Historical Accuracy (Q&A):Is Weird: The Al Yankovic Story a real biopic?
No, at least certainly not in the traditional sense. While conducting our Weird: The Al Yankovic Story fact-check, we learned that minus the song parodies themselves, very little in the movie actually happened in real life. The film is an intentionally exaggerated and over-the-top interpretation of the Weird Al true story. As critic Owen Gleiberman of Variety points out, "It's a movie that does to the biopic form what Weird Al did to songs like 'I Love Rock 'n' Roll' and 'Beat It' — imitates it, razzes it, throws mud at it, turns it inside out. And all with supreme affection." Part of the joke of the film is that it parodies real biopics in almost the same way that Yankovic parodied hit songs. In that sense, the movie complements Yankovic's mock artistry by creating a mock biopic that satirizes the traditional rise-and-fall clichés of celebrity biopics.
Did Al Yankovic's parents not want him to play the accordion?In the movie, Weird Al, who was known simply as Al at the time, takes up the accordion after, much to his father's disdain, an accordion salesman drops by. In fact, Nick Yankovic (Toby Huss) is so annoyed in the film that he beats up the salesman and kicks him out, but not before his son can get his hands on the instrument, which he quickly realizes is his salvation. The only truth in this scene is that Al did take up the accordion after a door-to-door salesman paid the family a visit. The Weird: The Al Yankovic Story true story reveals that in real life, both of his parents were supportive and encouraged him to take lessons.
Weird Al Yankovic as a teen in real life and as portrayed by David Bloom in the Roku Channel movie. Photo: WeirdAl.com/Roku Channel
"A door-to-door salesman came through our neighborhood," recalled Yankovic, "trying to solicit business for a local music school. Kids were offered a choice between guitar lessons and accordion lessons. Since Frankie Yankovic (no relation) was America's Polka King, my parents opted for accordion lessons, perhaps because they figured there should be at least one more accordion-playing Yankovic in the world." -Weird Al Box Set Liner Notes
Did Weird Al Yankovic's father refuse to support his dreams and instead want him to work in a factory?No. Here again, the movie is mocking other music biopics (think Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, etc.) where the obligatory disappointing father doesn't support his child's dream. In reality, the attitude of Weird Al's father, Nick Yankovic, was very much the opposite. In fact, Weird Al credits his father for much of his success in life. "My dad is responsible for a lot of my attitude toward life," said the singer. "He always stressed when I was a kid that I should do whatever made me happy, because that's the key to success, doing for a living whatever makes you happy."
It's true that Weird Al Yankovic (left) took up the accordion after a door-to-door salesman visited the family. Photo: WeirdAl.com/Roku Channel
A joke in the movie is that the family doesn't actually know what's made at the factory where his father works. A Weird Al movie fact-check reveals that this was likely inspired by the fact that Nick Yankovic had worked at a number of different factories in his life, including a steel factory, pipe factory, and bedspring factory. He also worked as a forklift operator, security guard, and gas station attendant.
How did Weird Al come up with his song "My Bologna" in real life?
In Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, the aspiring performer comes up with his breakout 1983 song "My Bologna" while making sandwiches for his roommates and listening to The Knack's "My Sharona" on the radio, at which point one of them tells him, "Open up a package of my bologna." The scene is of course fictional and the movie is lampooning the trope that divine inspiration must be at the root of every great song.
In reality, Yankovic came up with the idea for his first song, "My Bologna," in a much more organic (and less divine) way. In 1979, while he was an architecture student at Cal Poly and a DJ for the university's radio station, KCPR, the song "My Sharona" by The Knack was getting a lot of airplay, so he considered parodying the single. During a jam session with his friend, Jon Iverson, he brainstormed the lyrics for his parody as Iverson played the main riff to "My Sharona" on his guitar. The lyrics eventually came together and the result was "My Bologna".
Yankovic and Iverson started performing the song around campus and at local theaters. The Weird Al movie true story confirms that they recorded it in the tiled men's bathroom across from the offices of the campus radio station due to the restroom's studio-like acoustics. Yankovic made a tape of the song for the Dr. Demento Show, a radio program that specialized in novelty songs and comedy. The song was a hit, even catching the attention of The Knack's lead singer, Doug Feiger.
When The Knack came to Cal Poly, Yankovic worked his way backstage and introduced himself to Feiger as the kid who did "My Bologna", to which Feiger responded, "Oh, that's really a great song!" It so happened that Rupert Perry, the vice president of Capitol Records, The Knack's label, was there that night to see the band and Feiger introduced him to Yankovic, telling Perry, "You guys oughta put this song out on Capitol Records." Perry responded, "OK, let's do it!"
Does Daniel Radcliffe sing in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story?No. Actor Daniel Radcliffe lip-synchs to Weird Al's songs. "We wanted that trope of the original person's voice clearly coming out of the wrong head," Radcliffe said during a New York Comic-Con panel. "I think it's very obvious that it is Al singing, but I have still had a few people be like, 'Your singing in this film was incredible!'"
The real Weird Al Yankovic (left) is portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe (right) in the movie.
On a side note, Radcliffe did grow a mustache to play the part. Initially, when offered the role, he thought he didn't have a close enough physical resemblance to the much taller Yankovic. However, his attitude changed after he learned about the movie's plot. "And as soon as I read the script, I was like, 'Oh, that doesn't matter. That's not what we're doing. Accuracy and realism is not really the full name of the game here,'" recalled Radcliffe.
Did Weird Al Yankovic date Madonna?
No. In the movie, Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) shows up out of the blue at Weird Al's house and asks him if he is going to do a parody of her song "Like a Virgin". He replies by asking, "Now I'm curious, is that song ... autobiographical?" to which Madonna answers, "Yes," before the movie transitions to a passionate make-out session, during which Madonna adds, "Except for the fact that I've had a lot of sex." In real life, Madonna never hooked up with Weird Al, nor did they have a relationship. Like many of the other scenes in the film, it was invented by the screenwriters.
The movie goes on to depict Madonna as having a bad influence on Weird Al as they evade the paparazzi and fans together. At one point, Weird Al performs "Like a Surgeon" onstage with Madonna's backup dancers. All of this is fictional. In fact, while researching how accurate is Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
, we learned that it's possible that Weird Al and Madonna may have never actually met in person. The film presents a sort of what-if scenario, imagining what would have happened if Madonna and Weird Al had been a couple, while at the same time lampooning celebrity romances.
If there's a shred of truth to the scene mentioned above, it's that Madonna did suggest that Weird Al do a parody of her song "Like a Virgin" by turning it into "Like a Surgeon." However, she didn't make this suggestion to Weird Al in person. She was talking to a friend who knew Weird Al's manager, Jay Levey. Her friend told Levey and Levey conveyed the idea to Al. It was the only time he accepted an outside idea for a song. For legal and personal reasons, he is the sole writer of his songs and does not accept idea submissions from fans.
Did Weird Al Yankovic wear his platinum records around his neck while being interviewed by Oprah?No. In performing the Weird: The Al Yankovic Story fact-check, we discovered that the actual Weird Al Yankovic Oprah interview took place on July 4th, 1984. He didn't come out wearing his platinum records around his neck. Again, the movie is mocking celebrity culture, in particular their egos. In real life, Weird Al came out in his usual attire, a Hawaiian shirt and glasses.
Madonna (left) never dated Weird Al Yankovic in real life. Evan Rachel Wood (right) portrays the Material Girl in the movie.
Unlike what's seen in the movie, it wasn't normal for Weird Al to dress to the nines, nor did he live in a Versace-esque Beverly Hills mansion, but there are many famous musicians that opt to do so, and there's a certain amount of enjoyment that comes with lampooning their overindulgence. Of course, this isn't to say that Yankovic's current $2 million contemporary-style home in the Hollywood hills is modest. He purchased the home, which was the former residence of rapper Heavy D, in 2001. He also owns a home in Hana, Maui, Hawaii. Still, it would be hard to say that Weird Al has ever been about excess, nor does he seem to have let his fame go to his head.Did Weird Al Yankovic have substance abuse issues?No. In exploring the question, "Is Weird: The Al Yankovic Story accurate?" fans of the parody artist will immediately recognize the liberties the movie takes with regard to Weird Al and his abuse of drugs and alcohol. It is rather well known that the real Weird Al Yankovic abstained from alcohol, drugs, and profanity throughout his career (in addition to meat). Daniel Radcliffe's character's embrace of these vices in the movie is meant to mock the traditional arc that most music biopics take, where an artist succumbs to the dark side of fame and its many pitfalls. Weird Al, who co-wrote the screenplay with Eric Appel, is proof that artists don't have to succumb to such vices and the film doesn't hold back in mocking the behavior of the ones that do.
In the liner notes to Weird Al Yankovic's 1994 box set, Dr. Demento wrote, "I've never met any performer who pays more attention to detail. Without ever taking himself too seriously, Al manages to be an absolute perfectionist. That extends to his personal life as well: he's a non-smoker, non-drinker (he once turned down a multi-million dollar offer to do beer commercials) and strict vegetarian." In the movie, Radcliffe's Weird Al puts out a cigarette on the hand of Ben Scotti (Will Forte), a fictional moment that is parodying the coky-rebellious-artist trope that is often used in biopics.
Was rapper Coolio upset that Weird Al spoofed "Gangsta's Paradise"?Yes. However, the movie depicting a ticked-off Coolio seated in the audience as Weird Al performs "Amish Paradise" is fictional. In comparing Weird: The Al Yankovic Story to the true story behind the dispute, we learned that in real life, Weird Al was given the impression by Coolio's label that the rapper was okay with him parodying "Gangsta's Paradise". He later discovered that Coolio was upset, believing that the parody hurt the original song's message about the negative effects of gang life. Nonetheless, Coolio still accepted royalty payments for the song and he never took legal action. The two made peace in 2006 at the XM Satellite Radio booth at the Consumer Electronics Show. Coolio publicly apologized in 2014, telling Vice, "I was being cocky and sh** and being stupid and I was wrong and I should've embraced that sh** and went with it," adding that he found the parody "actually funny as sh**."Did Weird Al Yankovic expose himself onstage?
Weird Al's use of alcohol and drugs in the movie is parodying similar substance abuse that is common in music biopics.
No. Our Weird Al movie fact-check confirms that the Jim Morrison-esque will-he-expose-himself-on-stage? moment in the movie never happened in real life. It's part of Radcliffe's character's fictional implosion after becoming a megalomaniac, a common trope in celebrity biopics.Did Weird Al insult his band and push them away?
No. In the movie, Weird Al (Daniel Radcliffe) launches into a drunken tirade at his bandmates. "You're all just a bunch of normals. I'm the weird one!" he shouts. Weird Al getting drunk and treating his bandmates like garbage never happened in real life (for one thing, the real Weird Al Yankovic doesn't drink). Radcliffe's character becoming a megalomaniac in the movie after letting the fame go to his head is a riff on biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody and The Dirt.
Did Weird Al Yankovic ever meet Pablo Escobar?No. Obviously, Yankovic didn't rescue Madonna from Pablo Escobar, who in the movie is obsessed with Yankovic. This was likely inspired by Pablo Escobar's reported interest in kidnapping pop icon Michael Jackson. In researching the Weird Al movie true story, we also found no evidence that Yankovic ever met Escobar in real life. And it goes without saying, Madonna wasn't a murderous psychopath (that we know of), no matter how amusing Evan Rachel Wood's over-the-top interpretation of her is.Does Weird Al have a cameo in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story?
Daniel Radcliffe (left) as Weird Al performing "Like a Surgeon" in the movie, and the real Weird Al in the "Like a Surgeon" music video.
Yes. As seen in the Weird: The Al Yankovic Story cast vs. real people section above, Yankovic (minus the curly hair and glasses) plays Tony Scotti, a record producer. His wife Suzanne also has a cameo, appearing next to him in the audience at an awards show (see image below). Yankovic also had a cameo in the fake Funny Or Die movie trailer that evolved into the feature film.Was Weird Al Yankovic involved in the making of his biopic?
Yes. Yankovic was a producer and co-wrote the script with director Eric Appel, who in 2013 created a fake trailer for the movie as a Funny Or Die sketch, with actor Aaron Paul as Yankovic. The movie extends that sketch, which mocked traditional biopics, into a feature film that further exaggerates the clichés found in those movies. Yankovic was on set every day of the 18-day shoot, making sure it turned out exactly the way he wanted.
Yankovic said that he was inspired to make the film after the success of music biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman. "They would play around with the facts for dramatic purpose, and that really bothered me," he said. "I thought, 'Maybe I should do a biopic but just have it go completely off the rails.'"