Does anyone weep for the clowns? The role of the jester, the entertainer, might be one of the most un-heralded professions there is. Many over the centuries have committed themselves to profession of capering for our enjoyment. It is truly rare that those in that field are celebrated, revered for their dedication to making us giggle. Or even just smile. And so it goes that one of the most dedicated entertainers centered on making us laugh this journalist can name plays the mightiest of venues in Los Angeles, The Hollywood Bowl. That man is the novelty parody song extraordinaire, “Weird Al” Yankovic. The scourge of overblown pop stars everywhere, Weird Al has been piecemeal serving up widely beloved comedic covers of mega hits ever since his playful take on Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” which he polka’d up into “Another One Rides the Bus.” This show is the first of a two-night stand at the legendary venue, and for those that haven’t been fans since “Eat It” and are more familiar with everything since “White and Nerdy” had to be wondering what they were in for.
First up, as an appropriate opener was 10-piece a cappella act Straight No Chase. We caught just enough of their set to see that they were a good time in an un-pretentious and slightly dorky way. The group solemnly beat-boxed through a swear-less rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep.” After doing a mega medley of famous movie scores (Titanic, James Bond, Jurassic Park, Star Wars) substituting the melodies with their own comical lyrics, they finished off their set with a playful, fun mashup of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk.”
Weird Al followed shortly after, being introduced by a video package presented as a mock communist/Cold War rally a la his album Mandatory Fun, with the words “Prepare for mandatory fun” Appropriately–and in a first for the Hollywood Bowl to the best of our knowledge–Weird Al started the show via live camera feed from backstage, singing his send-up of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” the fashion failure focused “Tacky.” The camera followed him through the winding backstage corridors. As he happened by a security guard he hilariously pushed him over. After that, he went into one of his career-long polka medleys, triumphantly holding up an accordion and shouting, “Are you ready…. to polka!” That medley was madcap and intense featuring a bevvy of wacky pokafied cuts including Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” and even Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”
Recent hit “Foil,” a tinfoil nod to Lorde’s “Royals” came next, followed by his Lady Gaga direct farce “Perform This Way,” the latter of which while a splash for him in terms of headlines when it was first released was probably the least successful of the songs played here. In between songs, he would head offstage for costume changes and video packages played dozens of vignettes chronicling both Weird Al’s TV and movie appearances and just about every time his name has been mentioned in popular media (even if it was to make fun of him). The package played here ended with a clip from a recent Transformers cartoon with Wreck Gar announcing “I dare to be stupid,” a nod to Yankovic’s song “Dare to Be Stupid” being played in the very first film of the character’s, Transformers The Movie, way back in 1986. Weird Al and his band returned complete with Devo-inspired costumes (the song itself a loving tribute to the band) to play the extremely quirky tune.
Career staples “Fat” and “Smells Like Nirvana” followed, but either because a live performance allows for little of each song’s famous sight gags from the videos or because they just didn’t hit the pulse of the room, both fell awkwardly flat. The group returned after another vignette for mostly acoustic renditions of “Eat It,” “Lost on Jeopardy,” “Like a Surgeon” and “I Love Rocky Road” (the former the obvious Michael Jackson parody, the latter his rendition of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll”). Another vignette featured shots of Eminem in an interview with fake edits of Weird Al asking him questions. Weird Al hilariously bashed Eminem’s quasi illiterate over-use of hip-hop slang, twice gaping in awe at Eminem’s use of a “triple negative.” This naturally brought on Weird Al’s version of “Blurred Lines,” “Word Crimes.”
Wisely, Weird Al ended strong with some of his very best songs. Yankovic rode on stage speedily on a Segway for “White and Nerdy,” the hilarious turn-on-its-head of the Chamillionaire song. Wonderfully, one of his very best parodies, “Amish Paradise,” wrapped up the set proper. Here his backing by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra was the most helpful, punctuating the choir backing of the song once known as Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” Even though this parody might not opt for as many gags, Yankovic’s rendition of this plays like a dead-on imitation, capturing all the spirit and mood of the original but transplanting it into the humorous Amish world. For the encore Weird Al returned with a troop of people in Stormtrooper costumes and even Darth Vader. Naturally, this led to perhaps his greatest hit, “The Saga Begins.” For those unfamiliar it works just like “Amish Paradise” does, funny and heart-warming without going for off-the-charts silly. Just a delightful song about characters everyone knows and remembers. From there he ended off with “Yoda,” his Star Wars-inspired cover of The Kinks’ “Lola.”
It’s doubtful anyone would look at this show and think it was a masterful, life changing experience, but it was charming and delightful in all the right ways. The moments that fell flat were balanced well against the solid ideas, chameleon-like performance by Yankovic and numerous joyful laughs. It’s nearly impossible to poke holes in something like this. Here is an entertainer that has essentially dedicated his life to coming up with funny ideas, mostly just try to make us giggle. To smile a bit in an ever depressing world of violence, rage and segregation. While no one’s going to expect Weird Al to be stationed alongside Radiohead atop a Coachella lineup, it is beyond commendable how much of his life has been dedicated to this endeavor. He’s rarely asked for anything, and he’s given us so very, very much.