Show 2 of my 3 at this year’s SF Sketchfest was last weekend at Swedish American Hall on a chilly grey Saturday afternoon. What better way to spend such a day than laughing with Pat Francis taping a live Rock Solid podcast with Kyle Dodson and special guest “Weird Al” Yankovic? I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do, either.
Francis and Yankovic started by discussing Al’s first single, “My Bologna.” Yankovic recalled it was recorded in a bathroom because back then he couldn’t afford much studio time — “Yep, right there by the urinals…” Francis brought up the issue of getting permission from artists Yankovic planned to parody; Al admitted he didn’t think they would ever hear it, but that The Knack surprised him. He snuck backstage to the band’s show at Cal Poly, he explained, to try to meet them. Thanks to that band, who loved his version of their hit “My Sharona,” he was introduced to the VP of Capitol Records, whom they urged to put out Yankovic’s parody. It also should be noted that Yankovic revealed that he was such a nerd that he even graduated from high school at the age of 16.
At this point I have to stop to admit that this review isn’t like those I typically write. Brevity isn’t my strong suit, and I often give readers a sort of play-by-play of an event. Since this was a podcast, however, I’m not going to do that. You can listen & enjoy for yourself. Here are some of my favorite moments, though, if you don’t mind the teaser/spoilers…
Fairly early on in the show was perhaps my personal favorite moment, because like Al, I’m a nerd. I was by no means valedictorian, nor did I graduate high school early, but I’m the kind of nerd who watches Jeopardy! religiously. Seriously: if it’s pre-empted for some reason, I’ll go to great lengths to find a way to watch the missed episode. I keep score on my phone’s calculator as I play along, I phrase all my answers in the form of a question, and I audition every chance I get. (I’m good, but apparently not yet good enough: that test is hard!) Anyway, so the next song discussed was “I Lost on Jeopardy,” which I don’t think I’d heard before. The song is a parody of The Greg Kihn Band’s “Jeopardy,” but the best part is that when Yankovic did the song, Jeopardy! was not on the air. For those that don’t know (or care), I’ll keep the history lesson brief: Jeopardy! ran off and on from 1964 until it was cancelled in 1979. Yankovic said he “grew up watching it,” and Francis interrupted the story to say, “because of you, they brought it back!” and then quickly, “just kidding, go ahead.” The best part, though, was Yankovic’s response: “that’s actually true!” And so it was. In 1984, Jeopardy! returned in its current incarnation, and this little factoid now makes Al one of my personal heroes.
When the conversation next turned to Yankovic’s “Gump,” a parody of “Lump” by The Presidents of the United States of America, my ears perked up, because I had the exact thought that he addressed: “I’ve had several thousand people on social media suggest that I retool that and make it about a current political figure…” Asked the best parody song he’d ever written that he couldn’t get permission for that was in his archive, Yankovic explained that only a few days prior, he’d been given permission for a song he wrote in 1981. “What happened, did the artist die?” Francis asked. The song turned out to be a parody of The Beatles’s “Tax Man” called “Pac Man,” but it had remained underground without proper permissions. Evidently, Danny Harrison (George’s son) was just asked for permission to include the song on Al’s upcoming box set, which he agreed to. The box set, by the way, includes all fourteen albums plus rarities, and the box itself is a replica of Al’s accordion. “Make sure you put that on your Christmas list. Or Hanukkah. Or Kwanzaa. Anyway, it comes out in the fall.”
Conversation then turned to Yankovic’s success last year as bandleader for Comedy Bang! Bang, a live show hosted by creator Scott Aukerman. “Everyday you get the opportunity to be involved on one of your favorite shows,” Yankovic gushed. “We knew pretty early on that it was their last season, but I enjoyed every minute of it.” In case you wondered, he does have a favorite episode: the one where he got to play his own evil twin, “Weird Sal.” How can you tell between “Weird Al” and “Weird Sal?” The mustache! The then clean-shaven Al was distinguishable from his “twin,” who sported a mustache. “You have a mustache now!” Francis pointed out. “I’m evil!” Yankovic admitted.
As the historical overview began to approach the present, the subject of Mandatory Fun came up again, starting with “Word Crimes.” As a writer and a self-proclaimed grammar nerd, this song is easily my favorite of “Weird Al’s,” particularly when not just listening to the song, but viewing the video, which is absolutely brilliant. With apologies to fans of the songs they didn’t have time to cover (“Bob,” “eBay,” “Germs,” “Lasagna,” and “Achy Breaky Song” were all mentioned), Francis and Dodson thanked the crowd for their attendance. “Sometimes before live shows I say, ‘yay, are you fans of Rock Solid or fans of ‘Weird Al?’ I’m not going to do that tonight.” Reminding us all of the box set we can look forward to in the fall, as well as the new tour, the show concluded with recent single “Tacky,” a parody of Pharrell Williams’s “Happy.”
I’d say, “and just like that, it was over,” but now that I’ve typed it up, it seems quite long. Trust me, it didn’t feel that way. In total, the podcast was a bit over an hour, but the time flew by. I’ve never had the chance to see “Weird Al” in person before, whether performing or being interviewed, as was more the case at this event. I’ve always liked him, but never considered myself a huge fan. After seeing him last weekend, though, I have to say that I now find him truly delightful. Even more so, perhaps, than you’d hope he’d be based on his music and sense of humor.