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Weird Al’s Alternative for ‘Olympically Challenged’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Twenty-one years ago, young Alfred Yankovic wrote to his junior high classmate Doug Kyle, covering a loose-leaf page with copies of Mad magazine illustrations and concluding with the instruction, “Always keep this letter, and someday you can proudly say, ‘poiuytrewq.’ ”

That day finally came on Friday, when Kyle, now 35 and a pastor at the Free Church of Laguna Hills, saw his friend for the first time since the 1970s. Alfred--now known as Weird Al Yankovic--was appearing at Santa Ana’s Roxbury South nightclub, and Kyle, his precious letter neatly folded in his wallet, had come to say the magic word.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t actually able to pronounce” poiuytrewq, said Kyle, who spent some time reminiscing with Yankovic before the show began. “But it was great to see him anyway. His humor seems to be very much the same.”

Few present had such a personal connection to Yankovic, but on a night when much of the world sat glued to the women’s figure-skating finals at the Winter Games, Weird Al offered an alternative for those he called the “Olympically challenged.”

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Yankovic, who has built a career out of parodying pop songs, did not actually play any Friday night, but instead offered another form of tribute to the entertainers he mocks: a pageant of celebrity impersonators.

Yankovic’s act largely was limited to introducing the look-alikes--he welcomed “Tina Turner” as “a meal-ticket for Ike for many years,” another singer as “First he was Prince, then he was a symbol, this week I think he’s an odor"--but that didn’t seem to discourage the crowd.

“I don’t really like Prince, but I’ve always wanted to see a Prince impersonator,” said Louis Diaz, 23, a hardware store salesman from Garden Grove.

Diaz spent his last $10 to get in to the club.

“I don’t have any money left to really party here, but I didn’t want to miss Weird Al,” he said. “Besides, I’d like to meet somebody, and it has to be a woman who likes Weird Al.”

Diaz had come to the right place.

“I like the weird and scrawny types,” explained a 21-year-old who gave her name as Anna Scandalous. Chimed in her friend, Karen Palumbo, also 21, “Weird Al is awesome.”

Others brought suggestions for Yankovic’s future work. Although Yankovic already has satirized a top alternative band with his song and video, “Smells Like Nirvana,” Sean O’Neill, 21, of Irvine, wanted to hear a parody of the latest Nirvana hit, “Rape Me.”

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He was not, however, able to come up with a convincing theme. “Maybe he could call it ‘Bake Me,’ ” O’Neill suggested. “No, wait, I got it: ‘Tape Me.’ How about, ‘Tape Me?’ ”

Yankovic sighed when later confronted with the suggestions.

You only had to listen to these ideas for an hour,” he told a reporter. “ I have to listen to them every day, everywhere I go.”

Still, Yankovic was indulgent of his fans, mingling among them until the club closed. He said he felt awkward on stage, since, despite the top billing he received and the ubiquitous Weird Al videos playing throughout the club, he hadn’t performed any songs.

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Indeed, Yankovic, who is best-known for parodies of such Michael Jackson songs as “Bad” and “Beat It,” said the experience brought him a peculiar empathy with the beleaguered entertainer, who was criticized for failing to perform at last week’s “Jackson Family Honors” concert.

“I feel like we’re soul mates now,” Yankovic said.

By not playing, however, Yankovic pleased at least one member of the audience.

“It bugs me that he can make a fortune by parodying these songs,” said Jeff Montgomery, 30, of Huntington Beach. “He’s making a living off synthesized music, off people living synthesized lives.”

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Montgomery, an amateur bass player, was one of the few who had come to see the evening’s other act: Harry Dean Stanton, the veteran character actor who recently has been singing roots rock in Southland nightspots.

Stanton and his combo went on at 12:30 a.m., after Yankovic and his impersonators had left the stage. For the handful who stayed to listen, Stanton’s band was the evening’s highlight.

“He’s the real deal,” Montgomery said, “the real thing, man. Whether he’s playing here or to 10 drunks in some bar in Santa Fe, he’s the real thing.”

Stanton himself was more generous to the evening’s other act. “I love his satire,” he said of Yankovic. “Didn’t he used to be on ‘Saturday Night Live?’ ”

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Regarding the people who came to mimic Madonna, Hammer and George Michael, among others, Stanton chose his words carefully.

“Let’s put it this way,” he said while sipping whiskey after his gig, “if you’re an impersonator, you can’t ever rise above your model.”


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