Movies

What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

The new movie spoofs music biopics, but a few of the wilder details have some basis in reality.

Both men have thick, curly hair, mustaches, and large glasses. They both wear brightly patterned shirts. Radcliffe holds an accordion.
Left: Alfred “Weird Al” Yankovic. Right: Daniel Radcliffe as Weird Al in Weird. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Frank Edwards/Fotos International/Getty Images and ROKU. 

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story opens with the subject of the movie, “Weird” Al Yankovic himself, promising that what viewers are about to watch is a “totally 100 percent true, not-at-all-made-up biopic” about his life and career. And it’s not like Yankovic would lie about something like that, right? So … I guess we’re done here. Time to call it a day. Mimosas, anyone?

But wait, not so fast. Within the first minutes of Weird (which is streaming for free on Roku), it becomes apparent that the film is not actually interested in faithfully telling us the true story of the parodist. Instead, the whole movie is itself a parody, one that pokes fun at the predictable formula of music biopics. But while some plot points in the screenplay, written by Yankovic and director Eric Appel, are very obviously made up, there are several moments where the lines between fact and fiction aren’t so clear. We’ve done our best to answer the most pressing questions about Weird’s veracity, below.

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Did Weird Al’s parents really disapprove of his career?

Though they were strict in other ways, Yankovic’s parents didn’t forbid him from getting into polka—in fact, they bought Yankovic an accordion before he turned seven years old (presumably without beating the salesman bloody, as Yankovic’s father does in the film). His father worked at a steel plant, probably the inspiration for “the factory” repeatedly referenced as his mysterious job.

Did Yankovic’s roommates really become his bandmates?

While Steve, Jim, and Bermuda are all based on real, longtime members of Yankovic’s band—bassist Steve Jay, guitarist Jim West, and drummer Jon Schwartz, all of whom have worked with Yankovic for more than four decades—it’s not true that they were all roommates. The movie winks at this convenient revision of history when the three roommates suddenly start backing Yankovic up during a performance of “I Love Rocky Road”: Al asks why they never mentioned they could play instruments before, and one of them answers, “I guess it didn’t seem relevant until now.”

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Was “My Bologna” really recorded in a bathroom at a bus station?

Bathroom, yes. Bus station, no.

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Did Weird Al really get famous the way he does in Weird?

Kind of, although the movie fudges the details, in its winking, self-aware way. In Weird, Yankovic mails a cassette tape of “My Bologna” to the Captain Buffoon Show, making him an instant celebrity. (This comes immediately after Bermuda gives a long spiel about how it takes hard work and time to make it in the music industry.)

Both men wear top hats, sport large glasses, and have thick beards. Hansen wears a bow tie and dress shirt under his tuxedo jacket, whereas Wilson wears a shirt with the word "Pink" visible in the Pink Floyd font under his tuxedo jacket.
Left: Barret Hansen, better known as Dr. Demento. Right: Rainn Wilson as Dr. Demento in Weird. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images and ROKU. 
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In reality, it was radio host Dr. Demento who first played Yankovic’s music on the air, when Yankovic was just 16, and it was an original song, “Belvedere Cruising,” not a parody. Yankovic was not an instant star, but his fame grew in college and beyond, with Dr. Demento continuing to feature his music on the radio, including “My Bologna.” Dr. Demento does play a major role in Weird, where he is played by Rainn Wilson, but in the movie he discovers Yankovic at a gig and becomes more of a manager.

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Did Oprah Winfrey really interview Weird Al? 

Winfrey's face is illuminated and she is waving. Brunson smiles at an unseen figure off camera. A row of brightly patterned shirts and a shelf with shoes on it can be seen behind her.
Left: Oprah Winfrey. Right: Quinta Brunson as Oprah in Weird. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Jim Smeal/Getty Images Plus and ROKU. 
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She did, in 1984, on AM Chicago, although the movie deliberately exaggerates Yankovic’s fame and success, so the real interview is very different from what we see in Weird.

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Did Weird Al really write “Eat It” before Michael Jackson released “Beat It”?

This should perhaps be obvious, but many viewers seem to be genuinely unsure: No, “Beat It” was released in 1982 and “Eat It” was released in 1984, with Yankovic spoofing Jackson’s music video, too.

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That’s the joke: The movie pretends that “Eat It” is the original song and “Beat It” is the parody. “What kind of sick freak changes the words to someone else’s song?” asks an outraged Yankovic, and he’s even more perplexed when he learns that “Beat It” isn’t even about eggs or something weird like that—it’s just a regular song.

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So you could say that in the movie’s version of reality, Weird Al got “Normal Al”-ed?

You could indeed say that.

Fine, but did Weird Al ever really date Madonna?

Both women have teased dirty blonde hair and wear headbands adorned with large bows. They wear cropped jackets and many sets of overlapping necklaces.
Left: Madonna Ciccone. Right: Evan Rachel Wood as Madonna in Weird. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Mondadori via Getty Images and ROKU.
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No, and according to him, they’ve met only once, in 1985. “I talked to her for maybe, like, 45 seconds backstage,” Yankovic told Jimmy Fallon while promoting Weird. “So that’s the extent of the relationship.”

In the movie, Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) seduces Yankovic and manipulates him into parodying her song “Like a Virgin” so she’ll enjoy a boost in sales. In reality, Yankovic says Madonna did lead him to write “Like a Surgeon”—but only indirectly. As he told NPR: “From what I heard, she was just kind of musing out loud to a friend of hers one day. ‘Oh, I wonder what Weird Al’s is going to do—“Like a Surgeon”’—’cause it seemed like the obvious thing to do. And her friend happened to know my manager, and word got back to me. And I thought, well, not a bad idea.”

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Did Weird Al really have a drinking problem? Did he really do LSD?

A performer abusing drugs and alcohol to eventually hit rock bottom is an essential component of the music biopic formula, and sure enough, the movie shows Yankovic finding the inspiration for “Eat It” while accidentally tripping. He also gets drunk on multiple occasions during his downward spiral. In reality, Yankovic is—as he tells Madonna in the movie before falling for her wiles—not much of a drinker. He once said in an interview with Paul F. Tompkins that he has a drink about once a month, and he claims to have never done drugs recreationally, out of respect for his parents.

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Did Weird Al really win a Grammy for “Perhaps Not Technically the Best But Arguably the Most Famous Accordion Player in an Extremely Specific Genre of Music”?

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While Yankovic would seem to be a lock for this category, it sadly does not exist. He has won five real Grammys, however: Best Comedy Record for “Eat It” in 1984, Best Concept Music Video for “Fat” in 1988, Best Comedy Album for Poodle Hat in 2003, Best Comedy Album for Mandatory Fun in 2014, and Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package for Squeeze Box: The Complete Works of “Weird Al” Yankovic in 2018. He’s been nominated a total of 16 times.

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Was Coolio really that mad about Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise”?

Coolio can be seen fuming in the audience, if only for a few seconds, as Daniel Radcliffe’s Yankovic performs the song toward the end of the movie. It’s true that the rapper famously objected to Weird Al’s parody of “Gangsta’s Paradise,” saying he’d never given permission for the spoof. However, the two eventually reconciled, with Coolio later calling the song “actually funny as shit” after he finally listened to it. Yankovic posted a picture of himself hugging Coolio on Instagram in September after news broke of the rapper’s death.

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In a greyscale photo, Pablo Escobar smiles into the camera. In color, Castro's brow is furrowed, and he has a thick mustache.
Left: Pablo Escobar. Right: Arturo Castro as Pablo Escobar in Weird. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Colombian National Police and ROKU.
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Was Pablo Escobar really a fan of Weird Al? And did he really lure Weird Al to perform at his birthday party by kidnapping Madonna? And did Weird Al really travel into the jungle to rescue her and then kill Pablo Escobar and his cronies? And did Madonna really propose that they then take over the drug cartel together? And did she really order Weird Al’s assassination at the Shrine Auditorium in 1985? And did Ronald Reagan really speak at Weird Al’s funeral? And did Weird Al really then claw his way out of the grave like in the after-credits sequence? 

Yes, all of that definitely, absolutely, really happened.

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