“Weird Al” Yankovic’s debut film UHF was a passion project for the famed parodist. He co-wrote and developed the script over the course of four years alongside his longtime manager, Jay Levey, who also directed the movie.
Despite high scores with test audiences, UHF—which was released in theaters in the U.S. on July 21, 1989—failed to meet studio expectations and flopped at the box office. Yet over the years, the comedy has grown in popularity thanks to cable syndication, midnight movie screenings, and multiple home video releases.
For nearly 35 years, UHF has been the very definition of a cult classic. With the new Daniel Radcliffe-led biopic about Yankovic’s life set to hit the Roku Channel this fall, there’s never been a better time to rewatch this underrated flick. Here are 10 fun facts you probably didn’t know about “Weird Al” Yankovic’s UHF.
1. Mad magazine helped inspire the main character’s name.
The film’s main character, George Newman (played by “Weird Al” Yankovic), was named after Alfred E. Neuman, the mascot for Mad magazine.
“Oh, absolutely. I make no secret of the fact that Mad magazine was a huge inspiration and influence on me, and ’Uncle Nutsy’s Clubhouse,’” Yankovic told the A.V. Club in 2015. “There can’t be much more of a direct reference to Mad magazine than that. I mean that’s one of my favorite pieces from the ’60s from Mad. That was a direct homage.”
2. Rising stars like Ellen DeGeneres and Jennifer Tilly auditioned for the film.
While Victoria Jackson landed the role of Newman’s girlfriend, Teri, and Fran Drescher (who eventually starred in The Nanny) appears as secretary Pamela Finklestein, a few soon-to-be-famous actresses auditioned for roles in the film too, including Ellen DeGeneres and Jennifer Tilly.
In fact, other relatively then-unknown actors were also up for parts in UHF. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld was offered the role of Bob, George’s best friend, while actor Crispin Glover and Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson could have played Philo, Channel 62’s station engineer. All three turned down the movie.
3. Dr. Demento makes a cameo.
Dr. Demento (a.k.a. Barret Eugene Hansen) gave “Weird Al” Yankovic his big break when he played the then-16 year old’s novelty song “Belvedere Cruising” on his radio show in 1976. Yankovic later put his mentor in a blink-and-you-missed-it cameo in UHF, where he appeared as a member of the audience in the “Stanley Spadowski's Clubhouse” scene. He’s credited as “Whipped Cream Eater.”
4. UHF was filmed on location in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
UHF was filmed mostly in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at popular local places throughout the city, including Harden’s Hamburgers, Rose Bowl Lanes, Joey’s House of the Blues, and the Tulsa International Airport, among other locations.
“We’re having a great time,” Yankovic told The Oklahoman while filming in 1988. “Tulsa is a great place. All the people have been really nice. They treat me as if I’m human.”
The choice to film in Oklahoma came from executive producer Gray Fredrickson’s easy-going experience working on The Outsiders, which was also filmed in the Sooner State, a few years earlier.
“We've had a lot of good experiences with previous films we’ve done in Tulsa," Fredrickson, who is an Oklahoma native, told The Oklahoman in the same 1988 story. “It’s human nature. You go somewhere, have a good time and you’re more [likely] to want to come back.”
5. Dire Straits helped record a parody of their own song for the film.
In the Beverly Hillbillies dream sequence, “Weird Al” parodies Dire Straits’s hit song “Money For Nothing.” The band’s frontman, Mark Knopfler, gave permission to let Yankovic parody the song—but only if he could play lead guitar, and keyboardist Guy Fletcher could play synthesizer, on the song.
As a result, the track was recorded and Yankovic, Knopfler and Sting (who co-wrote the original song), as well as Paul Henning (who created the Beverly Hillbillies) received song credits.
The parody was ultimately titled “Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies*” for legal reasons. “The lawyers told us that had to be the name. Those wacky lawyers! Whatcha gonna do?” Yankovic explained on the UHF DVD commentary track.
6. UHF originally tested better with audiences than RoboCop.
Before its release in 1989, Orion Pictures was pretty high on UHF. In fact, it tested higher with audiences than RoboCop, which Orion released in 1987. The studio was so confident in the movie that they believed it would be their biggest hit of the summer—but it bombed with $6.1 million domestic box office gross, against a reported $5 million budget.
In 2019, Yankovic told Yahoo! Entertainment he was disappointed when the film tanked, “primarily because my expectations were so built up. Orion Pictures, God love ’em, were thinking I was ‘the next Woody Allen.’ They tested the movie, and it got the highest numbers since the original RoboCop, which they’d done. So they were all excited, like, ‘This is going to be our big summer movie!’”
For context, UHF was released during the same summer as Batman, Ghostbusters II, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade—all movies that grossed at least $90 million domestically.
7. Siskel & Ebert hated the movie.
In 1989, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave UHF two thumbs down. In fact, Siskel said the movie “may be injurious to your sense of humor,” while Ebert called it “a series of half-baked parodies of bad TV.”
A few years later in 1992, Yankovic got his “revenge” on the film critic pair in “I Can’t Watch This,” a parody of M.C. Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” with the lyrics, “Those Siskel & Ebert bums/Oughta go home and sit on their thumbs.”
8. UHF was rated PG-13, which the studio felt negatively impacted its box office performance.
Orion Pictures felt this cult classic would have been more successful if it were a PG-rated movie instead of a PG-13 movie. However, “Weird Al” Yankovic refused to cut out certain scenes to get a PG rating from the Motion Picture Association (MPA).
“One [scene] was Emo Philips cutting his thumb off on a table saw, and the other was Raoul Hernandez throwing poodles out the window,” Yankovic said to Yahoo! Entertainment in 2019. “They said, ‘Hey, if you just take those two things out of the movie, we’ll make it PG, and a bunch of more people will see it.’ And I said, ‘I'm not willing to do that.’ So, it was PG-13. And I’m glad I stuck by my guns, because I would rather have it be the movie I wanted to make and be a flop, than be a compromised movie and be a flop. And by the way, no poodles were harmed in the making of UHF. The ASPCA [American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] was on set to make sure we weren’t really throwing poodles out the window.”
9. The film was given an alternative title for international markets.
For the international release, Orion Pictures re-titled the movie The Vidiot From UHF. Years later, Yankovic wished he titled the film The Vidiot instead of UHF.
“When the movie went international, we called it The Vidiot From UHF,” Yankovic told the A.V. Club in 2015. “I don’t know why they insisted on keeping UHF in the title, because The Vidiot is a much better name. But they wanted to tie it in with the North American release for some bizarre reason—because it was obviously such a huge hit. Part of me feels like if I had my life to live over again, you know, The Vidiot or possibly just Vidiots would have been a title that would have stood the test of time better.”
10. UHF helped “Weird Al” eventually get Nirvana’s permission for a parody song.
A few years after its release, UHF directly led “Weird Al” Yankovic getting Kurt Cobain’s permission to parody Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Co-star Victoria Jackson was a cast member on Saturday Night Live when Nirvana appeared as a musical guest in 1992. She was able to connect Yankovic and Cobain on the phone directly.
“He was sweet and he got it in like five seconds and said, ‘Of course you can do a parody,’” Yankovic told Spin magazine in 2012. “The famous quote from him was, ‘Is it going to be a song about food?’ because at that point that’s primarily what I was known for. And I said, ‘Well, no, it’s going to be a song about how nobody can understand your lyrics.’ And he said, ‘Oh, sure, of course, that’s funny.’”