Weird Al Yankovic and James Brown once appeared against each other on a 1994 episode of ‘Wheel Of Fortune’ and the result was as, as you can probably imagine, suitably surreal. Brown, seemingly unaware of the concept of the programme despite agreeing to appear, is a particular highlight.
Weird Al, who has dined out on the anecdote in interviews with Seth Meyers as well as with Rolling Stone, is particularly proud of the story. Wakes it even better, it has to be said, is that Little Richard was also part of the celebrity edition of the quiz show.
Weird Al Yankovic revealed that when he initially approached to appear on the hit show he had little to no interest but, as soon as he was informed that his opponents would include Little Richard and James Brown who had both already said yes to appearing, it was a no brainer for Weird Al.
He vividly recounted his conversation with his manager to Seth Myers in 2014: “So my manager calls me up and says so we’d like you to be on celebrity wheel of fortune and I’m like ‘I don’t know, it sounds kind of cheesy, I just don’t know’ he then says it will be with Little Richard and James Brown and I said ‘I am there on the next plane’. How great is that going to be, it’s like surrealistic.”
By the time that Yankovic had arrived and was ready to rehearse for the programmer, there was no sign of Brown. With panic starting to set in for the producers, the show began making contingency plans. He told Rolling Stone: “They basically wanted to make sure we knew how to play Hangman. Everything went very smoothly. We figured it wasn’t a big deal that James Brown wasn’t there.”
Brown then finally shows up in time for recording but, quite wonderfully, he missed out on crucial rehearsal time: “Then James Brown shows up like an hour late with his 20 person entourage that obviously follows him everywhere,” Yankovic explained. “So we are all in the green room and we are watching James Brown learn how to play Wheel Of Fortune. Now, he has now not only apparently never seen Wheel Of Fortune, he has obviously never played the game ‘Hangman’, he has no concept of how this game is supposed to work.”
Continuing: “He didn’t know the basic rules of the game. When the wheel stopped he said, ‘Give me…Give me an A!’ They said to him, ‘You have to pick a consonant when you spin the wheel.’ He said, ‘Oh…uh…Europe!’”
The episode almost needs seeing to truly believe. Brown, not trusted to play the game by himself, sees the producers make the call to team him up with Little Richard instead—despite the two playing for different charties against Yankovic and Lee Greenwood. Brown did manage to solve one of the puzzles and get his head around the concept of the programme but it would be Greenwood who would end the show as the victor. Yankovic professed: “I’ve made peace with my defeat and it’s became one of my favourite anecdotes and my favourite James Brown story.”
Watch the strange episode in full, below.