Divine inspiration captures a musician in a glorious moment. It’s fleeting. The rush is on. Right then and there, an impromptu recording session produces their hit song you know and love — in real time. But that only happens in movies. Right?
“I was watching the Michael Jackson ‘Bad’ video on TV, the world premiere,” Weird Al Yankovic told The Knockturnal. “And immediately thought — ‘fat’. They were walking through the turnstiles in the subway. What if this guy was like 900 pounds and couldn’t get through the turnstiles? And before the video was over I had a concept for the video.”
Weird Al’s “Fat” is to Michael Jackson’s “Bad” as “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” is to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “The Doors” or “Sid and Nancy.” Biopics tend to take artistic liberties, not limited to the genesis of songs. “Weird” tends to take artistic liberties with those well-trodden artistic liberties.
In real life, no, Yankovic did not write most of his songs spontaneously, nor did he have a torrid love affair with Madonna nor did he make mortal enemies of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar — all of which happen in the movie.
“A lot of times when I write a song it’s a matter of me thinking about something for a long period of time,” said Yankokovic. “[‘Bad’ is] the exception to the rule. Usually it’s me thinking about what are the variations on the theme I can explore.”
The Knockturnal spoke to the cast, director and some of the real life people who inspired the not so true story at the New York premiere of “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” at Downtown Brooklyn’s Alamo Drafthouse on Nov 1.
Daniel Radcliffe, standing on the carpet with Yankovic, is noticeably shorter. About eight inches. His vocabulary also differs.
Radcliffe, beginning to speak about his favorite Weird Al song not included in the film called “Bob”, let out a reflexive “ah, fu-,” narrowly avoiding consummating the f-bomb. A cursus interruptus. “I didn’t even get through the whole word,” he said. “So it’s fine.”
Yankovic has not and has never, according to himself and all known documentation, sworn. “He doesn’t. It’s true. I do, unfortunately. I grew up on film sets so I swear like a sailor,” said Radcliffe. “And I’m English, so it’s like charming when I do it.”
Despite the disparities, Radcliffe pulled it off. After all, he didn’t have to play the teetotalling, clean-mouthed, sperm donor eligible (Yankovic’s a cool six foot) version of Al. Radcliffe plays Weird Al’s parody of Weird Al — international sex symbol, MMA-trained, binge boozing, libidinous rockstar Al.
“Dude, it was one of the things that I loved getting to do in the film,” said Radcliffe. “Everyday I was getting to do a fight scene or a song and dance number or comedy with Rainn Wilson or Evan [Rachel Wood].”
One of those song and dance numbers is “I Love Rocky Road,” a parody of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” In the film, Radcliffe lip syncs the song in front of a rowdy crowd of bikers, punks and other hard-looking folks. Along with his performance in Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” parody “Like a Surgeon,” Radcliffe cited “Rocky Road” as his favorite to do.
“I was never in a band growing up and I got to live out that fantasy during that sequence,” he said. “Al was on set everyday. He would come in with notes occasionally, mostly about musical stuff we were doing.”
While interacting on set, Radcliffe said he never urged the man he was spoofing to spoof himself and his most famous role — Harry Potter. Weird Al has taken on many big franchises like “Star Wars” (twice) and “Spider-Man,” but has never gone to Hogwarts. “I’m almost surprised it hasn’t happened anyway. Potter does feel like it’s pretty rich ground for parody,” said Radcliffe.
During one of Yankovic’s days on sets, he had a rather famous friend and fan visit — and make a brief cameo in the film. “The making of this movie was a blur,” said Lin-Manuel Miranda. “I was there for a morning. I got to hug Al.”
Miranda has long admired the parody artist, gushing over him in numerous interviews. Now, he’s friends and coworkers with a larger than life figure to him. He said, “I feel like I’m friends with Santa Claus.”
His Saint Nick-esque persona notwithstanding, Yankovic is pretty approachable, according to the “Weird” director Eric Appel. Appel said he wanted Yankovic’s blessing to do the movie so he reached out to mutual friend Patton Oswalt to set up a meeting.
In that very first meeting, Yankovic threw out some of the more outlandish components of the film, namely, Pablo Escobar’s appearance as a primary antagonist. “That came from the very first conversation I had with Al in 2019,” said Appel. ”I believe Al had just binge watched all of ‘Narcos.’ And Escobar was just right there on the tip of his brain. He was like, ‘I think it would be really funny if we had a sequence in the movie where I turned into John Wick and Escobar just makes sense as a 1980s super villain.”
Even the pitch meeting smacks of a parody of an off the walls Hollywood boardroom. “I saw someone’s tweet a while ago that said this movie feels like someone’s fake movie from ‘30 Rock,’” said Appel. He did an impression of Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy talking to Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon from the NBC show, “We got Harry Potter as Weird Al, Lemon.”
Yankovic didn’t just take the idea of Escobar from watching Netflix; he took one of the actors from streamer’s hit show to play the drug lord. Arturo Castro, who plays a prominent member of the Cali cartel in “Narcos” and Escobar in “Weird, joked, “This is the only part that was a real fact. Al Yankovic got rid of Pablo Escobar.”
As for the surviving Escobars and their acolytes who might watch his repeated portrayal of Colombian cocaine emperors, he said, “I really hope they have a sense of humor.”
Weird Al didn’t really face off with Escobar in the jungles outside Medellín. He didn’t do practically anything featured in the movie. But he wouldn’t have done any of this at all — the successful novelty music career, the fake biopic — without the mentorship of Dr. Demento.
Early in his career. Yankovic came under the tutelage of Barry Hansen, better known as the Los Angeles comedic radio broadcaster Dr. Demento.
As the movie goes, Weird Al submits a tape of “My Bologna,” a parody of The Knack’s “My Sharona” to Dr. Demento, played by Rainn Wilson, to instant acclaim and commercial success. Dr. Demento actually did receive that tape, recorded in a bathroom at Cal State San Luis Obispo, by a curly-haired college student. But it didn’t catapult Yankovic into overnight stardom. Hansen said it took about six years for Yankovic to cultivate his art and gain mainstream traction.
“Every year it seemed like he learned to do something new, something better,” said Hansen of those first six years. “He started out making these homemade tapes and then he started being able to produce his own records. Then he started being able to produce his own videos. Now he’s co-producer of this movie.”
“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” is available for streaming on Roku.