“Weird Al” Yankovic Breaks Down His Most Iconic Tracks: “Eat It,” “Amish Paradise,” “White and Nerdy,” and His Other Hilarious Songs

Few things could have been more amus­ing to a twelve-year-old in 1996 than an Amish-themed par­o­dy of the late Coo­lio’s por­ten­tous­ly grim life-in-the-hood anthem “Gangsta’s Par­adise.” As luck would have it, “Weird Al” Yankovic released just such a song in 1996, when I hap­pened to be twelve years old myself. Like every­one who’s been a kid at some point in the past 40 years, I grew up hear­ing and appre­ci­at­ing Yankovic’s pro­lif­ic out­put of par­o­dies, pas­tich­es, and even orig­i­nal songs. From “Eat It” to “Smells like Nir­vana” to “White and Nerdy,” there was hard­ly a pop-music phase of my child­hood, ado­les­cence, and ear­ly adult­hood that he did­n’t make fun­ny.

That’s to make fun­ny, as dis­tinct from to make fun of: unlike that of a pre­de­ces­sor in com­e­dy song­writ­ing like Tom Lehrer, Yankovic’s body of work evi­dences not the least ten­den­cy toward harsh­ness or ridicule.

Hence his appeal from his very first record­ing “My Bol­og­o­na,” an accor­dion-based par­o­dy of “My Sharona” record­ed in the bath­room of his col­lege radio sta­tion, to no less an advo­cate of silli­ness than Dr. Demen­to, whose air­play launched the young Weird Al’s career — a career that, as Yankovic acknowl­edges while telling the sto­ries behind his icon­ic songs in the GQ video above, has not gone with­out its strokes of luck.

Yet few liv­ing per­form­ers more clear­ly per­son­i­fy the old apho­rism describ­ing luck as the meet­ing of prepa­ra­tion and oppor­tu­ni­ty. “Weird Al approach­es the com­po­si­tion of his music with some­thing like the holy pas­sion of Michelan­ge­lo paint­ing the ceil­ing of the Sis­tine Chapel,” writes Sam Ander­son in a 2020 New York Times Mag­a­zine pro­file. See­ing Yankovic’s notes for “White & Nerdy” “file felt like watch­ing a super­com­put­er crunch through pos­si­ble chess moves. Every sin­gle vari­able had to be con­sid­ered, in every sin­gle line.” To work in musi­cal form, even the sil­li­est humor demands his total ded­i­ca­tion.

Yankovic has long showed a will­ing­ness straight­for­ward­ly to dis­cuss what it’s like to be Weird Al, as well as what it takes to be Weird Al. For a con­sid­er­ably less straight­for­ward ver­sion, we can watch The Roku Chan­nel’s new Weird: The Al Yankovic Sto­ry. Most biopics take artis­tic lib­er­ties with the lives of their sub­jects, but Weird goes all the way, par­o­dy­ing the very form of the biopic itself while per­form­ing colos­sal (and sure­ly fan-delight­ing) exag­ger­a­tions of the facts of Yankovic’s life. In the GQ video, for exam­ple, he men­tions get­ting the idea for “Like a Sur­geon” by hear­ing Madon­na throw it out in an inter­view; in the trail­er above, Madon­na turns at the door at his opu­lent man­sion, a ver­i­ta­ble suc­cubus ready to drag him into the musi­cal under­world. And it seems a safe bet that things only get Weird­er there­after.

Relat­ed con­tent:

“Weird Al” Yankovic Releas­es “Word Crimes,” a Gram­mar Nerd Par­o­dy of “Blurred Lines”

Two Leg­ends: Weird Al Yankovic “Inter­views” James Brown (1986)

Dr. Demento’s New Punk Album Fea­tures William Shat­ner Singing The Cramps, Weird Al Yankovic Singing The Ramones & Much More

Mon­ty Python’s Eric Idle Breaks Down His Most Icon­ic Char­ac­ters

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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