Here’s What Is Actually True in ‘Weird: The Al Yankovic Story’

Movies


The Big Picture

  • Weird Al Yankovic’s first accordion was actually purchased from a traveling salesman, just like in the film.
  • Dr. Demento played a vital role in Yankovic’s early career, despite some exaggerations in the movie.
  • The breakout hit “My Bologna” was recorded in a bathroom, just as depicted in the film, and gained immediate success.


Famous for over 40 years as the parody song maestro, Weird Al Yankovic brings the same sense of sensibility to his own life story. With Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, Yankovic and co-writer/director Eric Appel set out to use Yankovic’s story to parody many of the conventions of the music biopic, including the disapproving parents, the addiction to drugs, turning on the band and other friends due to egomania, and, of course, the great comeback.

Naturally, the film also stretches the truth and completely makes up many of the details of Yankovic’s life, the film itself a parody of musical biopics. Weird completely fabricates an ongoing relationship with Madonna, an action movie-style takeover of a Columbian drug cartel, and Yankovic — played brilliantly by Daniel Radcliffe — being literally shot on stage at the end of the movie. However, despite its absurdity, some specifics in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story are actually true. Woven in with the high-antic hysterics are genuine moments of truth to Yankovic’s story, and some may be more surprising than others.

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

Explores every facet of Yankovic’s life, from his meteoric rise to fame with early hits like ‘Eat It’ and ‘Like a Surgeon’ to his torrid celebrity love affairs and famously depraved lifestyle.

Release Date
November 4, 2022

Director
Eric Appel

Cast
Daniel Radcliffe, Diedrich Bader, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Rainn Wilson, Julianne Nicholson

Rating
TV-14

Runtime
108 minutes

Main Genre
Comedy


Weird Al’s First Accordion Came From a Traveling Salesman

In one of the early scenes in the film, described by the narrator as “the day that changed his life,” a traveling salesman arrives, offering to sell Yankovic an accordion. The salesman gets beaten up by Yankovic’s father (Toby Huss) for pedaling such smut but sells the accordion when Yankovic’s mom (Julianne Nicholson) buys it in secret.

While this may seem farfetched, Yankovic did indeed get his first accordion from a traveling salesman. Around the age of seven, the Yankovic family was visited by a salesman trying to drum up interest in the local music program. Far from being violently discouraging or secretive, Yankovic’s parents supported the endeavor, even choosing the accordion for him. As Yankovic remembers:

“Kids were offered a choice between guitar lessons and accordion lessons. Since Frankie Yankovic (no relation) was America’s Polka King, my parents opted for accordion lessons, perhaps because they figured there should be at least one more accordion-playing Yankovic in the world.”

He started taking lessons not long after and soon began to learn both pop and polka music, only to later have his mind warped by the Dr. Demento radio show (more on that below).

Dr. Demento Was a Key Figure in Weird Al’s Life Early On

Radio DJ Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), famed for playing comedy songs, serves as Al’s mentor in the film (and later the friend he doesn’t heed the advice of because he thinks he knows better). As it stands, Dr. Demento was crucial in Al’s early career. As Yankovic says, “If it hadn’t been for the Dr. Demento Show, my life would have taken a dramatically different course.”

Like in the movie, Yankovic did strive to listen to Dr. Demento against his parents’ approval, but he found ways. Later on, their relationship began when Yankovic gave Dr. Demento his demo tape of original songs and Demento decided to play one on his show. This started a regular pattern of Yankovic sending in songs and Dr. Demento playing them often to great success, and debuting songs like “Another One Rides the Bus” (Yankovic’s parody of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”) live on Dr. Demento’s show. While there are quite a few exaggerations to their relationship on screen, it would be hard to argue Dr. Demento wasn’t a key figure for Yankovic.

That Breakthrough Hit “My Bologna” Was Recorded in a Bathroom

One of the more comedic set pieces in the film is when Yankovic and his college cohorts record “My Bologna” in the bathroom. The characters state that the bathroom has great acoustics which would make the tape sound even better. While this may seem like a parody of a down-on-their-luck musician finding the only means they can to record their song, this actually happened. Yankovic knew the bathrooms at Cal Poly radio station had the right setup for acoustics, so he ran some equipment across the hall and recorded the song. The song was an immediate hit.

As Dr. Demento remembers it: “The response I got when I played it on the air dwarfed not only that for all his earlier tapes, but practically everything else I played that whole year.” The song’s success even made an impression on The Knack, the band behind “My Sharona.” When Yankovic visited the band at a concert and introduced himself, the band praised his work and connected him to Capitol Records. Capitol then put out the song as a single, furthering Yankovic’s burgeoning career.

Related

‘UHF’ Is ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s Hilarious Time Capsule About A Now-Irrelevant Subject

Who knew that Weird Al’s timeless sense of humor translated into a 1989 feature film called UHF?

Many Musicians Did Get the “Yankovic Bump”

In Weird, it’s mentioned that thanks to the success of “Weird Al,” many of the original artists received a bump from listeners checking out the songs that the parody was based on. In the film, this even goes as far as Madonna tracking down Weird Al to produce a parody of her music (and forming the aforementioned relationship).

While Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) seducing Yankovic is definitely a creative liberty, it is undeniable many musicians received a bump from Yankovic’s parodies. In a recent interview, Yankovic mentions hearing from a number of artists that their sales did in fact boost when his parody was released. Specifically, he recalls when he parodied Nirvana:

“We heard from Nirvana’s label, profusely thanking me. They said, oh, we’ve sold, like, another million units of “Nevermind” after “Smells Like Nirvana” came out. You know, I don’t have all the data in front of me. But it’s sort of– it certainly happened more than once.”

While it’s not likely any artists ever seduced Yankovic in order to get a parody, very few have objected. In an interview with Wired from 2011, Yankovic posits that only about 2-3% of people have turned him down and that most musicians see his parodies as a badge of honor. While there are some notable exceptions, the funniest one is likely Paul McCartney, who refused a parody of “Live and Let Die” due to the song being about Chicken Pot Pie, which conflicted with McCartney’s strict vegetarian beliefs.

Yankovic’s Stage Name Came From Being Weird Growing Up

weird-al-yankovic-social

Much of Weird is about embracing weirdness. In the film, Yankovic’s parents worry about him being weird, he himself worries about being weird in front of his friends, and he fears that his passion for parody songs is weird. While in real life his parents did support him, he still was a bit of an outcast. Yankovic has talked about skipping grades, solving algebra problems for fun, and getting labeled quickly as a nerd. When he started performing on his college radio station, he took the name “Weird Al,” a term people in his dorm had been calling him, and he made it his own. As the film states, Yankovic took what made him “weird,” embraced it, and made a career out of it for 40 years.

It is only fitting that Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is more a parody of musician biopics than a traditional biopic itself. While Yankovic and the other makers of the film may be comfortable throwing real life out the window, there is still some tether to reality. Yankovic uses parody to tell his own story, and despite the flights of comedic fantasies, there is a fair amount of truth to Yankovic’s portrayal. Even when simply trying to parody other movies, Yankovic can’t help but parody real aspects of his own life.

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is available to stream on Roku.

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