“Weird Al” Yankovic’s Weird, Wonderful Career

Jon Mayer
Get ready to get weird.
Get ready to get weird. / George Rose/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1979, an architecture student at California Polytechnic State University retreated to one of the school’s bathrooms. Rather than bladder relief, young Al Yankovic (dubbed “Weird Al” by dorm-mates) was in search of good acoustics. In that university bathroom, he laid down a parody of the most popular song of the moment, transforming The Knack’s “My Sharona” into a rock ’n’roll/polka celebration of lunch meat, “My Bologna.” The rest is weird history.

In the latest episode of Throwback, Mental Floss Editor-in-Chief Erin McCarthy traces Weird Al’s unique path to stardom, from his humble beginnings practicing the squeezebox to being sought out for his unique parody powers by no less a musical sensation than Madonna.

"Weird Al" Yankovic
‘Weird: The Al Yankovic Story’ New York Premiere. / Theo Wargo/GettyImages

We don’t cover the less-than-accurate (if undeniably hilarious) moments from Al’s life dreamed up for the Roku Channel’s recent mock biopic—there are no secretly Amish fathers or outlandish kidnappings in Al’s actual life. Still, the true story of this unique pop culture icon is often as charming as his silly music and singular contributions to American comedy.

You’ll learn how Al settled on the accordion, of all instruments, how we “gets away” with his parodies, and the role a radio personality known as Dr. Demento played in popularizing Al’s zany brand of musical comedy.

Watch the full episode to dive deep into the life and work of “Weird Al” Yankovic, and subscribe to Mental Floss on YouTube for more looks back at cultural touchstones, from Mad Magazine to National Lampoon.