Weird Al Finds New Outlet For the Kid In Him
By: Ann Ritter

Source: Chicago Tribune, August 30, 1997. Section 1, Page 29.

Weird Al Yankovic is promoting his new fall television show, a Sunday morning kids' program to air on CBS: "I was a warped little boy, and now I'm out to warp the youth of America."

Yankovic sits in his chair like a kid, one leg folded up against his body and his shoe resting on the cushion. His hair is just as preternaturally curly as it is in his muysic videos and he's wearing one of his trademark Hawaiian shirts. He estimates that he has more than 500 of them, explaining that once, during a tour, he demanded that every concert promoter give him a new shirt for every show he did.

"Everybody in show business has to have some unreasonable demand," he explained. "I guess that was mine."

Yankovic got his showbiz start as an outsider, gaining recognition through his pop-music parodies. Poking fun at pop music was his hobby, but in college he was able to get his songs on the nationally syndicated "Dr. Demento" radio show, and began to develop a cult following.

Unfortunately, a cult following isn't a record deal. Although he graduated from college with a degree in architecture, "I realized that I didn't want to do anything with it, other than use it to pick stuff out of my teeth."

He spend the next few years working in a mailroom until he signed his first record deal. Since then, he's sold more comedy albums than anyone else in history.

Now, after more than 10 successful years parodying others, Yankovic has set his sights on children's entertainment.

It's an idea he's been noodling with since 1984. "When we first pitched the show," he said, "it wasn't nearly as focused as it is now. It was just a big mix of unrelated sketches and bits."

Although somewhat more focused now, the show you'll see in September hasn't lost its segmented feeling. It features animation (in the form of a superhero known as Fatman), as well as film and video clips.

"The show has many different looks-- all a product of my schizoid personality," he said with a laugh.

"The Weird Al Show" will premeire on Sept 14th at 6:30 a.m. In the show, Yankovic lives in a cave with his pet, Harvey the Wonder Hamster. It's being sold as an update of "Pee-wee's Playhouse," a description Yankovic isn't entirely comfortable with.

"I can see how it might be compared to 'Pee-wee's Playhouse,'" he admitted. "It was one of the only live-action, personality-driven Saturday monging shows out there . . . .Our set designer is Wayne While, who also designed the sets on 'Pee-wee's Playhouse,' so it has a very whimsical, surreal feel. Still, we like to think that we're a unique, different sort of kids' show."

Although hardly your typical educational fare, Yankovic believe the show's primary purpose is to teach children tolerance, respect and cooperation. "Of course, we want our kids to be educated, but I still think that kids need to be entertained to let off steam," Yankovic said, citing his show's music bits and celebrity guest spots.

Would he have watched this show when he was a kid? "I would have loved this show," he said enthusiastically.

The "Weird" nickname, which sounds as if it could have been a product of Yankovic's grade school years, wasn't actually attached until college.

"I officially got the name from a campus radio show I hosted, but I imagine that kids were calling me that in the dorms even before," he said.

Yankovic decided not to stick with radio because he had heard "all these horror stories about the industry. You know, having to move every six months, not being able to hold a relationship because you're always on the road, being stuck with no social life . . ."

"Much like my life now, actually," laughed Yankovic, who spent six months of the past year on the road with his comedy show.

But in addition to being busy, Yankovic seems happy. "I'm doing everything I've ever wanted to do right now," he said.

"The nice thing about pop culture is that it's always there. As long as I keep up with it, I'll always have a job."