but making food the subject matter. In 1988 Yankovic did another send-up of Jackson, entitling his album Even Worse in response to Jackson's album Bad, and parodying the title song from Jackson's album with the single and video "Fat." In the video, which won Yankovic his second Grammy, for Best Concept Video, Yankovic wore prosthetic makeu p that took three hours to put on and transformed him into a grotesquely overweight facsimile of Jackson, complete with black leather, jheri curls, and buckles aplenty. Of course, in order to make these parodies, Yankovic had to obtain Jackson's permissio n to use the melodies of his hit songs. Yankovic told the Chicago Tribune's Van Matre that Jackson "has a good sense of humor. He really seems to appreciate the things I do."
Evidently plenty of other songwriters and performers have had a sense of humor over the years as well. Yankovic has written parody lyrics and made videos of Madonna's "Like a Virgin" ("Like a Surgeon"), the Police's "King of Pain" ("King of Suede"), Cindy Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" ("Girls Just Want to Have Lunch"), and Greg Kihn's "Jeopardy" ("I Lost on Jeopardy"), among others. The popularity of his videos afforded "Weird Al" the opportunity to branch out a bit, which led to a 1985 tel evision special on the cable service Showtime entitled Weird Al Yankovic: The Compleat Al. In 1988 he hosted a semi-regular show on MTV called Al TV, which featured his favorite music videos along with sales pitches for "Weird Al" paraphernalia.
Performing parodies has brought Yankovic success, but his considerable abilities go beyond writing new lyrics to other people's tunes. His albums have always included original compositions that feature satirical lyrics about some of the tackier aspe cts of American life. "Mr. Popeil," "I'm Stuck in the Closet with Vanna White," and "Velvet Elvis" have all poked fun at staples of American popular culture; the title track of his 1985 album, Dare to Be Stupid, reflected cluel ess Americans in general. Describing both his parodies and original songs, Yankovic told Van Matre, "Most of my songs are about food or television or other important aspects of the American pop culture." Once, when asked if he had considered giving up his spoofs to concentrate on performing original songs, Yankovic told the Detroit Free Press's Graff, "I think there'd be a big public backlash if I did. The public is used to me doing parodies. When we do an original, they'll come up and say, 'That's great, Al, but what's it a parody of?'"
His reputation as a parodist enabled Yankovic to expand his range with the 1989 feature film UHF, a parody of television that he co-wrote and starred in. Yankovic played a man who inherits a television station with chronic ally low ratings and transforms it by replacing reruns of old sitcoms with game shows like Wheel of Fish and Name That Stain. Describing the movie to Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angele s Times, Yankovic called it "a cross between [the Frank Capra classic] It's a Wonderful Life, [Prince's movie] Purple Rain, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
But playing music remained Yankovic's main focus, and he continued to be popular for his comic send-ups through the 1990s and into the 2000s. His hits in the 1990s included "Smells Like Nirvana," a parody of the Nirvana hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit. " Featured on Yankovic's 1992 Off the Deep End album, "Smells Like Nirvana" landed on the top 40 chart, and set the stage for Yankovic's next album, Alapalooza, released the following year. Bad Hair Day followed in 1996, becoming Yankovic's best selling album up to that time, propelled by the single "Amish Paradise," a parody of Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise. Running with Scissors came next, in 1999.
Poodle Hat, Yankovic's 2003 release, debuted at the number 17 spot on the Billboard Top Albums Chart, and gave Yankovic his highest first-week sales ever. The album also earned Yankovic his third Grammy, for Best Comedy Album. Featuring parodies of songs by Eminem, the Backstreet Boys, Billy Joel, and others, Poodle Hat includes many all-original compositions as well.
In both his original compositions and his parodies, on video, on television, and in the movies, Yankovic has been constant in poking fun at familiar aspects of popular culture in America. Yankovic told Graff that his continued success with this bran d of humor has run contrary to conventional wisdom: "Just doing the kind of material I do, people tag me as a one-hit wonder, a novelty artist." A decade of success, though, has demonstrated Yankovic's unique ability to consistently use to his greatest ad vantage the popular culture he so hilariously lampoons.
by Lloyd Hemingway and Michael Belfiore
Weird Al Yankovic's Career
Began writing and recording parodies of rock songs in high school; received first widespread attention on the syndicated Dr. Demento Radio Show with "My Bologna," 1979; single "Another One Rides the Bus" becam e most requested song on the Dr. Demento Show, 1980s; signed with Rock 'n' Roll Records; released Weird Al Yankovic, 1983; released numerous albums, 1980s-2000s; single "Ricky" appeared on Billboard Top 100 chart and "Ricky" video played on MTV network, 1980s; produced hit single and video, "Eat It," 1984; earned Grammy for "Eat It;" hosted "Al TV" on MTV and VH1, 1988-2000s; hosted shows and appeared on various TV networks, including Showtime, ABC, MTV and VH1, 1988s-2000s; released single and video of "Fat," 1988; won Grammy for "Fat" video; co-wrote and starred in feature film UHF, Orion, 1989; released Poodle Hat, 2003 ; earned Grammy for Poodle Hat.
Weird Al Yankovic's Awards
Grammy Award, Best Comedy Recording for "Eat It," 1984; American Video Award, Best Male Performance for "Eat It," 1984; Best Concept Music Video for "Fat," 1988; Keyboard magazine, Best Accordionist of the Year, 1989; Grammy Award, Best Comedy Album for Poodle Hat, 2003.
- Selected discography
- "My Bologna," Capitol, 1979.
- "Another One Rides the Bus," Rock 'n' Roll/CBS, 1983.
- "I Love Rocky Road," Rock 'n' Roll/CBS, 1983 "Ricky," Rock 'n' Roll/CBS, 1983.
- "Eat It," Rock 'n' Roll/CBS, 1984.
- "I Lost on Jeopardy," Rock 'n' Roll/CBS, 1984.
- "King of Suede," Rock 'n' Roll/CBS, 1984 "Dare to Be Stupid," Rock 'n' Roll/CBS, 1985.
- "Like a Surgeon," Rock 'n' Roll/CBS, 1985.
- "Fat," Rock 'n' Roll/CBS, 1988.
- "Smells Like Nirvana," Scottie Bros., 1992.
- "You Don't Love Me Anymore," Scottie Bros., 1992.
- "Jurassic Park," Scottie Bros., 1993.
- "Bedrock Anthem," Scottie Bros., 1993.
- "Headline News," Scottie Bros., 1994.
- "Amish Paradise," Scottie Bros., 1996.
- "Gump," Scottie Bros., 1996.
- "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi," BMG, 1999.
- "Saga Begins," Avex Japan, 2000.
- Weird Al Yankovic Scotti Bros., 1983.
- Weird Al Yankovic in 3-D Scotti Bros., 1984.
- Dare to Be Stupid Scotti Bros., 1985.
- Polka Party! Scotti Bros., 1986.
- Even Worse Scotti Bros., 1988.
- UHF Scotti Bros., 1989.
- Peter and the Wolf Columbia, 1990.
- Off the Deep End Scotti Bros., 1992.
- Alapalooza Scotti Bros., 1993.
- The TV Album Scotti Bros., 1995.
- Bad Hair Day Scotti Bros., 1996.
- Running with Scissors Volcano, 1999.
- Poodle Hat Volcano, 2003.
- Greatest Hits Scotti Bros., 1989.
- Al-Hits Sony, 1990.
- The Food Album Scotti Bros., 1993.
- Permanent Record Scotti Bros., 1994.
- Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 Scotti Bros., 1994.
- Contemporary Newsmakers 1985, Gale, 1986.
- Chicago Tribune, May 8, 1988; July 21, 1989.
- Detroit Free Press, April 16, 1984; August 7, 1985.
- Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1988.
- People, June 6, 1988.
- Weird Al Yankovic Official Website, http://www.weirdal.com (February 19, 2004).
- "Weird Al Yankovic," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 19, 2004).