Tim Bornholdt

The Weirdly Enduring Appeal of Weird Al Yankovic

Michael Schur, the creator of “The Good Place” and co-creator of “Parks and Recreation,” remembers the force of Weird Al’s 1992 parody of Nirvana.

“ ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ comes out, and it’s like the perfect voice for all the simmering anger of an entire generation of kids,” Schur said. “That song is vicious and angry and aggressive but also laconic and disaffected and scary. And it was immediately a gigantic thing in American culture. Then Weird Al does ‘Smells Like Nirvana’ and completely deflates it — the importance and seriousness and angst. That’s a service he has always provided: to remind people that rock is about grittiness and authenticity and finding your voice and relating to an audience, but it’s also fundamentally absurd. Being a rock star is stupid. We as a culture are genuflecting at the altar of these rock stars, and Weird Al comes out with this crazy curly hair and an accordion, and he just blows it all into smithereens by singing about Spam. It’s wonderful.”

Schur paused. He said there were heated debates, sometimes, in comedy writing rooms, about the merits of Weird Al’s work — some cynics argue that his jokes aren’t actually great, that people overrate them because they’re nostalgic for their childhoods. But Schur insisted that, regardless of what you think about this lyric or that lyric, Weird Al represented the deep egalitarian spirit of our culture.

“It’s a truly American thing, to be like: Get over yourself,” Schur said. “Everybody get over yourselves. Madonna, get over yourself. Kurt Cobain, get over yourself. Eminem, get over yourself. No one gets to be that important in America.”

This whole piece is a must-read, especially if, like me, you grew up listening to (and subsequently memorizing) Weird Al's entire discography.