"Weird Al" Yankovic Live!—The Alpocalypse Tour debuts tonight on Comedy Central at 9 p.m. Eastern.
"Weird Al” Yankovic Live!—The Alpocalypse Tour is impressive. The special manages to fit 11 songs—including one polka—into 42 minutes, each requiring its own elaborate costume change not just for “Weird Al” Yankovic, but for his entire band, too. Yankovic digs into the archives, too, performing a career-spanning three-song closer of “Perform This Way,” “White & Nerdy,” and “Fat.” Plus, of course, “Amish Paradise” is thrown in the middle for good measure. It’s clear that Yankovic’s stop in Toronto was a hell of a show.
As a marketing tactic meant to entice future ticket sales, this Comedy Central special is a hit. As a standalone piece of television, though, I found it less than compelling.
There’s no denying something is lost in the translation between live and TV. There’s a danger to a live performance that doesn’t come across when viewing on a tiny screen. You’re sitting in comfort, not out watching people don peacock costumes and sing a song they’ve presumably memorized, surrounded by dancers performing impeccable choreography. A lot can go wrong, and even though there’s probably no part of you that thinks the worst, there’s always the possibility that something will be different—something will feel special and raw—and you’ll be there to witness it. That’s why I love live performance: There’s always a little something to take home that’s just for you and the rest of the audience—a little pop-culture treasure.
Of course, comedy needs TV to get the word out, and TV is here to stay. And with the right foresight, a televised concert or stand-up special can be great in and of itself. The major problem with The Alpocalypse Tour, though, is that the medium bumps right up against something that presumably helped the show be a success: Anticipation. It’s satisfying to wait in the darkness for Yankovic to emerge, wondering what he’ll be wearing and performing, then feel a rush of recognition when those first few notes of “Amish Paradise” come over the loudspeaker. In an attempt to cram as much of the concert as possible into 42 minutes, the special cuts out every extraneous bit, joke, or moment of lag time, and we cut from song-to-song with barely a moment to breathe. Even the teasers before the commercial breaks spell out way too much of what’s about to happen. Nothing is left to surprise, and the thrill of anticipation is entirely lost.
I don’t blame them. I’m sure there was a lot of down time, given the fact that Yankovic had to put on a fat suit and lots of make-up for “Fat.” (That must have taken, what, five minutes? They probably showed a video.) It’s just that there’s not much care put into the way The Alpocalypse Tour flows from one song into the next, and I’m left with the feeling of, say, watching a bunch of high-quality YouTube videos back-to-back, versus a cohesive and accurate portrayal of a Yankovic concert.
So, okay. A lot doesn’t work. But there’s a lot that does, and it can be attributed to Yankovic himself. He gives it his all, committing fully to each number—trying his best to be high energy despite however many layers of thick Amish clothing he’s wearing or how awkwardly he’s driving a Segway. He’s clearly excited to be performing on a stage in front of so many eager people, and I'm not quite sure how often that happens right now. I remember looking at his touring schedule back in June and seeing an endless barrage of casinos on the horizon. I thought, “Is this where ‘Weird Al’ is, after all these years?” I guess so. He’s the only person in comedy who’s so fully committed to being a parody artist—which is a limiting thing to be.
At this taping, Yankovic is surrounded by fiercely loyal fans, and he’s committed to giving them the time of their life. Every song is one of his hits; even though he has a new album to promote, he only dips into it a few times, focusing instead on previously established fan favorites like “White & Nerdy” and “Smells Like Nirvana.” Yankovic has made a career out of doing his own thing, but he cares deeply about his fans, and as a time piece from 2011, The Alpocalypse Tour preserves that spirit. I just wish it could have better captured the man’s live spirit.