When you think of the word “parody” it’s likely you immediately think of “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Videos by American Songwriter
Videos by American Songwriter
Over the decades, the man born Alfred Matthew Yankovic has carved out a legendary career in which he has become synonymous with the musical parody song. So much so it almost seems impossible for anyone else to enjoy a career in the style. With songs like “Fat” (in the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Bad”) and “White & Nerdy” (in the style of Chamillionaire’s “Ridin'”), Yankovic has become someone we all know and (mostly) love.
[RELATED: Weird Al Drops Official Soundtrack for Biopic ‘Weird: The Al Yankovic Story’]
Born on October 23, 1959, the singer, accordion player, songwriter, and producer is the King of Comedy songs.
But how did he get his memorable name and how did it stick?
Alfred Matthew Yankovic
As a kid, Yankovic loved pop culture. And as the years progressed, he came to love to make fun of pop culture, from Madonna to Jackson to Coolio. Though he did so with reverence in his heart as well. As with all of his songs, if he covered your tune, it meant something. It was a badge of honor.
Famous for his accordion playing (his first accordion lesson took place the day before his seventh birthday when a door-to-door music lesson salesman approached his parents) and his penchant for polka, Yankovic began his career in comedy on The Dr. Demento Radio Show in 1976. He was just 16 years old. Since then, he’s sold more than 12 million albums and recorded some 150 parodies, performing them in more than 1,000 live shows.
Yankovic has garnered five Grammy Awards and 11 nominations, along with four gold records and six platinum ones. His most recent album, Mandatory Fun, which dropped in 2014, became his first No. 1 record.
Yankovic even directed music videos for other artists, including the Black Crowes, Hanson, Ben Folds, and the Seattle rock group, the Presidents of the United States of America. In 1989, he starred in the film, UHF.
“Weird Al” is Born
After taking accordion lessons thanks to that door-to-door salesman, Yankovic began to get into rock music. He says that Elton John and his 1973 LP, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, was a big influence and he even credits that album with pushing him to learn rock tunes on the accordion.
As a comedian and burgeoning songwriter, he came to love people like Spike Jones, George Carlin, Stan Freberg, Frank Zappa, and Shel Silverstein. He also loved the “sick and twisted artists” on The Dr. Demento Radio Show. Yankovic was an avid reader of Mad magazine, too, and he would tape television appearances of the comedy troupe Monty Python.
Early in his life, Yankovic skipped a grade in elementary school and this led him to be known as a nerd amongst his peers. Not interested in sports or parties, Yankovic was active in extracurricular programs like public speaking. He wrote captions for his high school yearbook at Lynwood High School. He was also strangely a member of the Volcano Worshippers club, in which he admitted the group did “absolutely nothing.” He was the valedictorian of his 1976 senior class.
[RELATED: The 25 Best “Weird Al” Yankovic Quotes]
In college, he studied architecture and after school he worked in the mail room of Westwood One before becoming someone who worked in the advertising department, calling radio stations to see if ads had been run on their air. His stint with Westwood One was pre-dated by time on his college radio station, KCP.
When he got on the air, he used the name “Weird Al” because he both played weird music and because it fit his character. Certainly not the average musician, the name stuck.
In a 2012 interview with Forbes, Yankovic explained the origins of his nickname, or at least what he remembers from it, saying, “I’m pretty sure that nickname was given to me by someone in the dorms during my freshman year in college—but I took it on professionally when I starting doing a shift on the campus radio station the following year. I did ‘The Weird Al Show’ on KCPR every Saturday night. And I had been doing song parodies since I was a small child—I think most kids go through that phase, and I guess I’m still going through it.”
Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for The Recording Academy