“Merchandising”: Watch an excerpt from pop parodist Weird Al’s “The Compleat Al” (1985)

By on October 1, 2018

Night Flight’s vintage clip-show “Outrageous in Hollywood” features an excerpt from pop parodist Weird Al Yankovic‘s The Compleat Al, which debuted on the Showtime network on Wednesday, August 7, 1985, just a few years after the 1983 release of Yankovic’s self-titled first album.

Watch this episode — which first aired on July 16, 1988 — over on Night Flight Plus.

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The Compleat Al — the title parodies the Beatles‘ 1982 VHS clip-show The Complete Beatles — was released on home video in September ’85 (the hour-long cable TV comedy special was expanded to 100 minutes) and laserdisc in ’86.

A ten-minute excepted version of the mockumentary appeared on the sixth “AL-TV” special, which aired on MTV in 1992.

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Looking back, we think it’s highly-likely that the ramshackle together structure of The Compleat Al — containing excerpts from his first three “AL-TV” specials — inspired Night Flight’s similar attempts at cleverly-edited clip-shows, mixing color videos and black & white newsreel and comedy film bits.

The Compleat Al also contains footage from his trip to Japan, and a somewhat-embellished version of how he received permission from Michael Jackson for “Eat It.”

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The mockumentary also contains eight “Weird Al” music video classics: “Ricky,” “I Love Rocky Road,” “Eat It,” “I Lost on Jeopardy,” “This Is the Life,” “Like a Surgeon,” “One More Minute” and Devo parody “Dare to Be Stupid.”

These last five appear during a montage (also featuring “Midnight Star”).

“Ricky” — written about Ricky and Lucy of the long-running 1950s television series “I Love Lucy” and set to Toni Basil‘s hit pop tune “Mickey” — landed Weird Al in Billboard‘s Top 100, and the video gave him his first exposure on MTV.

The segment we featured was titled “Merchandising” and shows Weird Al in his agent’s office as he’s being pitched during various product tie-in meetings.

Presentations are made by a “Frisbee Salesman” (Kenneth Scherr), a “Sock’em Salesman” (Harry Rickland), a “Look-a-Like Salesman” (Frank Collison) and an “Underwear Salesman” (Walter Sylvest).

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If Collison looks familiar , it might be that you recognize him from his many appearances in movies (as “Wash” Hogwallop in the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?, for instance) and TV shows (he’s best known as “Horace Bing,” the bumbling telegraph operator on CBS’s long-running series “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”).

His Look-a-Like Salesman is listed as his very first acting role on his IMDB profile.

Read more about The Complete Al below.

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The Compleat Al  — produced by Yankovic’s manager Jay Levey, Levey’s friend Hamilton Cloud, and Robert K. Weiss, who had previously-produced Kentucky Fried Movie and The Blues Brothers — expanded from a CBS Home Video’s request to have Yankovic make a long form music video.

Levey and Weiss co-directed the film.

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The Compleat Al presents the occasionally true biographical saga (from fetus to present day 1985) of Alfred Matthew Yankovic, born October 23rd, 1959, and raised in the small town of Lynwood, California.

On his seventh birthday, his parents gave him an accordion, an instrument that became part of comedy-rich musical act for many years to come. (We see his real-life parents as well as his real-life childhood house).

After graduating from Lynwood High, Yankovic took a series of part-time jobs before enrolling at the California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, California, majoring in architecture.

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While working as a deejay at KCPR, his college radio station, Yankovic was nicknamed “Weird Al,” which he embraced and adopted wholeheartedly.

It was in the radio station’s men’s restroom that he began coming up with his first parodies, including ”My Bologna,” a takeoff on the Knack`s ”My Sharona.”

After sending the tapes off to Night Flight’s friend Dr. Demento, who was (and still is!) the host of a nationally-syndicated comedy radio show, Weird Al was soon reaching a national audience.

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Weird Al’s manager Barry Cohen — who previously was in charge of things such as novelty gifts and animal acts — ended up convincing Yankovic to press up a 7-inch vinyle single of “Another One Rides the Bus” (his parody of Queen‘s ”Another One Bites the Dust”).

That single would go on to become the most requested song in the first decade of Dr. Demento’s show.

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In order to get Michael Jackson’s permission to release “Eat It” — his parody of Jackson’s hit “Beat It” — Weird Al had a very tense meeting with the legendary pop singer at his frightening abode.

By now, Cohen was lecturing Weird Al about “ancillary merchandising,” but the idea of giving his approval on a number of products bearing his likeness didn’t really sit well with Yankovic, as we see, who wanted to remain focused on the music.

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At this point in the story, Weird Al — working on introspective, more experimental songs for his new album, Me, Myself, and I — was beginning to delve into mysticism, to such an extent that his bandmates began working together to bring Weird Al back to “normal.”

Along the way, guitarist Rick Derringer and “American Bandstand” host Dick Clark, among others, express their opinions on Weird Al, who gets the last word in a personal message to his fans.

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A book version of the very same content, The Authorized Al, was also released as a companion piece. It contains lots of extra still photos cut from the video or featured briefly (e.g. the “Burgeropolis” architectural concept).

After a lengthy period during which the out-of-print The Compleat Al was selling for outrageous amounts on eBay, Shout! Factory released it on DVD on November 11, 2014.

Watch “Outrageous in Hollywood” on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • https://nostalgiaward.bandcamp.com David Buck

    I bought the Compleat Al on DVD when it came out a few years ago, but I had it on VHS for years.

    Originally, we’d rent it from the local Kroger store. Over and over again. It had two stickers — one with the store address and the other with the standard rewind request.

    When the store shut down its video rental section, I thought I’d never see it again. Fast forward 20 years. I’m out thrifting and find shelves of VHS tapes at one of the thrift shops. As I’m scanning the titles, I catch a familiar title – The Compleat Al!

    I remove the tape from the shelf. 99 cents. I figure I’ll purchase it and add it to my rather large Weird Al collection.

    As I slip the tape out of the case and catch a familiar site. The slightly peeling sticker reveals a store name – Kroger and an address.

    It was THE EXACT SAME TAPE I RENTED AS A KID. Suffice to say, I bought it and it still plays.

    About five years later, Shout Factory released the DVD.

    Posts like these are one of the reasons I love Night Flight! I’ll have to write about it sometime.

  • Bryan Thomas

    Let us know if you write about “Night Flight”!