Weird: The Al Yankovic Story Required Zero Research, But It Does Contain Some Nuggets Of Truth

Eric Appel's "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story," coming to the Roku Channel on November 4, 2022, tells the 20% true story of Alfred Matthew Yankovic, better known to the world as "Weird" Al Yankovic, as he rose to fame "inventing new lyrics for songs that already exist," as characters repeat often. The film covers the events of Yankovic's life from his beleaguered childhood and his first comedic recordings that he mailed into the Dr. Demento Show in the late '70s, to his record contracts and immediate quintuple platinum records in 1983 and 1984. 

The film also posits that Yankovic (Daniel Radcliffe) was hated by his parents for his passion for comedy, and was busted for attending a very illegal polka party where accordions are treated like contraband reefer. In the world of "Weird," Yankovic improvised his song "Another One Rides the Bus" as a challenge at a well-moneyed industry party attended by Wolfman Jack (Jack Black), Elvira, Divine, Mark Mothersbaugh, Paul Reubens, Tiny Tim, Alice Cooper, and Gallagher. "Weird" also declares that Yankovic had a Jim Morrison-like alcoholic "crash and burn" phase and that he had a torrid affair with Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood). 

Little of this is true, which we already knew but was reinforced at a press conference for the film attended by /Film's Ethan Anderton. Indeed, most of the film is completely false. Some of the players are the same, but Yankovic (who co-wrote the screenplay) and Appel seem to have taken great delight in bending the truth far past its breaking point. In a recent interview with Rotten Tomatoes, Yankovic and Appel both got to comment on how Al's story was never going to make for a traditional Hollywood biopic, and that "remixing" tiny elements of his life into a spoof of the biopic genre was the immediate aim.

The true story

In truth, Al Yankovic had a pretty quiet, conservative upbringing in the small California town of Lynwood. He was drawn to comedy records as a child, but his parents (played by Julianne Nicholson and Toby Huss in the film) didn't really resent it. He did indeed receive his first accordion from a traveling door-to-door salesman, and he did indeed record his own accordion-based comedy songs in his bedroom as a teenager, which he mailed to Dr. Demento, granting him a modicum of fame in the local comedy world. There were no contraband polka parties, however. 

Yankovic has been telling a version of his story since as early as 1985 with the release of the straight-to-VHS movie "The Compleat Al" directed by Jay Levey and Robert K. Weiss. Even back then, Al was riffing on his own myth as a rock hero, and deliberately fudged certain details — the footage of him working in a nasal decongestant factory as a teen was staged. Yankovic clearly had no interest in telling a straightforward story, saying:

"I can't think of any other way I would have done this movie. 'Cause there's some interesting things that have happened in my actual life, but not anything interesting enough that would merit a Hollywood biopic. We figured that we needed to spice it up a little bit. Take a few artistic liberties, and make it a little bit more interesting. So that's what we did. We tweaked the facts just hair here and there to make it more palatable for audiences."

His Bologna story

One interesting true story is that, when Yankovic was attending California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where he majored in architecture, served as an occasional DJ for his college radio station. It was also at this time that he recorded his hit song "My Bologna," a parody of the Knack's "My Sharona," altered to be about cold cuts. The version one might have initially heard on "The Dr. Demento Show" was recorded in a men's room on his college campus. That part was partially recreated for "Weird." 

As Yankovic says:

"There are a couple moments of actual truth sprinkled in among the biopic. Things that people who aren't familiar with my story may not actually know are true. There was, is fact, a door-to-door accordion salesman who came along in my neighborhood offering music lessons. I did in fact record 'My Bologna' in a public bathroom. I did it by myself at the time, so I didn't have a whole band with me. But just to be there, on set, trying to recreate 'My Bolonga' in a bathroom ... that was kind of an odd thing for me."

Another gag of "Weird" is that Yankovic only wrote parody songs, and had a breakthrough when he thought to write his first original comedy song in 1984. In fact, Yankovic was recording originals since his college days. Indeed, he wrote a song at Cal Poly SLO called "Take Me Down," all about the slow, dullness of the town. 

For any southern Californians, the song is hilarious, making references to local attractions like Bubblegum Alley and the Madonna Inn. For others, it's a bit alien. Hence, it was never on a record.

Doing no research

It should be noted that "Weird" was adapted from Appel's fake movie trailer released by Funny or Die in 2010. The fake trailer, starring Aaron Paul, used all the usual drug-fueled benders often seen in Hollywood biopics but juxtaposed with Yankovic's career, not only a whimsical comedy musician but by all accounts a very nice human being. In expanding his short into an actual feature, Appel wanted all the whoppers left intact, and, indeed, gave himself a good deal of creative license to make up whatever he wanted about Yankovic's life. The story he was about to tell was false. Only the names had been unchanged to protect the innocent.

"Starting working off that trailer, we were trying to reverse engineer a movie staring with a fake trailer that was made 10 years earlier. And then we veered away from that and ... Really, we were really open, and the story took us to different places. Obviously, we had the songs we wanted to highlight. The Dr. Demento relationship. But the way that we portray those things are not actually the way they happened. I think I'm the first director in the history of biopics who had to do absolutely no research of my subject."

It would be hard for even the most hardcore Yankovic purist to be angry at the changes to Al's actual life, given how silly they are. When the film posits that Al wrote his hit 1996 song "Amish Paradise" in 1984, it's easy to turn a blind eye. 

Be sure to book a room at the Madonna Inn today!