The last two weeks could not have gone any better for “Weird Al” Yankovic. Capped off by the news that his 14th studio album, “Mandatory Fun,” debuted at No. 1 on today’s Billboard Top 200 after more than 100,000 sales, the polka parody legend resurrected his name in this YouTube era with eight strategically-launched new music videos that had new and old fans of all ages loving every second. Even A-holes who hate everything had something brand new to complain about for more than a week, so it really was a period of eight crazy days – a Hanukkah in July, if you will – that belonged to Weird Al.
There’s a little irony in all of this, though, as the 54-year old comedy icon just so happens to be celebrating his first ever No. 1 album on the same week that marks the 25th anniversary of arguably his greatest commercial failure. On Monday, Al pointed out that the 1989 comedy film UHF is celebrating a quarter of a century, as it was released in theaters on July 21, 1989 to a resounding chorus of, “Oh, the ‘Eat It’ guy is making movies now?”
UHF was supposed to be the start of a brand new era that evolved Weird Al from music video star to comedic leading man. Alas, the response to Hollywood was mostly, “No thanks.”
The executives at Orion Pictures really thought they had a hidden gem on their hands, a film with a $5 million budget that starred a guy whose music videos were pretty popular. Unfortunately, UHF was released in a summer that already had huge mainstream comedy hits in Ghostbusters 2 ($225 million), Honey I Shrunk the Kids ($222 million) and When Harry Met Sally ($92 million). Even Weekend at Bernie’s, of all the terrible movies that have ever been made, managed to double its budget to earn $30 million. UHF? $6 million. I guess moviegoers in 1989 were just way more interested in seeing a woman grope a dead man for cocaine than watching a series of clever parody sketches loosely tied together by the story of a loser picked by his uncle to run a local TV channel.
It didn’t help UHF’s cause that the two biggest critics of the day, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, took a big, old dump all over the movie’s potential with this less-than-stellar review:
If a movie that is nothing more than a series of dumb sketches can’t be considered successful, then someone needs to explain Titanic to me. Regardless, like most of the movies that I’ve taken to celebrating, UHF is a movie that wouldn’t find success until years later, when it became a favorite of people who watched Comedy Central at 2 am on weeknights and enjoyed trying new titles from the $3.99 VHS bin at Blockbuster. But just as Weird Al’s greatest career achievement in “Mandatory Fun” deserves to be celebrated, so does UHF.
This movie certainly wasn’t ahead of its time, but it’s one that has provided plenty of obscure jokes all these years later. I have friends who say, “Badgers? We don’t need no stinking badgers” without even knowing what it’s mocking, and I still shout, “YOU ARE SO STUPID!” when I make mistakes. Hell, I don’t see a janitor’s cart or supply closet without yelling…
Watching UHF was an interesting experience for me, because while I’d already seen parts of Kentucky Fried Movie as a child, I certainly didn’t understand them. I watched UHF with friends when it was released on VHS, and I remember the feeling of joy wash over me as the stupidity developed in front of my eyes, causing my pre-teen brain to think, “Dumb + ridiculous = hilarious.” I’m not even sure that we totally understood everything that we laughed at back then, but I do now and I still think that UHF is a pretty f*cking funny movie, even if the thought of a Twinkie wiener sandwich still makes me want to vomit.
Of course, please remember to dip your Twinkie wiener sandwich in coffee before you eat it, because otherwise that’s just sick, you disgusting dick. Watching UHF again this morning got me thinking about the state of television 25 years later, as the airwaves are still mostly dominated by the major networks, but there are so many U62 little guys out there trying to get a piece of the action as well. As we watch a network like NBC struggle to return to primetime relevance with sitcoms that speak to the shmucks with Nielsen boxes, it makes me wonder if Weird Al and UHF weren’t on to something with the idea that if you want to really reach the masses, you need to exploit and embrace the ridiculous.
With that in mind, let’s bring back George Newman’s absurd original programming ideas and consider which of them could actually find a home on TV in 2014.
10) Uncle Nutsy’s Clubhouse
Some people might argue that a creepy looking man with a Jheri curl is a bad choice for a kid’s show host, because parents would probably think that there’s a windowless van waiting for their children in the parking lot. But I think that as long as kids are getting this depressing and hopeless version of George Newman that they’ll better understand the pitfalls of life moving ahead, and they’ll learn to respect the innocence of childhood a little more.
9) Bowling for Burgers
Look, as someone who loves both hamburgers and bowling, I can’t believe this was never an actual show. But now more than ever, in a time when Guy Fieri is paid truckloads of money to travel the country and shovel food into his mouth and also pretend like he invented Supermarket Sweep, all while developing hilarious new food items for his own menus, I cannot believe that this isn’t on TV right now, coming to us live from Flavortown.
8) Practical Jokes and Bloopers
On one hand, I’m sick and tired of stupid hidden camera shows that have R-list celebrities barking commands through a microphone to make “normal people” who totally aren’t aspiring actors do zany things that they’d never do if someone wasn’t dangling money in front of their faces. However, if it’s a show that has a guy tripping old women as they walk out of grocery stores, I’d be inclined to at least DVR it, especially if it still stars this guy:
Also, I’d probably be in much better shape if I watched Stay Fit with Mike and Spike.
7) Raul’s Wild Kingdom
Siskel and Ebert thought that the turtle part was ridiculous and didn’t make any sense, but I’m arguing all of these years later that had I not found out then that you shouldn’t lick the bottom of a turtle, I’d probably have died from salmonella poisoning by now. If you can’t find the positives in the absurd, then perhaps you shouldn’t be reviewing movies. Especially since Siskel and Ebert were apparently cool with a guy throwing poodles out of a window. Maybe we should make a documentary about that.
6) Gandhi II
Made-for-TV movies traditionally aren’t that great unless they’re on cable networks or sometimes Lifetime, but a film that shows who Gandhi really was is something that we need. We’re constantly rewriting history to make us all feel terrible about where we come from, so why shouldn’t we at least tell this special man’s story with an emphasis on how much he liked threeways?
We interrupt this meaningless ranking and celebration of an otherwise charming and wonderful movie with this brief message from our sponsor…
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5) Conan the Librarian
I don’t ever like to predict the Emmys, because it’s such a flawed institution that constantly rewards the already wealthy, but this scene alone would win every Emmy imaginable, even those it doesn’t qualify for:
4) Town Talk with George
The last thing that television needs is another stupid talk show that is nothing more than a soapbox for people whose opinions are already unqualified and unsolicited. But sometimes we just need someone with the balls to tell us about what really matters – Lesbian Nazi Hookers Abducted by UFOs and Forced Into Weight Loss Programs. Also, the way that Weird Al screams, “Road maps!” makes me pee every time.
3) Wheel of Fish
With all due respect to Steve Harvey and Family Feud, this would be the greatest game show in the history of TV. More people need to be called stupid in a humiliating manner, because it will help keep us all grounded in reality. And if a person is smart enough to not gamble away his weight in fish, then he gets to eat pretty well for a week or so.
2) The Secrets of the Universe
Kids need science in their lives, and we need more youngsters to grow up with the aspirations of being scientists, even if other kids tease them that mixing stuff in test tubes is for nerds. First of all, if a bully says something like that, the proper response is “You were mixed in a test tube,” because that’s an epic nerd burn, but more importantly, we’ll regress as a culture if we don’t have more young people with ambitions of developing cures to horrible diseases or figuring out a way to make Twinkie wiener sandwiches taste better. And if a kid just so happens to develop plutonium and nuke a whole town, then that’s the sort of small price that we’ll have to pay for immortality.
Before I can reveal my meaningless No. 1 pick and the reason for my stupid choice, we have to recognize the brilliance of the entire rescue scene, from Michael Richards’s mop-wielding awesomeness as Stanley Spadowski to Weird Al’s epic bravery in channeling John Rambo to make all of the bad guys pay.
That said, the No. 1 show idea from UHF that should have actually found a home on Saturday morning TV many, many years ago…
1) Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse
In the long, great tradition of movie characters giving inspirational speeches, none come close to Stanley and his mop. The next time someone shouts, “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” I urge you to respond, “Hey, these floors are dirty as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!”
Thank you, Stanley Spadowski. And thank you, Weird Al Yankovic.