Day One hundred and twenty-one: "Party at the Leper Colony" from Poodle Hat
Like his mentor Dr. Demento, American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic is fundamentally serious about silly music. His career has been characterized by caution and care, meticulousness and deliberate planning.
So why, for the love of all that is holy, did Al finds himself breaking into the field of leprosy-based musical comedy some twenty years into his career as a recording artist with “Party at the Leper Colony?” The song would have made a lot more sense on Al’s self-titled 1983 debut, or even alongside other juvenalia like “Gotta Boogie” and “Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung” on the 1981 EP Another One Rides the Bus.
By 2003, needless to say, Al had seemingly moved beyond such bad taste juvenilia. Al was, after all, an artist with a legacy to protect. He was a household name. He’d come back time and time again. He was the star and co-screenwriter of a major motion picture and the creator, star and namesake of a cult television program.
He’d won multiple Grammys and been nominated for even more. Heck, he was on his way towards winning another when Poodle Hat won the Grammy for Best Comedy album, beating out a motley crew that included Margaret Cho, Garrison Keillor, David Cross and George Lopez despite his Grammy-award-winning album having a song called “Party at the Leper Colony” that’s pretty much exactly what you think it is. At this point, only George Carlin and Bill Cosby have been nominated for Best Comedy Album more often than Al; he’s tied with a guy named Richard Pryor for ten nominations and a little above a dude named Jonathan Winters, who’s only been nominated a mere eight times.
Al was a legend when he released “Party at the Leper Colony.” He could afford to regress a little, creatively, if only for the sake of a flagrantly tasteless little ditty I can easily imagine everyone in Al’s circle trying to talk him out of.
Why did Al release a song called “Party at the Leper Colony?” I suspect the answer ultimately is that Al is famously enamored of a broad cross-section of both classic human American humor and “classic” American humor I have taken to calling The Old Jokes. And the Leper Joke is undeniably one of the many anachronistic, out of fashion kinds of humor (or should I say “humor”) found within The Old Jokes.
For the musical foundation of this perverse act of musical and emotional regression, Al and his collaborators have chosen something similarly retro: the Bo Diddley beat, that rumbling, instantly recognizable old school groove that reappears over and over again in pop music, in anthems as seemingly dissimilar as Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” and Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy.”
Al opts for an Elvis-style croon as he delves deep into a regrettable well of questionable wordplay involving body parts falling apart as the titular soiree kicks into high gear. The dad jokes come fast and furious, beginning with the groan-inducing couplet, “Finger food and an ice cold keg/Dance all night to a rotten band/Come on people, let’s give him a hand!”
The singer is a creepy Casanova whose romantic plans fall apart along with the limbs of his would-be romantic partner, as evidenced by lyrics like “I said, "Girl, now don't fall to pieces on me/But she cried her eyes out, literally.”
Not all “Weird Al” Yankovic songs are created equal. This marks one of the few times in Al’s career when he seems to have set out to deliberately create something stupid, laughable and exceedingly tacky. He succeeded.
The ultimate lesson of “Party at the Leper Colony”, I suppose, is that you can take the man-child out of The Dr. Demento Show and into a new world of massive mainstream success and respectability but you can’t entirely take the Dr. Demento Show goofball out of the man.
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