With his curls cropped tighter to his face and his previously signature mustache taut above his scrunched nose, most saw the mock-earnest accordion player careening on a stool in "My Bologna" and snickered at "Weird Al" Yankovic's ridiculous rewrite of the Knack's massive gold hit that year, "My Sharona" – which, by the way, is a pop song that takes itself very seriously. (Likely some laughs were also aimed at the character of "Weird Al" or at his unconventional chosen instrument.) That was 1979. It would be four years before Yankovic's debut album would drop, thanks to the underground strength of that single.
Fast-forward to 2014, when parody song god "Weird Al" deemed his album Mandatory Fun and dropped eight music videos over eight consecutive days. Many attribute the release's success to this promotion strategy, as it instantly became Yankovic's first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart. But before that landmark, knowing fans prepared to shake their heads and thank the master, whose videos rapidly became more zany and complex after he ditched the stool and eventually evolved to take the director's chair.
"I found that I really enjoyed directing music videos, and I started directing my own music videos, then I kind of put it out there that if anybody wanted me to work on theirs and give their videos a little bit of my sensibility, I would be happy to do it," Yankovic says. "And, you know, some of the people that I worked with were friends, like Ben Folds and other people were people that just kind of came to me because they thought that they'd like the 'Weird Al' touch."
Sometimes it's a third hand appearing unexpectedly. A handyman's eyes momentarily bugging like a cartoon demon's. A literal sheep cheering at a pep rally. The brightest moments of "Weird Al" Yankovic's humor in his music videos have little if anything to do with the absurd lyrics (which mostly have nothing to do with the song he is parodying). It's the burst of random animations, bizarre transitions and other visual shocks that provoke a separate laugh from the video. This skill attracted more straightforward rockers to approach him to direct their music videos (where he is credited as Al Yankovic), like Ben Folds, the Black Crowes and the Presidents of the United States of America, whose video for "Mixed Up S.O.B." (off 2008's These Are the Good Times People) demonstrates the quirky effectiveness of Yankovic's outsider influence and employs a more rudimentary aesthetic than most people think. Yankovic clarifies:
"A lot of people assume that there was some sort of computer trickery, but actually the whole thing was done with actual flip books. We actually created those books, for real. And Chris Ballew, the lead singer, got very good at just flipping them so that the timing matched up with the actual lyrics. So a lot of people just assumed that was done with computers, but that was completely done with real flip books."
Of course, the main draw is Yankovic's lyrical wit, his good-natured attacks with G-rated humor that sensationally mock the mundane. That type of humor is like angel food sprinkled over the cubes of desk slaves eager to relate to new songs like "Word Crimes" and "Tacky" in between sharing posts from more dependable daily satire churners like the Onion on regurgitation engines like Facebook (then a little bit later to Twitter with maybe a slightly wackier caption). Yankovic's work predates the Onion, which started as a print publication in 1988, but both Yankovic's polka parties and the Onion's poking fun saw their reach amplified on the web. As you might guess, Yankovic's a longtime fan of the endlessly clever satire spinners at the Onion and says he can't part with his early print collection.
"I've got a couple boxes of them that my wife is still trying to get me to throw away like, 'It's all online now! What do you need these for!'" Yankovic says.
We noticed some obvious topical overlap throughout Yankovic's discography and the Onion's archives (technology, Craigslist stalkers, regular stalkers, etc.) and created a quiz to see if you can discern, who said it? "Weird Al" or the Onion? Don't fear failure – take inspiration from "Weird Al" and dare to be stupid.