Weird Al Yankovic on the Making of WEIRD, All Those Celeb Cameos, and a Possible Sequel

No one who heard “My Bologna” the first time Dr. Demento played it on his syndicated radio show in 1979 could have imagined Weird Al Yankovic would still be going strong more than 40 years later. Few artists, in any medium, have careers that last half as long. And musicians who do song parodies are lucky to have even one small hit. But no one has ever spoofed pop stars better than pop culture’s most famous accordion player. Of course, long time fans know Weird Al is much more than a collection of musical spoofs. From TV to the big screen and his own original songs, his career is as impressive and varied as it is long. And last year he added to his impressive resume with the hilarious Weird: The Al Yankovic Story starring Daniel Radcliffe.

The absurd, fictionalized biopic started as a fake Funny or Die trailer from Eric Appel. He also directed the film, which he co-wrote with Yankovic. Now the Roku streaming hit movie is getting its very own Blu-ray with tons of extras. Ahead of its release Nerdist spoke to Weird Al himself about Weird, the film’s incredible celebrity cameos, how the reaction to UHF still affects him, and so much more.

Nerdist: I think we should probably start with the single most important question that’s still looming over Weird: The Al Yankovic Story: what did your dad actually do for work?

Al Yankovic: He was a blue collar worker. He had a number of various odd jobs. During my entire childhood, he kind of just picked up whatever work he felt like. He wasn’t a career guy. I think back in the day he worked at a sheet metal manufacturing plant, which was probably pretty similar to the factory in the movie, I’m guessing. And he was a security guard and a street crossing guard. Very, very blue collar.

Speaking of real life, what actual event from yours do you think would have fit in with the absurd fictional story of the movie?

Yankovic: Oh, boy. I don’t know. There’s a few things in the movie that feel like they’re fiction, but they’re real. The door-to-door salesman was based on the real fact I started taking accordion lessons because of a door-to-door salesman. Also, my first single was, in fact, recorded in a public restroom. Even though the movie is ridiculous, if you have no idea about my life story you might think the entire thing is made up, but a few things actually are true.

Weird: the Al Yankovic cover poster with Daniel Radcliffe in costume with his back facing the camera
The Roku Channel

The pool party scene is so hilarious and it’s full of so many talented performers I don’t know how anyone managed to keep it together long enough to get a useful take. What was it like on set shooting that sequence with all of those incredibly funny people playing other famous people?

Conan O'Brien as Andy Warhol and Emo Phillips as Salvadore Dali in Weird
The Roku Channel

Yankovic: It was amazing. That was the one scene I was the most stressed about. I’m sure our director, Eric Appel, was stressed about it, because, logistically, it was nearly impossible to pull off. I’m still amazed we did it. We were working with a relatively small budget and an extremely tight shooting schedule.

I’m sure you’ve heard the entire movie was shot in 18 days. So not only not only did we have to shoot that entire pool scene on one day, but we also had to shoot an entirely different scene. The scene with Evan Rachel Wood, Dan Radcliffe, and Rainn Wilson doing the Dr. Demento office scene was the same day. On a normal movie budget that would’ve taken a week probably. So our feeling on the set was, “We’re all professionals. We have to get this, everything, in one or two takes. We have Conan O’Brien for one hour, a lot of moving pieces.” So we had to make sure we got all the shots we wanted.

And also, it is Los Angeles, but it was the coldest day of the year. We couldn’t really have anybody in the pool because, for whatever reason, it wasn’t heated and we didn’t want anybody freezing to death. There were just a lot of things to consider during that particular shoot. And again, I’m amazed we were able to pull it off.

Daniel Radcliffe as Weird Al Yankovic in The Roku Channel's movie Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
The Roku Channel

All of those caricatures of iconic Hollywood celebrities felt very reminiscent of classic Looney Tunes cartoons. Was that intentional or did it just happen organically?

Yankovic: You can draw that correlation. I don’t think Eric or I were really thinking about Looney Tunes when we wrote the scene. That particular scene is a bit of an homage to Boogie Nights. There’s a scene in Boogie Nights it mirrors pretty directly. But I can see where you might feel that. It feels like the old school Looney Tunes were it’s a Harpo Marx-y show of all of a sudden. Or Edward G. Robinson and all those classic actors. We just wanted to have a little bit of fun with that. We wanted to have contemporary famous people playing weirdos from a few decades ago. One of our rules on the movie was we didn’t want anybody playing themselves. We don’t want to de-age anybody. Everybody had to be playing somebody else.

It’s not just the pool scene. The movie’s full of those parts. I know it’s always tough to pick, but do you have a personal favorite performance when it comes to all of the celebrity portrayals?

Jack Black as Wolfman Jack at a pool party as other celebs look on in Weird
The Roku Channel

Yankovic: I don’t really, but I have to say I love Jack Black. He came in and he just knocked that out of the park. That was sort of a last minute casting because originally Wolfman Jack was not in the script. We went through several different iterations. We couldn’t use Freddie Mercury it turned out, because that was the Queen estate’s one stipulation. “No mentions of Freddie Mercury whatsoever.” That was our original script, and we changed it a few times. We wound up with Wolfman Jack, and Jack Black’s an old friend. We thought, “Well, he has to do this. There’s nobody that would be better for this role.” And he came in on very short notice and just absolutely killed it.

One of my favorite jokes in the movie is very subtle and it requires knowing your real actual history. It’s when Coolio was in the audience during “Amish Paradise.” Did he know anything about the scene? Do you know if he saw the movie before he passed away?

Yankovic: I don’t believe he knew about it or saw it.

He didn’t know about it and didn’t see it because we didn’t tell anybody we were lampooning in the movie about it. We wanted it to be a surprise. Also we didn’t want to raise any red flags. In fact, even Paul Reubens, who I was close friends with, didn’t know he was being featured in the movie just because that was sort of our policy. It was like, “Nobody. It’s all a secret until it comes out.”

An actor playing Coolio in the audience in Weird
The Roku Channel

Was anybody mad they weren’t parodied?

Yankovic: I don’t know. We had a lot more people in the original script, and we just had to edit it down to what was manageable. There were a lot of characters that we would’ve included if we had time and we did not. The original script we had Steve Martin, Cheech and Chong, Andy Kaufman, and a few others. We really loaded up the party and then at the end of the day, we had to figure out, “Okay, who do we really need?”

You talked about how the whole film was shot in just 18 days. I know the Blu-ray has some deleted and extended scenes, but were there any ideas or sequences you simply didn’t have time to film because of the compressed schedule?

Yankovic: We smartly did all of our editing in the script phase. As soon as we found out we had to shoot in 18 days there were certain things Eric and I looked at each other and said, “Okay, well, we can’t do this.” Or, “We have to cut out that,” or, “We have to do this in a more efficient way.”

Originally, the whole animated Amish sequence, we wrote as a live-action piece. But that would’ve taken a week at least to shoot all those Amish setups. So we thought, “We’ll just do all that in post. We’ll give that to Augenblick animation.” They’re old friends, and they were nice enough to agree to do our Amish segment in animation.

Evan Rachel Wood as Madonna holds onto a column in a house in Weird
The Roku Channel

There originally was a whole getting-to-know you montage sequence between Weird Al and Madonna. It was a bunch of different setups and a bunch of different wardrobe changes on locations, which ostensibly happened over several weeks, but the joke was it happened in six hours. But again, that would’ve taken days to shoot, and we didn’t have days to shoot, so that got lost.

There weren’t a lot. We didn’t lose any entire scenes and we didn’t shoot any scenes that got taken out entirely. We did our editing before we got to the set for the most part.

Were there any positives to working with such an accelerated production timeline?

Yankovic: Probably more negatives than positives, frankly. But it kept everybody on their toes, for what it’s worth. We would’ve loved to have had a few more days, and it probably would’ve been even a better movie if we had a couple more days to get a few shots that I know Eric wanted to get. And we could have all relaxed a bit more. But, having said that, we were able to pull it off and please don’t ask us to do that again. It was very difficult. We had to get everything in one or two, or at the most three takes, so everybody knew they had to bring their A game right away. That kept everybody very, very sharp.

UHF is a beloved cult classic now, but it famously got lost amid a packed summer movie season. And it initially only garnered mixed reviews. How did that experience shape your expectations for Weird?

Yankovic: I’ll tell you the truth. When I first pitched the idea of doing a movie version of our Funny or Die trailer, I said, “Let’s pitch this to a streaming outlet because I’m still a little gun shy after UHF. I’d be nervous about putting a semi low-budget comedy in a movie theater because I got burned once.” And the thing with the streaming channels is, well, at least at that time, I said, “They don’t give you numbers. Nobody knows how well it does. So as long as people like it, it’s a hit. There’s no scale to be judged on when you’re on a streaming platform.”

So that’s who we went out to. And for what it’s worth, Roku says that it’s their biggest streaming movie in history, which I don’t think that really says a lot at this point.

Who knows what it says!

Yankovic: Who knows what it says! But all I knew is that if it was on a streaming platform, I wouldn’t be getting any bad news. The weekend after it comes out, I wouldn’t be in a fetal position going, “Why?”

Daniel Radcliffe was playing you, but not really. What was it like watching him sort of be Weird Al?

Yankovic: It was still a bit of an out-of-body experience. He obviously wasn’t trying to embody me, per se. We never asked him to sound like me. He certainly, as much as he’s wearing the wig and the Hawaiian shirt, he’s obviously not an exact doppelganger. We didn’t even bother changing his eye color. We thought, “Well, who cares?”

But at the same time, I would see him in the camera monitor on occasion, and it would be weird, like watching home movies live. “Oh, that looks so much like I did in college, or when I was first starting out.” From certain angles, it did look like me, so that was an odd thing to see on the set.

What was it like specifically watching Weird Al get brutally murdered on screen?

Yankovic: (laughs) I insisted on it. That was part of my day one pitch to Eric. I obviously have to be assassinated at the end, so I was very much looking forward to that.

Daniel Radcliffe in Weird Al movie trailer, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story releases soon
The Roku Channel

Have you heard any feedback from Madonna and what she thinks of the movie? Has she seen it?

Yankovic: Zero. And I’m a little surprised. I guess either she doesn’t do many interviews. Or nobody’s bothered to ask her, but we’ve heard absolutely nothing from the Madonna camp. I don’t know if she’s seen it or if she’s aware of it. I hope, if and when she does see it, that she isn’t offended, that she understands it’s a joke. And I think she’s got a good sense of humor. So that’s what I’m hoping for.

Offended? She should feel complimented. Evan Rachel Wood is amazing in that role.

Yankovic: Oh, she is, absolutely. But we did make [Madonna] into kind of a Bond villain, so if she’s okay with that.

If you were going to pick any person from the ’80s to take on that role you picked the perfect person, and I mean that with respect for Madonna.

Yankovic: Thank you.

Evan Rachel Wood with a scar and eyepatch as Madonna in Weird
The Roku Channel

Speaking of murder, do you have any regrets about metaphorically killing Queen’s John Deacon in the movie?

Yankovic: In the commentary on the Blu-ray I say, “By the way, John Deacon’s a super sweet guy. In no way does he deserve any of this,” which I think that made the joke even a little better because the people that are Queen fans that know John Deacon know he’s a sweetheart. And the character David Dastmalchian is playing is very much against type. It makes it that much funnier when somebody that’s known for being a sweet person is just acting like a real jerk.

David Dastmalchian as Queen's John Deacon at a pool party full of other celebs in Weird
The Roku Channel

Did you hear from Queen or anybody associated with them about it?

Yankovic: No. I’ve been dealing through various people with their legal department trying to figure out what we could and couldn’t do. In fact, there was one other, I don’t understand the logic on this at all, but we were told that there’s a part in the movie where we show a Queen album cover, like Oprah Winfrey’s doing this piece on me, and they’re showing, “Here’s Joan Jett and here’s The Knack, and here’s Queen.” And we show actual covers from The Knack and Joan Jett. But for whatever reason, Queen wouldn’t let us show one of their album covers. So Eric Appel just did a child’s drawing of Queen album cover in MS Paint. It looks horrible, but that’s their album cover in the movie.

You’ve made two movies and people love them. Do you ever think to yourself, “Hey, maybe I should be doing this more often?”

Yankovic: I do one movie every 33 years. I’m on a schedule.

No, no, I would. I’ve never shied away from wanting to do movies. It’s not from lack of trying. Hopefully with the success of Weird, maybe more doors will be open to me, and I would love to be more involved in feature films and television projects and things like that. I don’t want to give up doing music. I still love touring. But I would very much like to go more in that direction as well.

I think this question might be just as important as the one about what your dad’s job. Did this movie make you miss your old mustache?

Yankovic: Well, I’ve got it back as you can see.

Yeah, but it’s different and you know it’s different. (Note: At the time of this interview he had a goatee, not his classic mustache like Radcliffe sports in the film.)

Yankovic: [Laughs] My facial hair comes and goes. I’m not that attached to facial hair. I’m okay with that. I have it now because my wife happens to like me with facial hair, and I’ll probably keep it until I need to shave it for whatever reason. But yeah, I’m okay with or without.

Did this weird alternate reality version biopic make you nostalgic for certain elements of your life from that time period?

Yankovic: Things were simpler back in the early days. Things were a bit more organic.

I just remember in the early eighties, I pressed a copy of one of my songs onto a record and I walked right into KROQ in Los Angeles. I walked up to the DJ and I said, “Hey, I’ve got a new record.” And he goes, “Oh, let’s put down the air right now.” Not running it by his boss, not having a focus group look at it. It is just like, “Okay, it’s on the air,” which would never happen now. Things have gotten so corporate. Everything was a bit more freeform and flying by the seat of your pants back then. I kind of miss that.

Weird Al is a businessman in a suit in Weird
The Roku Channel

The movie was so well received and it obviously had the support of so many talented people who wanted to be a part of it, so any chance you’d do a sequel?

Yankovic: It’s not out of the question. I mean, we might be the first biopic ever with an actual sequel. So I’ll be honest, it’s something that’s being talked about. We’ll see.

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is now available from Shout Studios on DVD, Blu-Ray, and 4K.

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on  Twitter and  Bluesky at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.

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