BY JEF GOODGER
"Weird Al" Yankovic, the biggest-selling comedy artist in history, has often incorporated bowling into his music, his videos, and his cult-hit feature film, UHF. In advance of the release of his new, career-encompassing box set, Yankovic spoke with BJI's Jef Goodger about his career and his affinity for bowling. Below is an excerpt from Goodger's story, which appears in the February issue of BJI.
“I want to bowl with the gangstas.”
In his 2006 hit, “White & Nerdy,” while touting his Segway driving skills, delighting in his fashionable fanny-pack and gloating about doing vector calculus just for fun, there’s one thing “Weird Al” Yankovic really wants to do at the end of the song: “I want to bowl with the gangstas / But, oh well, it’s obvious I’m white and nerdy.”
It’s funny because it’s true. If there were one activity Yankovic would want to do with the gangstas, there’s a good chance it would be to bowl. He was rolling a bowling ball before he was squeezing an accordion. The latter eventually took precedence, but the former never left him, as we can see throughout his entire body of work.
Popular culture has always had an interest in bowling, even if it’s usually presented in a supporting role. Every sitcom, past or present, features the sport in at least one episode. The Big Lebowski, although not a bowling movie, highlights the game prominently as a backdrop. Television commercials purporting to sell a carefree attitude put smiling actors on the lanes to hawk anything from pharmaceuticals to digital cameras.
When confronted with a pop-culture phenomenon such as this, there is only one place to turn: “Weird Al” Yankovic, the biggest-selling comedy recording artist in history and undisputed king of pop culture who happens to have a sizeable affinity for bowling. Throughout his career, which is now in its fourth decade, Yankovic often has incorporated bowling into his music, videos and his cult-hit feature film, UHF.
Coming off the immense success of 2014’s Mandatory Fun, the first comedy album to debut at #1 on the Billboard chart and the first in more than 50 years to even reach the top spot, Yankovic is marking the end of an era with Squeeze Box: The Complete Works of “Weird Al” Yankovic, a career-encompassing box set to be released by Legacy Recordings and PledgeMusic this November.
Naturally, I seize the opportunity of such a career-spanning milestone to talk to Yankovic specifically about his penchant for referencing bowling so often over the years. It’s no surprise that it’s no coincidence.
“Bowling was a big part of my childhood,” he says, “and as such, it informed my art.”
Born and raised in Lynwood, Calif., Yankovic fondly recalls plenty of childhood weekends spent on the lanes with his aunts and his grandmother.
“It was called ‘Blue Chip Bowling,’” he says. “If there was a colored pin as the headpin and you got a strike, you would win so many Blue Chip Stamps.”
Like a true bowler, the level of detail of his memory goes deeper. “And if you got it in the 3rd, 6th and 9th frames, you would win even more Blue Chip Stamps. At the time, it was a big deal to win Blue Chip Stamps from bowling.”
It was a big enough deal that, less than 20 miles away in Venice, eventual PBA Hall of Famer Randy Pedersen was doing the same thing.
“Blue Chip Stamps were as good as cash,” says Pedersen. “As a kid, you didn’t know what pressure was until you had to strike for a book of stamps.”
Yankovic is five years older than Pedersen, and — as best as we can tell — the two never ran into each other during those weekend sessions. However, they both used the experiences, in different ways and to varying degrees, to help rise to the pinnacles of their respective careers, Pedersen winning 13 PBA Tour titles and Yankovic winning four Grammy awards among 15 nominations.
“I was on a bowling league when I was 12 years old,” says Yankovic. “My junior-high friends and I. After school, we would have the bowling tournament. I have to say I was not a great bowler at all, but it featured prominently in my early life.”
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