‘My Bologna’: 64 Weird Al Trivia Tidbits on His 64th Birthday
They say never meet your heroes, but according to guys like Andy Samberg, Michael Schur and countless others, Weird Al Yankovic is the exception to that rule. Only the kindest of things sprout up when people speak about the man with the accordion who, according to his wife, refuses to let a single curse word ever pass his lips. Likewise, only a few artists haven’t been able to find joy in letting him rip their songs for everyone’s laughing delight. So, for the weird one’s 64th birthday, let’s don our most colorful shirts, pump some polka and learn more about one of America’s national treasures...
Alfred Matthew Yankovic was born in Downey, California, and raised in the city of Lynwood.
An Only Child
The only son of Mary Elizabeth and Nick Yankovic, Weird Al is of Croatian and Slovene descent.
From Kansas to California
Nick Yankovic hails from Kansas but moved to California after World War II to work in the factories. He earned two Purple Hearts for his work as a medic during the war.
Of his song, “Albuquerque,” on his 1999 Running With Scissors album, Yankovic told GQ, “I made it, on purpose, as long and as obnoxious as I possibly could. I was basically trolling my fans.” It ended up being a fan favorite, much to Yankovic’s surprise.
On His Stunt in ‘Amish Paradise’
“I did my own stunt in that one,” he said during the GQ video interview. “I could’ve died because the Buster Keaton gag of the falling barn, the falling house — there’s a barn frame that falls on top of me. And that’s all real; that’s not a camera effect or anything like that. They wanted to make sure that the barn frame wouldn’t torque or move, so what they did was they reinforced it with steel. So this thing weighed a ton, probably literally.” He continued, saying they told him to stand in the middle of the square and not move a muscle lest he wanted to die. “We did one take of that, and I did some of my best acting I’ve done in my life. I had to pretend like I wasn’t scared out of my mind.”
The Coolio Beef (That Got Straightened Out)
Coolio initially took offense at Weird Al and his record company taking his song, “Gangsta’s Paradise,” and spoofing it without his permission. Yankovic, in turn, chalked it up to miscommunication between Coolio and his producer, who apparently signed off on it. However, years later, Coolio would tell students at the Institute of Production & Recording that he had a change in perspective. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute.’ I was like, ‘Coolio, who the fuck do you think you are? He did Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson didn’t get mad.’ I was being too magnificent and too terrific about myself, and that’s not what you want to do.” He would also apologize to Yankovic, calling his initial reaction “one of the dumbest things I did in my career.”
How He Got the Accordion
Yes, his mother did buy him that accordion, but luckily, it wasn’t the contentious issue that Weird: The Al Yankovic Story jokingly made it out to be. A door-to-door salesman knocked on the Yankovics’ door and offered to sell them either an accordion or a guitar. Al’s mom chose the accordion — a guitar was rock ‘n’ roll and, therefore, too sleazy and sexual — and that was that.
In fact, Yankovic once told Spin that he fully believes his parents chose the accordion because they knew that the instrument could one day revolutionize rock.
Yankovic’s first inspirations were parodists like Spike Jones, Tom Lehrer and Allan Sherman. He also devoured Mad magazine as a kid.
Same as Nirvana
“Smells Like Nirvana” was shot on the same soundstage as Nirvana’s “Smell Like Teen Spirit” video, and Yankovic and his team hired almost all of the same cheerleaders from the original video. They even got the same janitor to appear in the parody.
Bumping Nirvana Sales
“We heard from Nirvana’s label, profusely thanking me,” Yankovic told Yahoo! Entertainment. “They said, oh, we’ve sold, like, another million units of Nevermind after ‘Smells Like Nirvana’ came out.”
Yankovic Didn’t Know Tony Hawk Was in the ‘Smells Like Nirvana’ Video
He Was a Huge Influence on Andy Samberg
We may never have had The Lonely Island if not for Weird Al’s nerdy tunes. Samberg told The New York Times he grew up having family dance parties to Weird Al’s music. “Each new generation of younger kids is like, ‘Wait, this can exist?’” Samberg added.
The Many Alfreds
Yankovic said no one called him Al during his younger years, just Alfred. “I was associated with Alfred the butler from Batman, Alfred Hitchcock, and of course, Alfred E. Neuman (the face of Mad),” he has remembered. “I think I might have been called Poindexter a few times too.”
Paying to Record His Own Song
Yankovic once shared that he had to pay Capitol Records $1,000 to re-record his own song, “My Bologna,” for his first album after the company initially paid him $500 for the master. “And that, my friends, is why they call it the record business,” he added.
’My Bologna’ Was Recorded in a Bathroom
Furthermore, he revealed that he recorded his first hit “in a bathroom across the hall from my college campus radio station — KCPR 91.3, San Luis Obispo. I just sent in that bathroom recording to Dr. Demento, and he played it on the radio. I couldn’t believe it because it was number one on the Funny Five for, like, two (or) three weeks in a row.”
With Some Help From ‘The Knack’
The Knack’s lead singer, Doug Fieger, liked the “My Sharona” parody so much that he urged Capitol Records to release “My Bologna” as a single.
Finally, A Name
College was when his peers started calling him Weird Al due to his apparent awkwardness around people. Yankovic liked it, used it as his campus DJ name, and it obviously stuck.
He Digs Bob Odenkirk’s Parody of Him
In Mr. Show, Bob Odenkirk parodied Yankovic in a sketch called “Superstar Machine,” playing Daffy “Mal” Yinkleyankle. Yankovic said that he “was flattered, in a weird way. It was a pretty savage parody, but I thought it was very funny. He really kind of zeroed in on everything that’s irritating about me. I’m a big fan of Bob Odenkirk. I think he’s very funny, and I was honored to be part of Mr. Show in an oblique bleak way. I think it was one of the great TV series of all time.”
He Was Studying Architecture When Fame Came Knocking
“I wasn’t passionate about that; I didn’t really want to be an architect,” he said in the same interview. “But I didn’t really think I could make a living in showbiz — that was just such an alien concept to me.”
His First Album
After getting his architecture degree, Yankovic started producing more music and eventually signed with Scotti Bros. Records to release his first album, “Weird Al” Yankovic, in 1983.
Madonna was the one who first came up with the title and told it to a friend, and Yankovic has given her credit for “Like a Surgeon” ever since.
He Influenced ‘Hamilton’
Lin-Manuel Miranda has credited Weird Al as an influence on his hit musical. “Weird Al is a perfectionist,” Miranda told The New York Times. “Every bit as much as Michael Jackson or Kurt Cobain or Madonna or any artist he has ever spoofed. So you get the musical power of the original along with this incredible twist of Weird Al’s voice and Weird Al’s brain. The original songs lose none of their power, even when they’re on a polka with burping sound effects in the background. In fact, it accelerates their power. It’s both earnest and a parody.”
Yeah… That’s Not Rocky Road
It’s a Hollywood Rule: You can’t shoot ice cream because it melts and causes a continuity conundrum. That is why the ice cream in the “I Love Rocky Road” video is really mashed potatoes covered with latex paint. For the shot of Al taking a bite, an actual scoop of Rocky Road was on top of the latex mush, but it fell off when he turned his head, causing him to unknowingly get a mouthful of latex potatoes. “I think we got through the shot, but it was disgusting,” he told GQ.
“I got into pop music kind of late,” Yankovic once said, explaining that as a kid, he had a little portable record player but mostly only kids records like Snoopy vs. the Red Baron. “I think the first pop tune I took a shine to was ‘Classical Gas’ by Mason Williams (a hit in 1968). I was into Elton John a lot during the ’70s, and that was partly how I learned to play rock ‘n roll on the accordion, by playing the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album over and over and trying to play along with it on the accordion.”
He Watched a Lot of Television
“There was only one TV in the house, but my parents usually deferred to me,” he went on. “I watched a lot more TV than a healthy child probably should. A lot of cartoons, any sitcom that was on, variety shows, The Twilight Zone. One show I really used to like was Mr. Terrific (1967), with Stephen Strimpell and Dick Gautier — pretty obscure, lasted only a season. Mr. Terrific would take a power pill that would make him a superhero, but then the pill would wear off, and if he was in midair, he would crash into a haystack or something like that. Bizarre little show. At recess, in second grade, I’d pretend I was Mr. Terrific.”
In a New York Times profile, Weird Al shared his songwriting process. He’ll agonize over every single line you’d imagine poets do, also going into a trance-like state when creativity strikes — a time he calls his zombie phase. “I walk around the house with a thousand-mile stare,” he admitted. “My wife asks if I’m okay.”
To Hell With Personal Taste (Sort Of)
“My personal taste doesn’t enter into it a lot when I make my decisions as to what to parody,” he once explained. “The primary consideration is whether a song is popular. Whether it’s a rap, rock or zydeco song, if it’s captured the zeitgeist, it’s fair game. Having said that, I tend to pick songs that I actually enjoy because I know that I have to be living with that song for a big chunk of my life if I decide to do it.”
On ‘White and Nerdy’
“I thought, ‘Oh, white and nerdy? That’s my life, that’s my whole existence,’” he said. “I don’t need to research this song; I spent my whole life doing research on this song. So the ideas came pretty quickly, and I had dozens of pages and notes ’cause I wanted to write down every single nerdy thing that I’d ever done or thought about doing in my life and put it all in one song.”
Oh, and By the Way…
Key and Peele are in the “White and Nerdy” music video, and Yankovic finds it hilarious that people are still discovering that fact today.
He Had an Overprotective Mother
Mary Yankovic was very overprotective, and Weird Al spent most of his young life alone in his room. He didn’t hang out with friends or do sleepovers, and he wasn’t allowed to ride his bike farther than half a block from his childhood home to his aunt’s house while his mother stood and watched. Mostly, it was just him and his accordion.
He Was Pretty Active in High School Though
At Lynwood High, Yankovic was part of the forensics team and competed in the National Forensics League public speaking tournament. He was valedictorian of his senior class and part of the thespian theater group that performed Rebel Without a Cause. He worked on the school’s yearbook, writing funny captions, and was a member of three different clubs.
He Helped Resurrect ‘Jeopardy!’
“What a lot of people don’t realize, when I did ‘I Lost on Jeopardy,’ Jeopardy! was not on the air; that was a retro song about the game show that Merv Griffin had created that was popular in the ’60s when I was a kid,” Yankovic told Vulture. “And the fact that I did that parody made Merv Griffin consider doing the show again. So I think the parody had something to do with the fact that Jeopardy! went back on the air.”
Per The New York Times, Weird Al was sent to school a year earlier and bumped from second grade to third because his teacher thought he was overqualified.
On ‘Eat It’
Yankovic said he had the same choreographer, Vince Paterson, for his hit video, “Eat It,” that Michael Jackson used for his video of “Beat It.” Paterson is the gang leader in the Jackson video and also appeared in Weird Al’s video.
Weird Al’s producer is Robert K. Weiss, who has produced everything from The Blues Brothers and Tommy Boy to David Zucker’s Scary Movie 3 and Scary Movie 4.
The ‘Kung Fu Panda’ Connection
Mark Osborne, the director of Kung Fu Panda, worked alongside Scott Nordlund on the animation for “Jurassic Park.” “Basically, they took a house in the Valley, and they converted it into an animation studio,” Yankovic said during the Vulture interview, “and every room in the house had a different set where they were working with clay models. They got all their friends, and they worked nonstop for a month. They cranked out just a wonderful stop-motion animated video, which wound up getting nominated for a Grammy. When I pick my animators, I pick them based on their talents and their genius, and I try not to micromanage. I prefer that they run ideas by me first so that I’m not caught off-guard. But if they want me to be involved, I am happy to be involved in every step of the way, or if they want to go off into a room somewhere and show me what they’ve come up with, then that’s fine, too.”
On Being Referenced in ‘Wedding Crashers’
“I was very flattered, of course,” Yankovic said. “I understand that Vince Vaughn completely ad-libbed that scene, so it’s nice to know I’m there floating around in Vince’s subconscious mind.”
On ‘UHF’ and Its Other Title
“When the movie went international, we called it The Vidiot From UHF,” Yankovic explained to The A.V. Club. “I don’t know why they insisted on keeping UHF in the title because The Vidiot is a much better name. But they wanted to tie it in with the North American release for some bizarre reason — because it was obviously such a huge hit (laughs). Part of me feels like if I had my life to live over again, you know, The Vidiot or possibly just Vidiots would have been a title that would have stood the test of time better.”
’Ricky’ Was Made on the Cheap
“The ‘Ricky’ video had a meager production budget. We made it for a couple thousand dollars,” Yankovic told Vulture. We shot it in somebody’s house in the San Fernando Valley. It really was lacking in not only production but in proper preparation. At one point, I was supposed to be shaking maracas, and nobody had remembered to bring maracas, so I grabbed the closest thing that resembled maracas, which was a bowling pin. So, at one point in the video, you see me shaking a bowling pin as fast as I can, hoping that nobody would realize.”
Content for MTV
“The thing about MTV,” Yankovic continued, “was it was a 24-hour music-video channel that started back when people weren’t making music videos, so they needed product to fill the pipeline. So it was relatively easy to get played on MTV because they would play anything that wasn’t overtly horrible.”
Michael Jackson Helped Them Film ‘Fat’
When Yankovic decided to parody Jackson’s single, “Bad,” he asked the artist for permission as always. Jackson not only agreed but let them use the same set from his video.
That Face Swell Wasn’t CGI
It was 1988, so the video had to be done with practical effects. “What they did was, they glued these latex bladders, like balloons, they glued it to my face,” Yankovic explained. “But then they had tubes running from my face to the ground, and there were special effects people laying on the ground blowing through these straws, essentially, to expand my face.” On the last take, Yankovic told them to blow up his face until it exploded, with that shot making it into the video.
How ‘Fat’ Led to ‘UHF’
“I saw the ‘Fat’ video that Al did, and I said, ‘Geez, we ought to make a movie with him,’” UHF producer Gene Kirkwood told The A.V. Club. “And then the guys (Yankovic and Jay Levey) came up with UHF. At the time, I was making a film called Ironweed with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, which was a very depressing movie set in Albany. I really needed a laugh.” Kirkwood had a thing going with Orion Pictures and approached them to sign the project.
“We met Gene Kirkwood at a restaurant in Hollywood,” Yankovic went on, “who told us during dinner, ‘Yeah! This looks great! And we’ll be shooting this next month in Tulsa, Oklahoma.’ Jay and I walked out of that dinner meeting, sort of giggling and laughing to ourselves. We thought, ‘Yeah, right. Like that’s going to happen. This guy’s so full of it.’ And then, like a month later, we were on set shooting the movie.”
On Writing ‘King of Suede’
“I remember when I was writing this song, I’d go around to Wilson’s House of Suede and Leather and Zachary All and places like that,” Yankovic has shared. “I’d walk around with my notebook and look at various garments and scribble down notes. I got a lot of nasty stares from store managers.”
Weird Day for a Premiere
The day Yankovic’s biopic Weird: The Al Yankovic Story premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival was the same day Queen Elizabeth died. “And there’s, like, a bit with Queen Elizabeth during the end credits,” Yankovic said during his interview with Yahoo! News. “And people were like, oh. It just hit really weird.”
Lesser Known Cartoon Work
Yankovic lent his voice to the character of Squid Hat on three episodes of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.
No Hawaiian Shirts in Public
According to the profile done by The New York Times, Weird Al avoids wearing those colorful shirts in public as they tend to attract a lot of attention. Also, he has an entire walk-in closet full of them.
’The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’
UHF and Yankovic’s lead character and dreamer boy, George Newman, was mainly inspired by the original 1947 comedy, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Newman, of course, is a nod to Mad.
The Other Teri’s
Yankovic revealed in an oral history that UHF’s Teri was almost played by Jennifer Tilly, who he says was a close second to Victoria Jackson. “Ellen DeGeneres actually auditioned for that role as well,” he added. “I showed her the footage a couple years ago, and she was sort of horrified.”
Why ‘Weird: The Al Yankovic Story’ Was Not Made Eligible for an Oscar
“I’ve been begging, begging the Roku Channel for months to make it eligible, which all that would involve is letting it play in a theater in L.A. for one week,” Yankovic told Yahoo!. “They do not want to do that because — here’s the logic; I don’t quite agree with it — they said that they would rather have a Creative Arts Emmy than an Oscar because they’re in the TV business, not the music movie business. Believe me, I’ve tried, but they’ve put their foot down, so it’s not actually going to be Oscar-eligible (as opposed to what the movie’s end-credits song suggested).”
On What Went Wrong With the ‘UHF’ Release
“Orion Pictures had tested it with the audiences, and the test scores were through the roof,” Yankovice revealed to Yahoo!. “It was like one of their biggest, highest-testing movies ever. And they thought, ‘Oh, we’re going to put this out in the middle of this blockbuster summer, and this is gonna be a cash cow, and this is going to be the start of a long movie career for you!’ I was being built up like this, and then literally after the first weekend when it underperformed at the box office, I was a ghost at Orion Pictures. Nobody wanted to establish eye contact.”
A Punch to the Gut
“It was really weird and just kind of odd to have the rug pulled out from under me like that,” he continued, “because I was getting built up so much, and then within a couple days, nothing. So, that was kind of devastating, and it took me kind of a while… I don’t know if I would say I was depressed because I’ve always been a pretty happy, up kind of guy, but it was not pleasant. I probably had a couple of years of licking my wounds before I could kind of come back and be creative again.”
Few People Know About His First Movie
Before UHF (1989), Yankovic did a mockumentary called The Compleat Al that was released straight to home video in 1985. It’s largely a fictional take on Weird Al’s life, which means he technically now has two semi-autobiographical movies.
‘This Is the Life’ Was Written for a Michael Keaton Movie
“I was approached to do the title song for the movie Johnny Dangerously, which was kind of a 1930s gangster spoof,” Yankovic remembers. “In the movie, the Michael Keaton character celebrates ‘the good life,’ because crime did pay for him, so the song is taken from that. It seemed like a better way to go than writing a song called Johnny Dangerously.” Sadly, the song was left out of the movie’s video release.
His Parents Died of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
The Yankovics, both in their 80s, were found deceased in their North County home in 2004 after seemingly forgetting to open the chimney flue.
Not His Songs
Over the years, many songs have falsely been attributed to the musician. Some by the sheer misspelling of his name, others with clear malicious intent as they contain racist, offensive and sometimes sexually explicit content. Yankovic, obviously, is not okay with this and once cited it as his issue with peer-to-peer file-sharing sites. “If you do a search for my name on any one of those sites, I guarantee you that about half of the songs that come up will be songs I had absolutely nothing to do with,” he said back in 2006. “That particularly bothers me, because I really try to do quality work, and I also try to maintain a more-or-less family-friendly image — and some of these songs that are supposedly by me are just, well, vulgar and awful. I truly think my reputation has suffered in a lot of people’s minds because of all those fake Weird Al songs floating around the internet.”
Shooting ‘Bedrock Anthem’
“It was hot,” Yankovic said to Vulture. ”It wasn’t a comfortable shoot. We were there shooting with glitter paint all over our bodies and trying not to get sunstroke. I also remember that I had these fake tattoos. I think I had Pebbles and Wilma on the side of my arm in Sharpie pen. And then two days later, when the ink came off, it was sort of like a reverse tattoo because I had gotten sunburnt around the Sharpie. I guess the Sharpie had some natural sunscreen in it.”
Renting the Segway
Yankovic told Vulture the “White and Nerdy” video was the first time he’d ever rode a Segway. “I think at the time they charged me $500 to rent the Segway, which I thought was a little ridiculous,” he explained. “And I said, ‘You know, we are going to use this in a video, and I think that you would enjoy the exposure.’ But they came back to us and said, ‘We don’t want our product associated with anything white and nerdy.’ I was like, ‘Uh, a little too late for that, guys!’” Yankovic now owns a Segway.
On Why He Released ‘Pitiful’ on His Website
“What happened was, Atlantic Records (James Blunt’s label) refused to let me release my parody (‘You’re Pitiful’) on my new album, even though James himself had agreed to it,” Yankovic told CollegeHumor about his parody of Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful.” “It was extremely frustrating. So I figured if nothing else, I’d put the song on the internet and at least let the fans hear it, so I wouldn’t have spent all that time and energy for nothing.”
He Still Lives in California
Per The New York Times, Yankovic’s living in the Hollywood Hills in what someone told him used to be rapper Heavy D’s house.
On How He Came Up With ‘Word Crimes’
“There were already about 10,000 parodies of (Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’) and they were all rapey,” he told The View. “And I thought nobody had done a song about grammar.” He said to FOX News, “I’m a bit of a grammar nerd. It’s just been the rage beneath my skin all these years; I finally decided to let it come out and put it in a song. I mean, if you look at my YouTube channel, I’m giving out some videos of me driving around and correcting road signs. I change ‘Drive Slow’ to ‘Drive Slowly’ add the ‘ly’ at the end. In the supermarket, ‘12 items or less’ I change to ‘12 items or fewer.’”
The Only Artist Who Kept Turning Him Down
Prince. It was Prince. “There were a number of songs of his that I thought would make good parodies, but apparently, he thought otherwise,” Weird Al has said.
The Story About Yankovic and the Number 27
“The real story is, it was just a number that I happened to use a couple times in song lyrics, or maybe in a music video, without even thinking about it,” he told The A.V. Club. “I guess maybe it was the right number of syllables, or at the time, I thought it was a funny number, or it happened to rhyme just the right way. So there was no real thought given to it.”
“But then a few fans picked up on it and said, ‘Oh, Al used the number 27 like three times. This must have some kind of significance,’” he continued. “As soon as I realized that they were fetishizing this, I started doing it on purpose. I started making sure there was at least one number 27 in the lyrics on an album, or incorporated in the artwork, or making sure the video had the number 27. It became a whole cult-like attraction. People have hypothesized what the number means or the significance, but that’s the honest story. It’s just a number I started using that people started attaching a lot of importance to.”
He makes fun of it all (and, of course, features the number) in the video starring Patton Oswalt below. Bless you, Yankovic.