As an up-and-coming music educator, I have experienced music from all kinds of perspectives and genres. As a result, I have gained a clear understanding of the phenomenon behind the music: no matter where we go, music follows. In my world, a typical day may contain the beautiful piano sonatas of Beethoven, the unique landscapes within Indigenous music or the infectious earworms written by Harry Styles. Throughout all my musical endeavors (and I have been through many), I took notice of one commonality: there’s a lack of comedy.
When someone asks me who my favorite music artist is, I sense that they expect my answer to be the name of a master composer from our history or a force in our current music industry; and they would be right. My favorite artist is “Weird Al” Yankovic. If Elvis Presley is considered the King of Rock and Aretha Franklin the Queen of Soul, then “Weird Al” Yankovic is the King of Parody. Many who know Weird Al know him for his hit parodies like “Eat It”, “White and Nerdy” and “Amish Paradise” to name just a few. This was the extent of my Weird Al knowledge initially. As I began to immerse myself deeper into the world of Al, I found not just a man who takes incredible songs and makes funny parodies from them, but a man who can provide an important commentary on the topic of value in music.
Comedy music is often perceived as deserving only a brief moment under the sun. Comedy music is often reserved for the encore of a recital or a one-off video that comes and goes on social media. When talking about music that has value and substance in our history, seldom does anyone mention comedy music. So why don’t we take comedy music seriously? That question may seem like an oxymoron in hindsight considering a major point of comedy is to express the opposite of seriousness. The truth is that comedy music encompasses a serious musicianship and effort, but the legitimacy of its craft is shadowed by what is seen at face value: the music’s comical lyrics and tone.
“Weird Al” Yankovic is my favorite music artist because he challenges the stigma that comedy music holds less value than other genres of music. While he was not the first, he is arguably the one of most famous examples of successful comedy music artists of our generation. Weird Al served an important role in giving comedy music its presence through the many parodies he has created. Every parody encompasses the music that people listen to daily but with a lyrical twist to make the concept of comedy music approachable. While parody was not invented by Weird Al, his work set the standard for the genre. I’d argue that even though he is best known for parodies, his original songs offer a more important commentary of value in comedy music. For every parody he creates, an original composition created by Weird Al shows that beyond his excellent lyricism, he and his band are incredible songwriters who put forth ambitious efforts and care into their music. Under his goofy persona exists an influential character that has helped create a larger presence for comedy music. Many of my favorite songs from Weird Al are his originals because when his lyricism and composition talents are both at work he is at his most creative.
The act of writing parody music and original music simultaneously has been a major force in getting Weird Al’s name, and comedy music as a whole, in the spotlight. On the other hand, this approach created the dilemma of people knowing and associating him solely with parodies and not originals due to how much more popular his parodies are. Weird Al has become so associated with parodying that when an original song comes up in my playlist, a friend of mine will often ask, “What is this a parody of?”
Comedy music still has a way to go in being taken seriously, but Weird Al has shown that comedy musicians can be successful. It was through his efforts that artists such as Bo Burnham, Tenacious D and The Lonely Island were able to take comedy music in their own approach and continue the effort. It has been so exciting to see these newer artists thrive with the rise of the digital streaming age to help make comedy music earn the value it deserves.
Music exists in many forms throughout our time and history as a phenomenon that we cannot escape, yet it has been apparent that not all music is treated equally. In a food chain of musical genres, comedy music resides near the bottom as a genre seen by many as nothing but one-offs and encore pieces due to their perceived lack of musical substance or value. Many great musicians have formed to fight back against the stigma and put the seriousness in comedy music, including the great “Weird Al” Yankovic. He may be considered the King of Parody, but he’s the king of a lot more than that in my eye. With his music, he declares that comedy matters. Good comedy music deserves to be in our playlists, in the middle of our recitals and in our ears. Comedy music deserves to be taken seriously.
My Favorite Original Songs by “Weird Al” Yankovic:
- “You Don’t Love Me Anymore”
- ”Don’t Download This Song”
- ”Skipper Dan”
All photos were provided to The Hilltop Monitor by Elijah Tang-Spigelman.