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'Weird Al' proves he's no 'Couch Potato'


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'Weird Al' Yankovic

By ALAN SCULLEY

For the Call

If the characters Eminem has created for himself in his music and film are any indication, not many things scare the Detroit rapper.

But apparently a video for the "Weird Al" Yankovic song "Couch Potato," a parody of the Eminem hit "Lose Yourself," left the rapper concerned.

When Yankovic requested permission from Eminem to record the video, he was turned down, although Eminem did allow rock's premier satirist to include the song on his new CD, "Poodle Hat," and make it his lead single.

"It kind of baffles me, actually," Yankovic said when asked why he was refused rights to do a video. "I didn't talk to Marshall (Eminem's real name is Marshall Mathers) directly, but I did talk to his manager, Paul Rosenberg.

"About the best answer I could get from him was that Marshall was afraid a Weird Al video would somehow detract from his legacy or make people take him less seriously. For some reason he was fine with me having the song on the album, but for some reason he felt the video would just push it over the edge too much,'' he added.

Eminem's refusal to allow the video was a first for Yankovic in a career that goes back to the early 1980s.

"I've never been turned down for a video, but in the past Prince has been the one guy who has consistently never allowed me, well, to really do anything," Yankovic said. "He just flat out will say no without giving any particular reason."

The Eminem refusal leaves Yankovic in a tough spot for promoting "Poodle Hat."

In the past, his razor-sharp video parodies for songs like "Smells Like Nirvana" — based on Nirvana's hit, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" — "Eat It" — a remake of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" — and "Like a Surgeon" — counterpart to Madonna's "Like a Virgin" — have been cornerstones of past CDs.

The videos, which received extensive airings on MTV, gave Yankovic's CDs plenty of exposure and helped him rack up 25 gold or platinum certifications for his 11 studio records and four compilations in the United States, Canada and Australia.

Eminem's star power made "Couch Potato" the natural choice for a single. But there are stronger parodies on "Poodle Hat."

The spoof of Avril Lavigne's hit single "Complicated," especially is hilarious.

Renamed "A Complicated Song," each of the three verses tells a different story. The first verse, where the word "complicated" is replaced by "constipated" is the CD's one sure laugh-out-loud moment.

The other two verses — one about an incestuous relationship and the other about decapitation — actually are far funnier than their subject matter might suggest.

Meanwhile, "Trash Day," a take-off on Nelly's hit "Hot in Here," also is good for its share of chuckles, as Yankovic puts a new spin on the hip-hop tradition of trash talk.

For Yankovic, 43, such songs continue a career where his humor more often than not has been right on target. Yankovic first began toying with parodies as a teen-ager, sending homemade tapes to syndicated radio host — and fellow humorist — Dr. Demento.

The "Doctor" aired several of Yankovic's spoofs, but Yankovic said he didn't see any sort of future in musical satire.

Instead, Yankovic, a valedictorian at his high school who received his diploma at age 16, went on to college at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and majored in architecture.

"It was truly for grins that I sent in tapes to the Dr. Demento show," Yankovic said. "I enjoyed the notoriety and I loved hearing my songs on the radio. But I really had no serious intentions of going into the music biz or had any pipe dreams of having a career in the music industry."

A well-timed stint as a deejay at his college radio station, though, changed the course of his career. Returning to his love of satire, Yankovic came up with a spoof of the Knack hit, "My Sharona" — retitled "My Bologna" — and made a tape of the song, in of all places, a bathroom at the radio station.

Once again the song aired on "Dr. Demento," and became a major hit. A year later, he performed "Another One Rides the Bus," his parody of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," live on "Dr. Demento."

This exposure eventually led to a record deal and a 1983 self-titled debut CD that began an uninterrupted recording career that has made Yankovic the best-selling comedy artist of all time and earned him two Grammy awards.

Looking back, Yankovic said the timing of "My Sharona" couldn't have been better.

"It was all kind of serendipity that I had completely lost interest in architecture about my third year in college," he said. "I had this moment when I really had no idea what my future was going to hold, because I didn't want to be an architect and I didn't think I could do anything else and what was I going to do? Thankfully, things kind of fell into place for me because I definitely had a couple of scary years when I didn't know what was going on."

"Weird Al" Yankovic plays two shows Saturday, Aug. 2, at the Pageant, 6161 Delmar Blvd. Tickets for the performances, at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., cost $32.50 for reserved and $27.50 for general admission.

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