Imagine achieving fame in the 1980s and being easily recognizable for your Hawaiian shirt, bushy mustache, and large head of firmly curled hair. Now picture yourself in the present, seeing a renowned person recreate every costume you wore 40 years ago for a movie. That was a challenge "Weird Al" Yankovic had to deal with for Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, a parody biopic about his life and career on the Roku Channel that was based on a Funny or Die joke trailer and included Daniel Radcliffe from the Harry Potter films in the lead role. How can you recover from that?
You needn't worry if you are Weird Al because your '80s appearance never faded. In an interview with Polygon before the release of Weird, Yankovic said, "It's a look I'm still comfortable with. "Because it's the Halloween costume that a thousand people choose to wear," the author explains. Little kids are still dressing up as '80s Al; I see it every year on my Twitter feed. So I'm consistently being barraged with that.
Even though he knew it was coming because he and director Eric Appel co-wrote the script, he still finds it "very odd to revisit this point in my career." As a result, there were few surprises in how he was portrayed. Even though some are greatly exaggerated, he found it strange to "watch some of these instances recreated."
His decision to re-record some of his earlier songs as studio performances rather than impromptu performances in restrooms or radio stations struck him as the strangest thing ever. According to Yankovic, it was never recorded in a studio; therefore, going back and recording "Another One Rides the Bus" would be absurd. I entered a studio to record that when I did it for this movie. The master recording was from a live performance on the Dr. Demento radio show.
Recently, Yankovic, Daniel Radcliffe, and director Eric Appel sat down with Polygon to discuss the film, including how it was conceived, how the pool scene with Jack Black, Conan O'Brien, Emo Philips, and Paul F. Tompkins came to be, and how much they hope Madonna can take it.
To make the interview more concise and clear, editing was done.
How do you personally approach the problem of making comedy funny? Polygon
Richard Appel, It seems instinctual to me. I don't give it much thought. In this example, dramatization was necessary to make the humor funny: Lean into the drama; allow the spirit to emerge from the ridiculousness of an unusual situation being handled entirely honestly.
Al "Weird" Yankovic: I'll add my voice to the opposition against frog dissection. I don't know what makes comedy amusing. However, in this specific instance, as Eric pointed out, the humor is still anchored in doing something grounded and real and having it go in some unexpected directions.
And I am the least competent of the three people present to express an opinion on what makes something hilarious, says Daniel Radcliffe. When I was younger and had free time, I was mainly interested in comedy. The majority of what I was viewing was that. And I believe I've just been incredibly fortunate to work with many hilarious folks in various capacities and try to learn from them.
Appel: I've said that this movie has a Weird Al song vibe: Though you anticipate hearing the song, the lyrics are different. We wanted to feel connected to one of these emotional biopics from the award season. However, the language is distinct.
Yankovic: That's a helpful analogy. Since we try to recreate it as accurately as possible and mimic the original production, you might mistake it for the original song if you need to pay attention. This is the approach I employ for many of my parodies. Then, it makes a sudden quick left turn, and you say, "Wait a second." That is incorrect.
Why did the filmmakers adhere so closely to the formats of actual biopics?
Appel: At first, I thought it would be humorous. But I believe the strategy I used for this one in particular — I wanted to take a different approach. I didn't want to make a straight-up spoof of a detailed biography. Not just musical biopics but also fictional biopics like Forrest Gump and Boogie Nights, as well as all the rock biopics, were among the many from which I wanted to draw inspiration. You can predict that [the issue] would eventually reach rock bottom and rise from the ashes in all of them. Playing all those beats was appealing but in novel and unexpected ways. In other words, you're not just seeing a biopic parody but watching a strange biography.
How do you individually tackle the topic of how to make comedy funny? That's what Polygon wants to know.
Eric Appel: Doing so is natural. I don't give it a lot of notion at all. In the case of this movie, to make this trace hilarious, [we needed to make it] goodly: Lean into the drama and let the humor flow from the absurdity of something weird that is being played entirely straight.
"Weird Al," To which Yankovic said, "I'll co-sign that I don't want to dissect the frog." I am unable to articulate what it is that makes comedies hilarious. But in this specific instance, as Eric pointed out, the element of surprise is still the source of the humor; however, the start of the shock is very earthy and genuine, and the comedy comes from having it go in certain unexpected places.
Daniel Radcliffe: And of the three of us here, I am the least suited to provide a firm judgment on why something is hilarious. When I had free time when I was growing up, the aspect of pop culture that most intrigued me was comedy. That took up most of my attention while I was watching. And I believe that I've been delighted to have the opportunity to work with a variety of really hilarious individuals in a variety of settings and to try to learn from them.
Appel: This movie has a vibe that reminds me of a Weird Al song, and here's why: You may believe that you are about to hear the music, but the lyrics have been changed. We wanted to have the experience of being immersed in one of these award-season films, preferably a tragic biography. However, these are different terms.
Yankovic: You've made a solid parallel there. As a result of the fact that this is the approach that I take for the majority of my parodies — we try to re-create it as closely as possible and copy the original production so that if you weren't paying attention, you might think it was the actual song — if you weren't paying attention, you might think it was the actual song. The road then makes an abrupt bend to the left, and you find yourself thinking, Wait a minute. That is not correct at all.
Why did the filmmakers choose to adhere so strictly to the formulas that are typical in real-life biopics?
Appel: At first, I thought that that would be a hilarious concept. But I believe the approach we took to this one in particular — I wanted to do something slightly more surprising. I didn't simply want to produce a straightforward, in-your-face spoof of a specific movie about an actual life figure. I wanted to take the whole genre, not just musical biopics; instead, I wanted to draw inspiration from fictional biopics such as Forrest Gump and Boogie Nights, in addition to all of the rock biopics that are already out there. You know that [the subject] will always reach rock bottom at some point, and then they will emerge from the ashes. This is a plot beat that is there in all of them. The attraction was in playing all of those rhythms but doing it in a shocking and unexpected manner. You're not only witnessing a biography spoof; you're also watching a biopic entirely off the wall.
What steps were taken to create the spoof scene of Boogie Nights filmed in Dr. Demento's house? How did you choose who would be there and what role they would play in the production?
Yankovic: Well, we had the screenplay, so we knew exactly who would play each part. After that, I served as the casting director for that particular scenario. After looking through my address book, I compiled a list of all my friends who I felt could be interested in participating, and then I sent out some emails to them. We were fortunate enough to be filming in Los Angeles; initially, the intention was to film in Atlanta due to the tax incentives available there. Because Roku increased the budget just enough so that we could film in Los Angeles, several of my friends who just had an hour or so of free time that afternoon could travel into the Valley and participate in the wacky pool scene.
Radcliffe: Regarding those allusions, I learned on this press trip that the sequence at the pool party is taken from the movie Boogie Nights. Consequently, there are specific allusions that I still need to understand, even to this very moment, entirely.
You began by saying, "We are going to host Frank Zappa and Salvador Dali at the same party, right?" The question "Which 1980s art-world star does Conan O'Brien resemble?" was never the topic of debate.
Yankovic: Not in the beginning. It was all in writing. After that, as soon as the light turned green, we began playing a mix-and-match game. Such as, "Oh, who works? The necessary individuals are listed below; now, tell us, "Who's going to play what?"
Appel: Even so, it was a lot of fun. When we were composing it and trying to think of different characters to include in the party, we said things like, "Let's cram it with as many people as possible." An earlier draught of the screenplay mentioned perhaps twenty hundred more characters; however, once we realized that we only had six hours to film this, we decided to scrap that version. I'm pretty sure we had an arrangement where Steve Martin was dressed in all white and had an arrow shot through his skull as Cheech and Chong were chatting.