Few artists can say they have been actively involved in popular culture for over 45 years. “Al Weird” Yankovic is part of this select group. Since 1976, Weird Al’s comedic music has been extremely popular among music fans of all ages. In many ways, you can follow the progression of music history just by listening to Weird Al’s tracks. You can learn a lot from an artist who was there to parody both Freddie Mercury and Lin-Manuel Miranda at their peak.
“Weird Al” is loved by musicians, writers, filmmakers and Hollywood in general. Apart from his parody songs and original tracks, Weird Al frequently appears in films and on television. He appeared in movies like The naked gun trilogySpy Hard, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Rob Zombieit is Halloween 2and Bill and Ted face the music, just to name a few. Weird Al’s fascinating origin story is set to finally be uncovered later this year. Daniel Radcliffe is playing the lead role in the upcoming biopic, Bizarre: the story of Al Yankovic, which is set to release on The Roku Channel later this year. Weird Al helped co-write the screenplay himself.
One of the reasons Weird Al has been so successful for so long is that there’s a certain element to his humor that’s universal. You don’t really need to know what he parodies for fun. His quirky instruments, clever puns and humorous delivery are just plain fun. Of course, something like “Fat”, which parodies michael jackson“Bad” is pretty self-explanatory. At the same time, you don’t need to know anything about The Kinks or star wars find pleasure in “Yoda”. Some young fans may be surprised when they listen to older music. they first heard the “Weird Al” version.
Much like the man himself, Weird Al’s work is seemingly ageless. Weird Al was at the height of his powers in the 1980s. In 1985, he won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording for another Michael Jackson parody, “Eat It,” and landed a second Grammy for the best concept music video for “Fat” in 1989. Everyone seemed to know who he was, so Weird Al made one of the most ambitious projects of his career: a feature film. He starred, co-wrote and produced the film’s original music UHFwho was released in the summer of 1989 by Orion Pictures. The film focuses on the internal politics of television and programming, phrases that might as well be foreign concepts to younger viewers.
Ironically, the subject of UHF is now completely irrelevant. The story of an “ultra high frequency” (UHF) analog TV program being a “rebel outsider” is a complete product of the time it was produced. However, UHF remains a comedy classic despite everything. Like most things Weird Al has created, UHF lasted longer than the thing he’s laughing at.
Weird Al stars in UHF like George Newman, a wacky slacker who struggles to be taken seriously; it wasn’t like Weird Al stretched his personality that much for his first leading role. George floated between jobs, but through an amusing set of circumstances, he landed a role as chief programmer for UHF station Channel 62. George’s uncle, Harvey Bilchik (Stanley Broc), had won the rights to the station in a poker tournament. You don’t need to know anything about broadcast (or creative management in general) to recognize that this is a totally implausible setup.
The premise alone is also the perfect way for Weird Al to enter the film. It would have been very easy for him to create his own version of purple rain or 8 miles, and basically playing himself. Even though George’s personality isn’t all that different from Weird Al’s, he doesn’t just rely on his stage persona. This allowed those unfamiliar with his music to find enjoyment in the film. It’s also the type of piece that was made for Weird Al’s sensibilities; George is an underdog. His ideas seem ridiculous, and for that reason alone, people think he has no talent. It feels like a subtle commentary on Weird Al’s entire career.
UHF makes a lot of smart decisions that have been overlooked by today’s parody movies. The film made appropriate use of celebrity cameos. When Charlie Sheen reveal again in one of horror movie movies, there’s no real joke per se. The film builds on the audience’s awareness of Sheen; he is the punchline. It might make audiences laugh now, but many years later it won’t age very well. UHF intelligently includes well-known personalities. When Dr Demento makes an appearance, he plays a real character. A 12-year-old “Weird Al” fan today might not know who Dr. Demento is, but a guy doused in whipped cream is funny anyway.
Ironically, UHF doesn’t have as much original music as one might expect from a film written by Weird Al. In fact, Weird Al’s sixth studio album UHF – Original Movie Soundtrack and Other Stuff is supplemented by other original compositions that do not appear in the film itself. As it should be, most of the music of UHF is original. It makes sense from a story perspective. This also distinguishes the film from Weird Al’s other works. At the same time, “UHF” is a beloved song among Weird Al fans, even though they have never seen UHF.
There is also something universal, and surprisingly relevant, about a “rogue programmer”. Whether it’s the world of broadcasting in the 1980s or the streaming wars of today, original creators have always struggled to be heard. Niche artists always had to prove that if they produced interesting content, they would eventually find an audience. The terminology and context may have changed, but the theme is still there.
UHF was not a huge hit when first released. It received lackluster reviews and failed to become a box office sensation. It’s not really a low point in Weird Al’s career, but it’s mostly forgotten. However, UHF worth revisiting; it shows the dexterity of Weird Al’s artistry and provides insight into his road to success. With the upcoming biopic Bizarre: the story of Al Yankovicthere’s more reason than ever to celebrate one of the most important creative artists of our time.
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