It you’re reading this, it seems fair to assume you are familiar with “Weird Al” Yankovic and his musical stylings. Or, maybe, after all these years, you have heard there’s finally going to be a “Weird Al” biopic and it’s time to finally learn how this guy got his start. It’s true there’s a new biopic (and it’s great), but Weird: The Al Yankovic Story‘s (which will be on the Roku channel November 4th) intention is not historical accuracy. Can you believe “Weird Al” Yankovic made a parody of a biopic?
Though, a movie in which “Weird Al” Yankovic (played by Daniel Radcliffe) releases “Eat It” before Michael Jackson’s “Beat It;” battles drug lord Pablo Escobar; and dates, then feuds with Madonna, with Madonna eventually putting a hit on Al’s life … a case could be made these events aren’t that much more made up than what we saw in Bohemiam Rhapsody. Speaking of Queen, Weird Al tells us he did need their permission for a scene in which “Another One Rides the Bus” is used, which was going to feature young Al meeting Freddie Mercury. Queen said no to the use of Mercury … so Queen bassist John Deacon was used instead (played by David Dastmalchian, which for some reason Queen had no problem with.
Ahead, “Weird Al” Yankovic explains why it’s been so long since he’s written a movie, way back to 1989’s UHF. He looks back at UHF and wonders, well, maybe it was ahead of its time. Why he’s been so happy to see his name alongside Steven Spielberg in recent headlines (including this one). And he tells us that Michael Jackson’s estate had him remove what he thinks was the funniest line in the movie. Also, it’s not lost on Weird Al that another Naked Gun movie is coming (he made cameos in all three prior films) and, yes, he’s already sent Akiva Schaffer (who appears in Weird as Alice Cooper) an email about it.
By the way, when this movie ends, Madonna is, “still at large.” She lives about three blocks from me in New York…
I have half a mind to call the authorities now that I know the truth. She should be in jail for what she did to you.
Oh man. Well, give her my best if you see her around.
I was nine when “Eat It” came out. I’ve got to say, I really remember “Beat It” coming out first. But it’s weird how the child mind works. You remember it one way, but then you learn the truth.
The entire decade of the ’80s was pretty fuzzy for me. I tried to recreate it as best as I remember, but I might have gotten a few things wrong.
That was really clever, the narrative being Michael Jackson was the one who did a parody of your hit song. And then Daniel has the line about what’s the harm being associated with Michael Jackson the rest of your life. How was that plot worked out?
I forget exactly how it was started, but we just thought it would be kind of a funny trope in this movie, at least for that case, to say that my song came first. And we just thought it would be, the way we wrote it at first, it’s just Michael Jackson erasure. And here we find out now, actually Michael Jackson was copying me. And it was, oh yeah, let’s do that.
Didn’t you have a “life story” before? Am I making this up? I remember watching something maybe 20 times on, was it HBO? I can never find it.
No, no. That would’ve been maybe on Showtime. And it was called The Complete Al.
Yes, that’s it…
I guess at the time it was a takeoff on The Complete Beatles. I think that’s been re-released on DVD, if you want to ever track it down.
Oh, I will…
That came out in 1985 and it was a made For Showtime special, which also had a home video release. And it was basically just a way to showcase my music videos. Basically, all my music videos at the time would be these sort of fake biographical, wraparound segments. So in fact, when we first announced that we were doing a biopic, people were like, “Hey, you already did a biopic! You did The Complete Al!” Well, this is a little bit more biopic-y than that.
Daniel Radcliffe is great in this. I love when he was first asked he was like, “I don’t look anything like him,” until he read the script and that didn’t matter. Was there anyone else on your list to play you?
Yeah! Well, Eric Appel and I came up with a list of about a half a dozen or so people that we thought, oh, these people would probably be good in the role. And we both just kept gravitating toward Daniel’s name. We just thought that he would get it. We knew that he was great at comedy, and he was also great at drama. And we need both for this movie, because it’s a comedy obviously, but we need it to play like it’s some extremely serious Oscar-bait Hollywood biopic. And we knew that Daniel would really focus into that tone and really get what we were going for
I can make a case this movie isn’t that more farfetched than Bohemian Rhapsody. The way they just come up with songs is exactly the way you come up with “My Bologna” in this.
I mean, people say that this is not a biopic, but it really is a biopic by Hollywood standards.
It’s not a documentary, it’s inspired by real life. And there are enough nuggets of truth sprinkled throughout that I think you can call it a biopic in that sense. I’ve seen a few more biopics since my movie was done, and I still think, yeah, that’s not any less true than my movie.
In Rocketman, Elton John turns into a rocket and flies into space…
Especially in the Elton John one, they just change stuff around just for the sake of changing it around. Obviously, people don’t levitate off the floor. But, I mean, that’s artistic license. But they do stuff like, facts like, it implies that Elton John picked his name because of John Lennon. And that’s not the case. As a longtime Elton John fan, I know that he picked John because of Long John Baldry. But you have to assume that the producer’s like, Well, I think more people are going to know who John Lennon is, so let’s just make it John Lennon.
I’m assuming there was no real beef in real life with Wolfman Jack, but let’s say Wolfman Jack ever slighted you in any way, if you did have a beef with anyone, you could have a lot of fun with that beef in this movie and then just say you were kidding around.
I worked with Wolfman Jack in 1984, actually. You might be able to find it online. We were co-hosting some Saturday morning preview show on, I forget, maybe ABC, but I forget. But yeah, we co-hosted the show together and we had a perfectly fine time. And I think Eric actually came up with the idea of Wolfman Jack because we had to change gears, because originally we were going to have Freddie Mercury be sort of the main guy in that scene. And that was the one stipulation that the Queen camp had. We gave them the script because they had to approve it for “Another One Rides the Bus.” And they said, “You may not show Freddie Mercury. You cannot even talk about him. Freddie Mercury cannot be in this movie at all.”
They’re really weird about him, in Bohemian Rhapsody they changed a lot of stuff that he didn’t actually do. Wait, but they had no problem with John Deacon showing up then?
Yeah, yeah. Thankfully. I was actually pretty nervous about it because I was told that all the music had been cleared before we started shooting. And then after we were done editing, they said, “Okay, now we need to run this by Michael Jackson’s camp and Queen’s camp.” And I’m like, “What?!” They said, “Well, now they need to sign off on it. We don’t have it really cleared.” And I was freaking out for about a week thinking they’re going to totally destroy this movie. They’re going to say, “You can’t do this, you can’t do this.” But, thankfully, they were good with everything. I think the Michael Jackson estate, they made us take out one line in the movie.
What was the line?
I don’t think I should say.
I don’t want you to get in any trouble.
It was one of my favorite lines, but it’s gone. But yeah, Queen told us right off the bat, no Freddie Mercury, which we did.
So then do you go back and go, “Well, how about John Deacon?”
Well, we didn’t ask them that. We just said, “Okay, well we’ll just do this instead.” Which is why when it went back to them I thought, oh no, I hope they have a good sense of humor about this.
I had not watched UHF in over 30 years. It’s somehow funnier to me as an adult than it was to me when I was 14. Why has it been this long since you’ve done a movie. You’re good at this.
It’s not from lack of trying. I mean, I’ve always wanted to do more in feature films and television, and I just haven’t had that many opportunities. I mean, it was hard to sell this movie. I thought this is a slam dunk! I mean, this is, I think, a really funny script and something that’s really of its time. And we had Daniel Radcliffe attached. And even with all that, people were saying, “Yeah, yeah, it sounds funny, but we’re not interested.” And Roku was literally the only place that said, all right, let’s do it.
Did you feel justification after it got into the Toronto Film Festival? I mean, that’s a tough festival to get into.
I mean, I have to say I’m not surprised that it’s doing really well because I always thought it was a great idea. Yeah, I mean, it’s certainly a lot of vindication to read the headlines, “Spielberg and Weird Al are the winners.”
That’s true. Both your movies won.
Those were the headlines! And I’m thinking about all the people that turned us down and thinking, I wonder if they’re having second thoughts now?
And you parody both Raiders and Close Encounters in UHF. I think the references in UHF, strangely, work better today than they did then. In 1989 people were kind of sick of the ’80s. Now these movies and those references are just part of the culture.
Yeah, I think so. And nostalgia plays a big part in people’s appreciation of UHF because even though it was not a critical darling and it didn’t burn up the box office, I think people, a lot of kids, were exposed to it at that time and it was one of their favorite movies at the time. And they wind up having a strong nostalgic attachment to it. So I think that’s a big part of it as well.
But I don’t have that attachment to it. It’s certainly not nostalgia for me. It’s just really funny.
It could have been that the movie was just years ahead of its time.
I honestly believe that’s true.
Yeah. So some people have said that UHF is sort of the godfather of YouTube. One of the seeds for YouTube.
I could make a case, that scene with the TV lineup and all the shows, except maybe other than The Lice is Right, every other show on there, I can make a case that’s like something that’s on TV right now.
I should get royalties.
They’re making a new Naked Gun. You have to be in this, right?
Well, the second I saw that on Deadline, I emailed Akiva Schaffer and said, “Hey, it’s not really a Naked Gun movie unless there’s a Weird Al cameo. You know that, right?”
Oh wow, you really emailed him?
I did. Yeah. Akiva played Alice Cooper in the movie.
Yeah, I didn’t recognize him at first. That whole scene at the pool party … even Conan O’Brien is there as Andy Warhol. Did you have to call Conan?
I emailed him. And I’m not close with Conan, but I’ve done his TV show a few times. I had been on his podcast, Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend…
I listened to that episode.
And I wasn’t going to, because I thought, Conan doesn’t want to be in this movie. But then he tweeted something about my movie, some kind of joke about my movie, and I thought, well… maybe I’ll reach out. And I said, “Hey, I know that this isn’t something you want to do, but since you mentioned it, you’re more than welcome to do a cameo in my movie.” And he came back and was like, “Sure, let’s do it.”
Who came up with the idea of Andy Warhol?
Either Eric or myself? I mean, that was Eric that had Warhol in the script already and we just thought, oh, maybe we should have Conan do that?
Anyway, I’m so glad you’re finally getting your due, being in headlines with Steven Spielberg. It is about time.
Thank you. Give my best to Madonna.
‘Weird: The Al Yankovic Story’ will begin streaming this Friday, October 4th via Roku. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.