The secret to Weird Al’s genius…

Weird Al has been around so long he’s gone from a fun novelty (late 70’s-early 80’s), to a forgotten fad (late-80’s), to a comeback kid (early 90’s), to niche entertainer (late 90’s-mid00’s), to—today—a beloved nostalgia act/national treasure. That’s a summary strictly limited to perception. We have viewed Weird Al that way over the years but, truth be told, the man himself has changed very little. He’s just as spastic, manic, sharp, and mostly harmless as he was when he first broke into the mainstream back in the late 1970’s.

I say “mostly” harmless because that’s really the secret sauce to Yankovic’s success.

The man is known for having “clean” shows that both kids and adults can love, and I can attest to that, having grown up listening to his music and now—a father of three, including a twelve-year-old—passing on my love for him to my kids. My oldest and I just traveled to Memphis, to the classy Orpheum Theater, to watch Weird Al (a few months shy of his sixtieth birthday) sing and dance, and there wasn’t a foul word to be heard, not an inappropriate joke to be found, not a bad image to be seen. That may not mean much to you, but for a dad, it’s important to filter those things.

With Weird Al, there was no filter required.

And yet, I say “mostly” harmless because the core truth at the heart of every parody song, every original polka number, and every tune in between is this: Weird Al’s sense of humor is dark.

It’s a darkness that’s masked behind an infectious smile and flowing locks of curly black (or is it a very dark amber? the lighting tricks the eye), but it’s present none the less. That being said, don’t mistake “darkness” for “meanness” or “cruelty.” There’s an innocent playfulness to his lyrics and his overall sense of humor. It’s a style born out of a different generation, where generally (not specifically) making of fun of fat people, lazy people, Amish people, nerdy people, and losers in and out of love was considered acceptable humor. It’s a sad truth but Weird Al’s lyrics probably would never find an audience today. People are too quick to be upset on behalf of someone else.

But Al keeps at it, shrugging off his critics (few though they be) with a smile and some self-deprecating humor. And his critics are few; the man has reached an almost untouchable status, due to his longevity in entertainment. The fact that he’s so darn kind and innocent, not conceited, crass, or cynical probably buys him enough goodwill to shield him from any mob justice that might otherwise attack him. Here are Yankovic’s own words about his mentality in parodying other artists…

I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. I don’t want to be embroiled in any nastiness. That’s not how I live my life. I like everybody to be in on the joke and be happy for my success. I take pains not to burn bridges.

I mean, come on…

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How can you hate this man?

Still though, his lyrics have an edge to them. Right now you’re probably thinking of some of his more well-known songs and reflecting on the dark afterbite to his lyrics; songs like Fat and Eat It are easy targets, but let’s consider the lyrics to my absolute favorite Weird Al song…

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The song is bubbly, catchy, and like almost all of his tunes, ear-wormy (you can’t get the tune out of your head). Hearing him sing it you can almost hear him smile, and yet the lyrics…

AQUARIUS!

There’s travel in your future when your tongue freezes to the back of a speeding bus
Fill that void in your pathetic life by playing Whack-A-Mole 17 hours a day

PISCES!

Try to avoid any Virgos or Leos with the Ebola virus
You are the true Lord of the Dance, no matter what those idiots at work say

ARIES!

The look on your face will be priceless when you find that 40-pound watermelon in your colon
Trade toothbrushes with an albino dwarf, then give a hickey to Meryl Streep

TAURUS!

You will never find true happiness – what you gonna do, cry about it?
The stars predict tomorrow you’ll wake up, do a bunchof stuff and then go back to sleep

That’s your horoscope for today
That’s your horoscope for today
That’s your horoscope for today
That’s your horoscope for today

GEMINI!

Your birthday party will be ruined once again by your explosive flatulence
Your love life will run into trouble your fiance hurls a javelin through your chest

CANCER!

The position of Jupiter says that you should spend the rest of the week face down in the mud
Try not to shove a roll of duct tape up your nose while taking your driver’s test

LEO!

Now is not a good time to photocopy your butt and staple it to your boss’s face, oh no
Eat a bucket of tuna-flavored pudding, then wash it down with a gallon of strawberry Quik

VIRGO!

All Virgos are extremely friendly and intelligent – except for you
Expect a big surprise today when you wind up with your head impaled upon a stick

That’s your horoscope for today
That’s your horoscope for today
That’s your horoscope for today
That’s your horoscope for today

Now you may find it inconceivable or at the very least a bit unlikely that the relative position of the planets and the stars could have a special deep significance or meaning that exclusively applies to only you, but let me give you my assurance that these forecasts and predictions are all based on solid, scientific, documented  evidence, so you would have to be some kind of moron not to realize that every single one of them is absolutely true.

Where was I?

LIBRA!

A big promotion is just around the corner for someone much more talented than you
Laughter is the very best medicine, remember that when your appendix bursts next week

SCORPIO!

Get ready for an unexpected trip when you fall screaming from an open window
Work a little bit harder on improving your low self esteem, you stupid freak

SAGITTARIUS!

All your friends are laughing behind your back… kill them
Take down all those naked pictures of Ernest Borgnine you’ve got hanging in your den

CAPRICORN!

The stars say that you’re an exciting and wonderful person… but you know they’re lying
If I were you, I’d lock my doors and windows and never never never never never leave my house again

That’s your horoscope for today…

His anthem against music piracy (Don’t Download This Song) warns children that illegally downloading tunes will lead to “robbing liquor stores,” then “selling crack” until finally, they’re “running over school kids with [their] car.”

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There are not many singers who could get away with those lyrics. Not because they’re terribly offensive but because there’s a level of sarcastic humor to them that no one else could pull off so sincerely.

Canadian Idiot is a two-point-five minute takedown of the entire nation of people who “never even bring their guns to the mall.” In the song, Al mocks “their stupid monopoly money” but also notes (in probably the best line of the song ) how “sure they got national healthcare, cheaper meds for prime rates, and clean air…then again, well they got Celine Dion.” And then there’s “Break their nose and they’ll just say sorry. Tell me what kind of freaks are that polite?”

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How can you not laugh?

If I’m not careful I’ll spend another five-thousand words just talking about his best songs. I’ll resist the urge and instead end with this: Weird Al has endured through five (heading into a sixth) different decades, has spoofed everyone from Michael Jackson to Coolio to Nirvana to Chamillionaire. He’s touched almost every aspect of pop culture, endured longer than almost every artist he’s ever parodied and given polka a Billboard Number One album.

He’s been going strong for so long, with no signs of slowing down, and right now is touring the United States, being backed by a “forty-one piece” classical orchestra. The juxtaposition of those two ideas is, itself, a wonderful joke. It’s moronic, but as the man himself challenges us: “Dare to be Stupid.”

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Challenge accepted.

The man’s been making me laugh since I was a child, and now just look at the smile on my son’s face…

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May he never retire.

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