Saturday, November 14, 2015

"Weird Al" Yankovic – "I Lost on Jeopardy" (1984)


Art Fleming gave the answers
But I couldn't get the questions right

Art Fleming was born in New York City in 1924.  He attended Colgate and Cornell, where he played football and water polo, and piloted a Navy patrol bomber in World War II.  After the war, he became a very successful actor, appearing in dozens of movies and thousands of episodes of radio and television shows.

Fleming also did a lot of commercials.  He was the first announcer to deliver the "Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should" slogan.  

Art Fleming
Merv Griffin (who created "Jeopardy!" – don't forget the exclamation point!) recruited Fleming to host the quiz show after seeing him in an TWA commercial.  ("TWA" stands for Trans World Airlines, in case you're too young to remember.)

Fleming had no prior experience as a game show host, but he was a natural.  What impressed me most was how gracious he was to the contestants.  No matter how ridiculous a wrong answer was, he never smirked or cracked wise:



Art Fleming hosted the original daytime version of "Jeopardy!" between 1964 and 1975.  (I watched the show faithfully during school vacations, keeping score on a notepad.)  When "Jeopardy!" was revived in 1984, Alex Trebek was picked to be the host, and he continues to host the show today.

I don't watch "Jeopardy!" any more, but occasionally it's on one of the TVs in the gym in my office building when I drop in after a hard day at the office to pump a little iron.

Last Monday, one of the categories was "Biblical First Names."  Contestants were given the last names and occupations of two famous people who shared a first name taken from the Bible, and asked to identify that first name.  

For example, one of the answers was "Jurist Bader Ginsburg and author Prawer Jhabvala."  The correct question was "What is Ruth?"

Justice Ginsburg: "I was not entirely sober"
at the 2015 State of the Union address
The final answer in the category was "Nicaraguan leader Ortega and conductor Barenboim."  I had that one cold: "What is Daniel?"  Daniel Ortega has been an influential Nicaraguan politician for over 30 years, and I was vaguely familiar with the conductor Daniel Barenboim.

One of the contestants buzzed in and offered this answer – that is to say, this question: "Who is Manuel?"

Fidel Castro with Manuel Daniel Ortega
What Old Testament character could he have thinking of?  Manuel and Eve?  Cain and Manuel?  Manuel's Ark?  Manuel in the lions' den?  "Manuel fit de battle of Jericho"?

Or maybe he had a New Testament figure in mind?  Like Manuel the Baptist?  Pontius Manuel?  Manuel Iscariot?  Manuel Magdalene?

In the "I Lost on Jeopardy" music video, a "Jeopardy!" contestant – played by "Weird Al" himself suffers through a nightmarish appearance on the show.  He finishes with a negative score and suffers further humiliation when legendary announcer Don Pardo says "That's right . . . you lost!  And let me tell you what you DIDN'T win!"

Art Fleming, who plays himself in the video (which was released just before the Trebek-hosted revival of the show made its debut), then gives Yankovic the ol' "neener-neerer" gesture:


"I Lost on Jeopardy" was released on "Weird Al" Yankovic's 1984 album, "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D.  It's a parody of The Greg Kihn Band's 1983 hit single "Jeopardy" (which had nothing to do with the game show).


Here's what Greg Kihn had to say about "I Lost on Jeopardy" video:

It all started with a phone call back in 1983 when “Jeopardy” was riding high in the charts and I was touring the biggest venues in the country with Journey.  [Weird Al] had a parody in mind called “I Lost On Jeopardy.”  I’d met Weird Al at a gig somewhere and I knew he was a funny and creative guy. . . . He had spent a lot of time working with Dr. Demento, one of my favorite radio personalities.  He was just coming off his first major parody hit, “My Bologna,” and preparing to cut the video for “Eat It!”  I was very flattered that he chose me to parody; obviously I was famous enough outside the Bay Area to make fun of and that made me extremely happy.  It was truly a privilege.


Weird Al called me up and sang the first draft of “I Lost On Jeopardy” over the phone.  If you do a parody you do NOT have to get permission first but Al will not do it without the artist’s consent.  I thought it was brilliant and I was honored to be made fun of.  Naturally I gave my permission for him to go ahead and record it.  I asked Weird Al if anyone had ever turned him down and he said Prince had turned him down when he asked permission to do a funny version of Purple Rain.  Prince! (The man must take himself very seriously.)  Al said he tried and tried but he couldn’t get Prince to come to the phone.  Too bad, it was probably hilarious.  We’ll never know.


Prince: too busy to take Weird Al's phone call
For my cameo appearance in his “I Lost On Jeopardy” video, they rented a vintage sports car to approximate the one I drove in the original “Jeopardy” video.  The girl in the car with me would shortly become a major rock star in an all-girls LA band (which one I can’t tell you) but we had a fun time driving around the block for the shoot.  On the last take, I just kept going and drove off into the sunset.  It took them hours to find us at my suite at the Sunset Marquis Hotel. 

Here's "I Lost on Jeopardy":



Here's Greg Kihn's 1983 hit, "Jeopardy":



Click below to buy "I Lost on Jeopardy" from Amazon:

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