How ‘UHF’ Predicted GoFundMe, Patreon, and Crowdfunding
This week sees the release of Weird, the movie that dares to give the Bohemian Rhapsody treatment to the man who first pioneered the field of rhyming women’s names with popular meat products. But this is by no means the first “Weird Al” Yankovic-centric major motion picture to hit the big/Roku-sized screen. The musical parodist famously starred in UHF, the 1989 comedy about a jobless daydreaming eccentric who stumbles into a gig managing his uncle’s small-time TV station. Hilarity and spatula commercials ensue.
This may be a bizarre thing to say about a movie in which a grown man literally tosses several poodles out of an apartment window in an effort to teach them to fly, but UHF was oddly prescient in retrospect. After all, this film tells the story of how a rag-tag group of entertainers are able to produce shows outside of the mainstream broadcast establishment and can continue to keep doing so purely thanks to the donations of their loyal, like-minded viewers, who can buy into shares of the station.
This seems not unlike our modern internet model, in which crowdfunding sites such as Patreon and GoFundMe bankroll projects that exist apart from traditional corporate norms and go (mostly) directly to the creators themselves. Obviously, public television telethons were already a thing at this point in time, but the UHF gang’s gonzo passion products being saved by the financial support of their fans has a distinctly internet-y vibe. Who amongst us hasn’t kicked in a few bucks a month for a Patreon for something as ridiculous as Wheel of Fish?
Not to mention that crowdfunding is often utilized by the makers of fan films; these days, would it be all that surprising to see a campaign raising money for a feature-length film called Conan the Librarian?
In many ways, the story of UHF parallels the story of Yankovic himself, just with unhinged TV programs instead of songs about various foods, as he too turned scrappy homemade content into a massively successful career, thanks to the devotion of his fanbase. But while Weird Al’s career trajectory was anomalous back in the ‘80s, now, thanks to the internet, creators can churn out niche entertainment sustainably with the help of fans. No need to bring Michael Richards into the mix, though.
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