DVD Review: “Weird Al” Yankovic – The Compleat AL

“Weird Al” Yankovic – The Compleat AL

Shout Factory

DVD Release Date: Nov. 11, 2014

Run Time: 85 minutes

During the reign of those big budget music videos that aired on MTV in the ’80s, Weird Al Yankovic took music and artists to task by satirizing the medium, the music, and the message. This was a time before Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo. MTV was the sole portal for  setup and delivery of the joke. Weird Al’s sophomoric, base, and sometimes gross-out sense of humor was like a friendlier version of Frank Zappa, or maybe a more simplistic Alice Cooper character that the whole family could laugh at.

In most cases, Yankovic never took mean or personal swipes at the artists he parodied. Weird Al was bulls-eyed focused on the bloated, nonsensical scenarios that videos provided. Doing a shot-by-shot comedic reproduction of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” for his song “Eat It,” Yankovic borrowed surrealist ideas from landmark video artist and TV star Ernie Kovacs. Dancing right out of the frame, or using heavy-breathed lyrics that caused the camera to fog up, Yankovic consistently broke down the fourth wall. Granted–at times, it was only for a fart joke.

You gotta be smart to act that stupid.

The Compleat AL DVD, released Nov. 11 on Shout Factory, is a mockumentary sendup of a “rags-to-riches” story based on the Yankovic character.  It features eight classic Weird AL videos entwined through the storyline.

The 1980s music landscape was filled with mega superstars who generated gargantuan revenue for record companies. So when it was time to make a music video in support of a new release, budgetary constraints were unheard of for artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna. And as soon as a song was a hit, here came Weird Al with the parody.

In the DVD, Weird Al portrays record company executives as greedy bean-counters who are always more interested in the financial return or gimmick than the actual talent. But in his own music videos, he had the luxury of using actual music industry brass like Dick Clark, record producer Phil Ramone, Steve Cropper, Rick Derringer, and Dr. Demento to contribute cameos for his fictional narrative. These real industry players lent a type of legitimacy to the farce. Yankovic was years ahead of the curve in understanding that comedic pokes at larger-than-life music video artists could generate as much commerce as the actual original song itself. Just look at the music videos from Foo Fighters and Tenacious D that followed.

In 2014, the difference is that some artists, without proving talent first, choose to self-inflict buffoonery, in lieu of actual talent, to increase YouTube hits.

During his career, Weird Al has been repeatedly turned down by Paul McCartney, Eminem, and Prince. Legally, he does not have to ask the artists for their permission to allow him to parody their work. But Weird Al wants them to be in on the joke, as opposed to hearing the parody on the radio and being pissed off. If the big guys say no, Weird Al steps back.