Day Ninety: "She Never Told Me She Was a Mime" from Alapalooza
It’s a testament to what a beloved figure American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic is that he’s managed to remain one of our most respected and enduring pop icons despite writing and releasing songs with the titles “She Never Told Me She Was a Mime” and “Party at the Leper Colony.”
Al even controversially claimed that people “love “Eat It” so much that I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and not lose a single fan.” Yes, being the most successful person in the world at what you do, as Al is, will give you confidence. It takes audacity to bring into this sick, sad decaying world of ours a composition called “She Never Told Me That She Was a Mime” because the song violates a number of sacrosanct comedy rules simultaneously and egregiously.
First and foremost: never lower yourself to dealing with mimes on any level, but particularly on a comic, jokey one. Forget Gilligan’s Island or Spam, the meat that comes in a can: jokes about mimes, and people not enjoying the artistry and craft of mime, is the definition of hack subject matter. The only thing comic sophisticates (and let’s be real here, we would not be reading or writing about “Weird Al” Yankovic this obsessively and exhaustively unless we were all, every last one of us, comic sophisticates) abhor as much as jokes about mimes (or mimes, for that matter) is wordplay. Wordplay about mimes that doubles as a particularly corny dad joke? My goodness, “She Never Told Me She Was a Mime” is a veritable perfect storm of comedy-killers (that is to say killers of comedy, not comedy that kills).
And yet. And yet. Here’s the thing: I’ve discovered over the course of this project, the Weird Accordion to Al, that I really like this “Weird Al” Yankovic guy. I would definitely describe myself a “fan.” Even though his stuff is sometimes really silly, he’s actually really smart and funny and he’s got some really great tunes.
And I know what you’re probably thinking: isn’t his stuff pretty much for kids? No! Not at all. A lot of his music actually works on a couple of different levels, a lot of them really smart. So even when he writes a song with a name and premise like “She Never Told Me She Was a Mime” he has a way of making you laugh in spite of yourself, not unlike mimes do when they tickle the funny bones of would-be “haters” with classic routines like the one where they pretend that they’re stuck in a wind tunnel.
“She Never Told Me She Was a Mime” is another Al tale of a romantic relationship bedeviled by a fatal flaw of the comical variety. In this case, things start off “perfectly normal” before our singer notices some alarming changes in his partner, namely that she’s wearing white make-up and a black leotard.
Things escalate quickly from there. In our crooner’s eyes, this is no mere mild eccentricity or regrettable hobby. No, for him it is nothing short of a “horrible secret” that has made his life “a living hell.” Then comes the exquisitely cornball wordplay of the title. If the song’s chorus doesn’t make you roll your eyes so hard that they pop out of their sockets and fall to the floor, then you are not human. And if they do, I'm still not sure you're human, cause that'd be pretty weird, almost like the kind of thing you'd only see in a cartoon.
But I’m a cornball enough human being to concede that when I saw the song’s name for the first time, I groaned audibly and rolled my eyes but then I kind of chuckled inside ever so slightly, just as I did when the understandably peeved narrator complains his misguided, mute amour is “acting like she’s trapped inside a big glass box all the time.”
Though it’s not a rhyme of Cole Porter-like sophistication, I similarly love the Yiddish-flavored aggression of the singer complaining of the titular human irritant, “Now she makes everybody sick/Doin' that pantomime shtick”, even if I’m not entirely sure whether I was laughing at, or with the song, or if the distinction between the two even matters.
In the end, Al survived “She Never Told Me She Was a Mime” to become an enduring American icon and while this may not be Al’s best, or most sophisticated, or most important work, it could very well be his silliest, and for a man with a song called “Gotta Boogie” to his name, that’s no small feat.
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