It’s been a weird week on the internet: last Monday, pop-parody master Weird Al Yankovic released the first of eight new videos from his 14th album, Mandatory Fun. As far as publicity moves go, Weird Al pulled a great one, because on top of his topical, contemporary pop parodies and original new songs, the concept of sequential video is a kind of satire of our obsession with constant media attention and presence. For 30 years, Weird Al has intuited what the kids think is hip, and then he flips it and dips it.
Last year, comedian and director Andrew Bush left Halifax to work at Funny or Die in LA. After 15 years in Canadian comedy—from CBC’s Street Cents to Comedy Network’s Picnicface, to indie film Rollertown—Bush has edged into America, working with Dave Foley and Buster Bluth. When he received an email asking if he’d be interested in directing one of Weird Al’s new videos for Funny or Die, he replied in ten seconds. At the time, Bush had no idea he’d contribute to Weird Al’s media sandstorm, and it seems like he still can’t believe he worked with his biggest comedy influence, but that's the kind of stuff that happens in the City of Angels.
Before Andy called me from Hollywood, I asked Weird Al how “Sports Song” fits in with the rest of the new videos: “Well, it’s number five out of eight! And it’s the first original song release, and it’s the only video with a marching band. This isn’t really a gag-filled video or a high-concept video; it’s basically just a straight performance video featuring the large, enthusiastic marching band from Riverside City College. That was what we had always intended. The lyrics of the song are ridiculous enough, so we didn’t really feel the need to make the visuals ridiculous, as well. And I’m very happy with the way it turned out.”
Noisey: So how did these even happen, Andy?
Andrew: It started about a year ago, and it was one of the first things I did when I got to LA. Me and a guy named Brad Schulz both wanted to do it, so we met with Al and he already had it all planned out. He had the whole idea ready to go, which was a totally different way of doing things for me, as a director.
I know you’re a pretty big Weird Al fan. What was it like to meet him?
I’ve got to meet and work with a lot of celebrities but Weird Al was the biggest one for me. I think, other than Michael Jackson, Weird Al was the first record I ever bought, and I was there both times he played Halifax. He’s still one of my favorite performers. He gives it his all and he’s very meticulous. I remember we were scouting the field for the shoot, and a girl approached him, and because I had spent the day with Al, and he’s, like, so normal—actually, Weird Al is the most normal man you’ll ever meet!—I forgot how famous he is, so when this girl approached him, I remembered, ‘Oh yeah! You’re Weird Al.’
What’s he really like, though?
He’s just a genuinely nice person. It seems his fans talk to him rather than at him, and he’s so nice in return. I think it’s because his fans have a real connection to him. At least I did, as a young kid. He’s just been so influential. That’s why all of these famous people, like Patton Oswalt, Aisha Tyler, Elizabeth Cho, are in the videos. He could have asked anyone and they’d say yes. He’s just really nice!
I think it’s really neat that, as a director, you grew up watching his videos, influenced by his approach to comedy and his style of visual production, and then you ended up making one for him.
Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that before! Yeah, weird. He definitely influenced how I approach comedy direction. Weird Al’s always had a very devil-may-care attitude, and I mean, fucking Al TV on Much Music was such an influential thing. Much Music would just let Al have a day or two and it was so cool. I’m actually really mourning the loss of Much Music right now, but Al TV was just amazing. It was before Beavis and Butt-head and Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and it was a new kind of culture commentary, like, look I’m talking about videos here! And he had some fucking brilliant original songs, too. Dare to be Stupid is incredible. “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” and “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota"—I mean, it’s all amazing. Some people dismiss his comedy as juvenile, and it does have a simplistic quality, but like, “Another One Rides the Bus,” and add in Dr. Demento, just brilliant. Weird Al has this kind of twist on things, almost like how DEVO twisted on punk. Look at “Foils.” It’s a great parody song about food, go figure, but it’s also got the Illuminati angle and it’s a cute parody. It’s not mean-spirited. It’s not insulting Lorde. It’s something else, and that’s what I like about his stuff.
But how exactly did his approach to comedy videos influence you in a practical way?
I think it was “Smells like Nirvana” that had the most impact, because it had so many visual gags. That has definitely stayed with me. You can see it in Rollertown and especially at Funny or Die. In “Sports Song,” there are a few visual gags, but what was always influential to me was how Weird Al’s entire video goes along with or complements the lyrics. It takes it to another level. Like, “All about the Pentiums” is a pun. It’s a straight pun; same with “White and Nerdy.” I know he has a heavy hand in all his videos. When you direct comedy, you generate your own vocabulary of references to draw on, and Weird Al has always been part of my lexicon. Essentially, this was my first time directing a music video, but really, contextually, it’s a comedy video. Weird Al is a comedian as much as a musician and a critic.
Yeah, that’s totally true. What was it like shooting “Sports Song” this past January?
Well, a lot of prep went into it. I got to use a jib—a crane—for shooting, which was amazing, and it was probably the most expensive Funny or Die video I’ve worked on so far. And we were dealing with a friggin’ marching band of 50 people! But they were great, they’ve been featured on Glee and stuff, so they knew what they were doing. But it’s still 50 people to organize, and we shot for 12 hours. Really, though, Al had everything ready to go. I feel like Brad and I just facilitated his vision; Al set it in motion. He also did the final cut and edited it himself. He just knew exactly what he wanted and it was so cool. For example, there’s one gag where the crowd in the stands has to flip cards over in the right sequence to spell out words, and it’s only a half of a second shot in the video, but Al spent forever working it out. It took a while but he wanted it to happen so he made it happen. It was really nice to work with someone like that, who still has a passion for what they do after all these years. It was a really unbelievable time.
I think it’s cool it’s been so many years and he’s still so relevant. Also, this album will be some audience’s first exposure to him, so I find the freshness of his work the most fascinating.
Yeah, I agree, exactly. If you look at “Word Crimes” or “Foils,” or any of his parodies, it’s always what people are talking about in that specific time. In this case, in 2014, he’s focusing on what we say on the internet: the Illuminati, glamour and image issues, the bastardization of the English language, all hot topics. Honestly, for a guy to stay relevant for 30 years, having weathered criticism, he’s definitely a smart man in how he does stuff. “White and Nerdy” was so, so smart. He has a certain eye on culture. “Sports Song” isn’t parody, it’s a performance. But it’s definitely comedic and I think it looks gorgeous.
Adria Young's style icon for the past 30 years has been Weird Al - @adriayoung
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