by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & n late 2006, a full quarter-century since he released the Queen-satirizing Another One Rides the Bus EP, Weird Al Yankovic achieved his highest chart position ever, landing his 13th full-length, Straight Outta Lynwood, squarely at No. 10. That means that, as far as Billboard is concerned, Weird Al was more popular than Chamillionaire, R-Kelly and everyone else he aped for nerd-comedy gold. For a week or two anyway. That's mind-blowing, especially for a dude who sings about little more than food and how white he is.
Perhaps more impressive, though, is how long that album (and a few older ones) have remained popular. As of Tuesday, seven Weird Al songs were in iTunes' Top 10 comedy tracks. In a world where Comedy Central and Last Comic Standing exist, and dozens of comedians have their own TV shows (Sarah Silverman, Aziz Ansari, Ellen DeGeneres -- Jeff Foxworthy has like three), Weird Al sells more comedy tracks (and presumably albums) than anyone.
Insanely popular comedian/actor/irredeemable dolt Dane Cook, by comparison, had two tracks chart, at No. 8 and 9, respectively. Al's "Amish Paradise," a song released 11 years ago, bested those easily.
The key to that popularity is elusive. It's not timelessness exactly (who's going to remember who Chamillionaire was in 30 years?) and it's certainly not timeliness (2003's popular "eBay" found him parodying "I Want It That Way," a four-year-old Backstreet Boys song). He doesn't harangue about current events or politics. His stereotypes (leveled primarily at white geeks and, occasionally, at fat people) are mostly benign. He doesn't make particular fun of the artists he spoofs. He doesn't really make fun of people at all.
Each album finds a few spoofs of super-popular songs (mostly rewritten with food or geekdom at their center), a few (almost uniformly bad) original compositions, a polka medley and assorted detritus. Seems like it'd get tiresome by now but, strangely, it hasn't.
The majority of the credit for that has to be given to the painstaking reproduction process. All of his big songs -- "Fat," "Eat It," "Smells Like Nirvana," "Amish Paradise," "White & amp; Nerdy," "Trapped in the Drive-Thru" -- have been measure-for-measure recreations. More than that, most of the singles spawn videos that take care with the details. The "Smells Like Nirvana" video shoot used the same gym and some of the same actors as Nirvana's original. The result was very, very funny.
The mimicry is so dead-on, it's hard to hear one without thinking about the other. His two big Michael Jackson spoofs, "Fat" and "Eat It" became completely inseparable from the originals ("Bad" and "Beat It," respectively) in my 6-year-old mind, and 20 years have done nothing to separate them. The same is true of "Smells Like Nirvana" (though not, it should be noted, "Amish Paradise," perhaps because I was never a big Coolio fan). You could call his popularity parasitic if it weren't for the Coolio example, Weird Al's "Amish Paradise," giving the "Gangsta's Paradise" rapper cultural relevance far beyond his expiration date. It's more like cultural symbiosis, then: spoofer and spoofed, each made more popular by the existence of the other.
"Weird Al" Yankovic at the Spokane County Interstate Fair on Thursday, Sept. 13, at 8 pm. $5-$10. Visit ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.