I’ve written letters to three celebrities in my lifetime: TV personality Marc Summers, Ritchie Valens, and “Weird Al” Yankovic. The first letter was a request for my family to appear on Summers’ classic Nickelodeon game show Double Dare, during which a bucket of green slime inevitably doused just about every contestant. Pretty sure Mom and Dad “forgot” to mail that one. My second foray into letter writing was an informal how-are-you to Valens after watching Lou Diamond Phillips portray the pop sensation’s meteoric rise and tragic fall in La Bamba. Clearly the whole airplane scene didn’t register with me. No gripes with my folks for tucking that one away in a drawer somewhere. However, by the time I wrote to the official “Weird Al” Fan Club, I was old enough to check my grammar, apply a stamp, and walk across the street to bravely pop my letter into a mailbox. About six months later, long after I had forgotten having written him, I received a reply from Al. Standardized, sure. Stamped signature, you betcha. But clearly from Al or at least a valued employee of Al. Still beats a Twitter holla any day.
I hadn’t thought about that letter—which I lost long ago—in a number of years before I set out on this project with my fellow Al-loving cohorts. That letter would be more than 20 years old today, and that’s when it really hits me that “Weird Al” has been goofing, lampooning, and geeking out for over three decades now. While parodies and joke songs are probably as old as songs themselves, he made a singular and zany art form out of it—to the point where it has become an honor and rite of passage for artists to have Yankovic parody or “polkafy” their most beloved work. Michael Jackson and Madonna rightly get credited for launching MTV into the stratosphere, but we shouldn’t forget that “Weird Al” wasn’t too far away from the launchpad either, dressed in a leather-clad fat suit or a surgeon’s scrubs or fake interviewing music’s biggest names for a segment of Al TV. He’s carved out an unlikely legacy and niche for himself that very few other jokers can rival.
Not much has really changed about “Weird Al” over the years. Sure, he may have jettisoned the clunky glasses and straightened the curly nerd fro, but the formula remains the same. The joke, not the craft or musicianship, is still the joke, and all of us, musicians and the public alike, are ripe for offering up the source material for Al’s next classic. If anything, it’s his audience who has changed. Catch a “Weird Al” show these days and you’ll find an audience spanning multiple generations—often parents and their children—who grew up on Yankovic’s food- and TV-fueled humor. I think that was the greatest challenge we faced when putting this feature together: two different generations of “Weird Al” fans butting heads over whose Al was better. Kind of a silly thing to quarrel over. Then again, being silly is really the whole point, isn’t it?
Enjoy the Very Best of “Weird Al” Yankovic, and as always, let us know what we missed in the comments section below.