Once upon a time, I was a normal kid. Painfully normal. And in the late 1970s, normal meant the same terribly brown and orange-patterned crap as every other kid. I was cookie-cutter, ordinary, dull. I didn’t do well in school. I played with LEGO.
But then there were Sunday evenings. CHUM FM 104.5. The Sunday Funnies with Rick Hodge. In my adolescence, this was discovery. This is where I was exposed to the comedy greats: George Carlin, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, Robin Williams, (He Who Can No Longer Be Named But Hawked Jell-O), and so much ridiculous music that I still hold multiple choruses in my head (“Fish Heads”, “Dead Puppies”, “Shaving Cream”, “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haa!”, “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (A Letter from Camp)”, and a personal favourite, “Daffy Duck’s Rhapsody”). Curiously, I do not recall any Monty Python, which I wasn’t formally introduced to until I worked at Black’s Camera in Trafalgar Village when I was in high school.
Somehow, that started to influence my way of thinking. All that comedy, all that attention to absurdity began to change the way I acted. By the time I was in Grade 5, I had ceased being the quiet kid in the back. I would do strange things. (Yes, I am still mildly embarassed by some of the things I did, but that’d what happens when you’re still figuring out where you fit.) I became the weird kid. I know this because other kids would say: “You’re weird”.
I always replied: “Thanks!” It was nice to be noticed.
It was through the Sunday visit to the Altar of Comedy that we were introduced to Dr. Demento. While the Sunday Funnies tended to play more of the stand-up comedy, Dr. Demento tended to play songs. And his favourite person to play was his own discovery: Weird Al Yankovic.
I remember the first song: Another One Rides The Bus, a Queen parody. Sounding it might have been recorded in a bathroom stall, it brought levity to what was sometimes the seriousness of rock n’ roll.
Levity. Seriousness. C’mon, I wasn’t even 10 years old. I would have laughed milk out my nose if I’d been drinking it.
Weird Al would become a fixture on Sundays, the radio turned up just a little bit more when he came on. When I found out I could buy his albums, I did. And I continued to do so, every single album that followed (until all of his albums ended up on streaming services, anyway).
Of all the songs he did, parody and original, absolutely obscure and Top 10-charting (which, when you think about it, still shows not only how good he is, but how much we all appreciate parody), my favourite is the eponymous song from his Dare To Be Stupid album.
If you’ve never heard the song, it’s in the style of Devo, another musical act formed of those with an architecture education. This became my anthem in the mid-80s, as I realized I wasn’t a normal kid — I didn’t like sports, I read Time Life series on geology and earth chemistry and space science, I watched the news (amongst the staples of GI Joe and Transformers and Thundercats, of course), and could pull of a spot-on impression of Fozzie Bear. I was the weird kid.
And it was, to a degree, my anthem. I loved Weird Al. (I still do, very much, and there are some songs – The Kinks’ Lola, Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise, and Michael Jackson’s Beat It and Bad, in particular – where I cannot hear the original lyrics.) It was different, it was irreverent, it was absurd, and it very much flew in the face of “normal”. When I was in high school, other kids would talk about how awesome Weird Al’s new video was because it aired on MuchMusic the night before … but I’d already bought the album and memorized the songs.
My parents had gone to the Caribbean once on a vacation. I can’t recall which island, but they returned with the classic t-shirts for my sister and I. My shirt was easily three times too large (it hung nearly to my knees when I first got it), and bore the words: “Why Be Normal” (the “Be” was backwards, and “Normal” was upside down). My mother eventually had to throw the shirt out because I’d worn it well past it’s expiry. I wore it proudly.
“Dare to be stupid” is message I learned to embrace more and more as life went on, too. Don’t tow the middle line, feel free to go over it and do something unusual, off the wall, even risky. Dare to not be normal. Perhaps not quite to the point of letting bedbugs bite, but I have been bit by the hand that feeds me, and I’m damned sure my girls end up being cowboys. Er, cowgirls.
Sometimes, being stupid is smarter than being normal. And it’s a heck of a lot more fun.