The way I see it, there are certain things that separate people in this world. There are people who use iPhones, and people who use Androids. There are people who like cilantro, and people who don’t. There are people who believe in God, and people who don’t. There are people who will tolerate the way women are treated on Game of Thrones, and people who don’t. And there are people who like Weird Al Yankovic, and people who don’t.
As for me, I use an Android, I love cilantro, I believe in God, I won’t tolerate the way women are treated on Game of Thrones (and we’ll talk about that another time, soon…), and I love Weird Al.
Weird Al is primarily known as a “parody” singer, popular for such songs as “Tacky” (Pharrell’s “Happy”), “Eat It” (Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”), “Living in Amish Paradise” (Coolio’s “Gangsta Paradise”), “Like a Surgeon” (Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”) and “Fat” (Jackson again, this time with “Bad”). However, a lot of people don’t know that this one-man parody machine is also a prolific writer of original music, as well as a deft accordion player whose accordianmanship (yes I just made up that word) is featured on every album he makes, in accordion-fueled mashups—snippets of current pop music set to wild polka instrumentals. Amazing. If you’re into that sort of thing.
In case you thought I was cool, I am certain that my mention for my love of polka pop music mash-ups will ensure you that I’m certainly not. But that’s sort of the thing about Weird Al: Anyone and everyone I have met who likes Weird Al is deeply nerdy, in a way you can’t even begin to fathom if you are not counted among the deeply nerdy. I’ve discovered that many Weird Al fans have one thing in common: That in their history, they felt socially isolated or even ostracized, sometimes even having been teased and ridiculed. While many Weird Al fans may not have felt bullied, embraced their nerdiness and didn’t have any negative experiences, those of us who were teased or tormented have found special comfort and joy in Weird Al Yankovic’s music.
It is a source of great comfort that Weird Al exists because I have found it to be true that I have never met a Weird Al fan I couldn’t relate to in some way.
My brother is the one who turned me on to Weird Al. He is four years older than me, and he was a geek before it was chic. We listed to Weird Al’s early albums—and by albums, I mean record albums, LPs—a lot, and we memorized pretty much every lyric. Weird Al’s original compositions were absurd and insane (he had one album named Dare to Be Stupid), but his rhyming was genius and his musicians top-notch. He was clever, punny and frequently sang about the absurdity of our culture, highlighting our obsession with material wealth and possessions, tabloid newsmagazines and making playful criticisms of “mainstream” culture that made nerdy, not-mainstream kids like me feel as if someone understood us.
Weird Al’s parody songs were remarkable because of how accurate he was in his replication of sound effects, vocals and music. His videos showed us a man not afraid to be utterly goofy and unabashedly nerdy. In interviews, Weird Al is well-spoken, gentle and honest; he wears Hawaiian shirts, he is thoughtful, he’s a gentleman. He’s the nerdy guy I was friends with in junior high who made good and is now a nerdy grown-up who’s not afraid to be nerdy.
“UHF,” Weird Al’s venture onto the big screen, is a movie I return to again and again. Michael Richards has a wonderful role as a simple-minded janitor who becomes a celebrity on the TV network Weird Al’s character inherits from a wealthy uncle. There are some great cameos, and while the film does not take itself that seriously, it has some very sweet material and convincingly sells Weird Al as a non-traditional, but sincere, leading man.
As I describe Weird Al’s music, his style, his choices as a musician and his work as an actor, it strikes me that some people find him unbelievably annoying, purposeless as an artist and just not worth their time. They just don’t get it. And that’s OK. In my childhood and adolescence, there were things I thought were funny and worth my time that very few people understood: things I collected, art I made, poems I wrote and boys I had enormous crushes on that made no sense to almost no one. There are things now in my life that most people don’t understand. (Come to think of it, those things still include things I collect, art I make, poems I write and boys I have crushes on, actually.) I am used to doing things differently and probably will raise kids who do things differently as well (my kids also love Weird Al).
Weird Al still serves as a sort of litmus test for my relationships. Most of my friends don’t like Weird Al and that’s okay. But whenever I run into a fan of his, we feel a connection. Even if, at some time in our past, someone hurt us, it was okay now—because we found each other.
I finally met Weird Al at, of all places, the Twilight premiere. I don’t think he had any clue who I was: I had just started appearing on The Big Bang Theory, and I don’t know if he was a Blossom fan. I introduced myself complete with stuttering and breathing heavy and definitely coming off like some weirdo-crazed fan (I couldn’t help it!). I told him what an enormous fan I was. He was very kind. And then I started to cry. And then he walked away.
If I met him again, I don’t know if I could even try to express to him what he means to me. I consider him the gateway to geekdom. He is the fail-proof way to know if someone you want to have a relationship with has a psychic wound you can bond over. He is a source of intelligent entertainment and a source of frivolous fun. He is weird and counterculture and bizarre and silly and gross and juvenile, in the safest way.
If you have never listened to Weird Al, go ahead and check out his latest album, Mandatory Fun. (You can view all his creative videos on his official website.) You can still befriend us if you don’t like what you hear, but prepare to tread with caution in your criticism of Weird Al or those who love him unapologetically, and believe that it’s important to “Dare to be Stupid.”